GARRETT VALENZUELA / SPECIAL TO THE SUN
Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Bishop Gorman High may be high school basketball’s three-time defending state champion and ranked in the top 10 of multiple national polls, but, by no means, are the Gaels a sure-thing to repeat as state champion.
Gorman is the clear-cut No. 1 team in the Sun’s preseason top 10. Other schools, most of which also have multiple Division I recruits in the lineup, aren’t far behind.
Take No. 2 Centennial.
During an exhibition in October, Centennial did what no Las Vegas-area school has done since Green Valley in 2008 — beat Gorman. Sure, it was an exhibition. And, sure, Gorman was without a few of its best players.
But the win gave Centennial confidence it could play with the champs. And, two years ago, Centennial twice nearly beat Gorman. Maybe it’ll pull off the upset this season.
Our preseason rankings also include three teams from the lower classification, including defending Division I-A state champion Clark at No. 3. Desert Pines, the 2013 state champ, checks in at No. 5.
Here’s a look at Southern Nevada’s best:
1. Bishop Gorman
Last year: Won the Division I state championship, finished with a 30-3 record
What’s to like about the Gaels: There is very little not to like about Gorman. From five-star recruits Chase Jeter and Stephen Zimmerman returning for their final season, experienced players on the bench (reserves would be stars at other schools) and a challenging schedule to prepare them for local play, Gorman is the total package. USA Today ranks them as the nation’s fourth-best team. So, yes, the state title will again go through the perennial powers.
Three players to watch: Zimmerman (7-foot), Jeter, (6-foot-11) and Nick Blair are each three-year contributors, and three of the best players on the court every game — even when Gorman plays national opponents. Jeter is committed to Duke, Zimmerman is considering Kentucky, Kansas and other top schools, and Blair has shown flashes of great play the past two seasons. He’ll bring experience to the backcourt, where Gorman will rely on unproven players.
Last year: Lost in the Sunset Region championship game; finished with a 25-4 record
What’s to like about the Bulldogs: Sophomore Troy Brown Jr. is one of the nation’s best players regardless of classification and already has scholarship offers from schools such as Kansas and Duke. He can easily take over against any opponent, including Gorman. But he’s not Centennial’s lone option. They have two other Division I players in Garett Scheer (Air Force) and Darrian Traylor (UC Irvine).
Three players to watch: Brown, Scheer and Traylor are established players. And don’t forget about sophomore guard Isaiah Banks, who brings speed and a great shooting touch to the backcourt.
Last year: Won the Division I-A state championship; finished with a 25-5 record
What’s to like about the Chargers: Guards Colby Jackson and Carter Olsen will be three-year starters, giving Clark an advantage most games because other teams don’t have that experience. But to repeat as state champion, Clark will have to develop its post players, replacing forward Diontae Jones from last year’s team. Sophomore wing Greg Floyd Jr. has grabbed scholarship offers from Colorado State, Fresno State and Tulsa in recent weeks, and should have a breakout season.
Three players to watch: Jackson, Olsen and forward Ty'Rek Wells are three-year varsity players. With their experience, it’s safe to anoint Clark as the favorite to repeat as state champion.
4. Las Vegas
Last year: Lost in the Sunrise Region championship game; finished with a 22-7 record
What’s to like about the Wildcats: Las Vegas lost its best returning player to a torn ACL, but is still considered the favorite to win the Sunrise Region. Forward Ray Smith, who is signed with Arizona and is a five-star recruiting prospect, injured his leg this summer during a recruiting showcase. He might not play this season. Still, the Wildcats return nearly all of its key contributors from last year. Point guard Devon Colley signed with New Orleans and is a three-year varsity player, junior center Tyler Bey might be the best post player in Las Vegas not on Gorman’s roster, and senior wing Patrick Savoy Jr. brings athleticism and an aggressive mentality to the wing. Add it all together and the Wildcats are envisioning a trip to the state tournament and potential date with Gorman.
Three players to watch: Losing Smith was a big blow, but Las Vegas has plenty of quality pieces. Colley is the team’s unquestioned leader, and with Bey attacking the rim from the inside and Savoy Jr. solid on the perimeter, Las Vegas will be tough to beat.
