Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017 | 2 a.m.
They should have won the high school basketball championship last season.
The Clark Chargers had what appeared to be an insurmountable lead against Bishop Gorman in the fourth quarter but surrendered an eight-point lead in the final 100 seconds for a tough-to-stomach defeat.
Gorman players stormed the court celebrating their sixth straight title, and Clark players watched in amazement, surely thinking: What just happened?
That may not be the case this winter — Clark is No. 1 in our preseason rankings.
Clark returns all of its key contributors from last season and, more important, is determined to make amends for the collapse. Most of Gorman’s players, while talented and high-end college recruits, are underclassmen.
“I love that everyone is doubting us,” Gorman senior Jamal Bey said. “That gives us more motivation.”
Here’s the rest of the Sun’s rankings, which were selected by the Sun’s sports staff. There was no debate: All three voters had Clark ahead of Gorman.
Last season: Lost in the state championship game
What’s to like about Clark: Clark returns all of its key contributors from last year, including UNLV commit Trey Woodbury, four-year varsity player James Bridges, emerging forwards Jalen Hill and Ian Alexander, and big man Antwon Jackson. The Chargers lacked a true point guard last season — as witnessed in the fourth-quarter collapse — but filled that void with transfer Greg Foster, a Gonzaga signee. The Chargers’ core players have won multiple playoff games each season, meaning they know what it takes to survive come the postseason in late February.
The biggest obstacle for Clark: It’s a one-word answer: Gorman. Gorman has won the last six state championships, has arguably the state’s best player in Washington signee Jamal Bey and, most important, has a mental edge over the Chargers. The disappointment of losing that double-digit lead won’t easily be erased.
2. Bishop Gorman
Last season: Southwest League, Sunset Region and 4A state champions
What’s to like about Gorman: The 6-foot-