5. Desert Pines
Last year: Lost in the Division I-A semifinals; finished with a 23-6 record
What’s to like about the Jaguars: Desert Pines’ fast-paced style of play on both sides of the court has been impossible for most opponents to adjust to. Its full court press defense leads to turnovers and easy baskets. Offensively, they beat the other team down in transition. They won the state title in 2013 and should have no problems making a third straight trip this winter to the state tournament.
Three players to watch: Desert Pines lost Nate Grimes, a Fresno State commit, to a prep school in North Carolina, but returns multiple college-caliber players, especially in the backcourt. Senior guard Coby Myles was a contributor on the 2013 state championship team, and sophomore Capri Uzan and Trevon Abdullah are two of the town’s best from the class of 2017.
6. Canyon Springs
Last year: Won the Sunrise Region and lost in the Division I state championship; finished with a 25-5 record
What’s to like about the Pioneers: The Canyon Springs lineup was dominated by seniors last year in winning a second straight Sunrise Region championship. But the cupboard is far from bare this year, including three-year guard Jordan Davis — who signed with Northern Colorado. Like past seasons, Canyon Springs will have no shortage of athletes, attempting to push the speed of the game to take advantage of their team speed. Canyon Springs typically peaks late in the season and there is no reasons to doubt it won’t happen again this year, giving new players to the regular rotation time to get acclimated.
Players to watch: D'Angelo Brown, Gregory Banks, Kajuan Casey and Maurice Hunter have the talent to lead Canyon Springs to a third straight Sunrise championship.
Last year: Won the Southeast League title and lost in the Sunrise Regional semifinals; finished with a 21-7 record
What’s to like about the Falcons: Foothill is the unquestioned king of the Southeast League and the favorite this season to win a 10th straight league title. Coach Kevin Soares is considered one of the city’s best, bringing stability to the Henderson school. Foothill opened in 1999 and he’s been the lone coach, always having his team ready to make noise in the playoffs. While Foothill lost its top two scorers from last year to graduation, expect them to reload and again challenge for the region. That, after all, is what Soares has been doing for years.
Three players to watch: Center Torrance Littles, who at 6-foot-7 is one of the tallest players in the Sunrise, averaged 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks per game last season. Returners Colin Curi and Kevin Woodland are primed to excel with enhanced responsibilities.
Last year: Lost in the Sunrise Regional semifinals; finished with a 22-7 record
What’s to like about the Vikings: Point guard Cameron Burton, a four-year contributor, does a little bit of everything for the Vikings. He’s a strong defender, good outside shooter and quality passer. More important, he knows coach Brian Farnsworth’s offense and will have teammates organized on game day. In two of the past three seasons, Valley has lost in the game before the state tournament. With the Las Vegas area receiving three teams in the four-team event this season, the Vikings should again be in the mix. Plus, they have one of the best home court advantages in Las Vegas — the court in the old Valley gym is slightly longer than other schools, and the Vikings always defend their home court.
Three players to watch: While the Vikings lack depth off the bench, the players in their starting lineup can play with every team in town. Burton will have plenty of help from returners Nick Brannon, Shea Garland and Taveon Jackson.
Last year: Lost in the Division I-A Southern Region semifinals, finished with a 15-13 record
What’s to like about the Rattlers: In spring and fall events, Mojave battled and beat most of the teams it faced. Three years ago, the Rattlers struggled to win games in finishing just 4-21 Now, some feel they could reach the Division I-A state tournament. Four-year varsity performer Malik Abbott, a 6-foot-4 combo guard, is one of the city’s best shooters. He can stretch the defense with his outside shooting ability, and at the same time, he’s also a good passer in getting others involved.
Three players to watch: Abbott, Jordan Glenn and Daryl Adams give Mojave a great starting point and should keep them in most games. Developing other players will determine how far they go in the postseason.
Last year: Lost in the Sunrise Region quarterfinals; finished with a 13-13 record
What’s to like about the Cougars: Coronado, which took second last year in the Southeast, has one of the area’s most challenging schedules. The Cougars play top-10 local teams Centennial and Las Vegas, and also will play at tournaments in Miami and Southern California. That experience could give them an edge in a Sunrise Region where multiple teams could win the championship.
Three players to watch: Senior wing Nick Kornieck has a solid shooting touch from the outside. He’ll be joined by junior Jake Desjardins and Bryce Savoy.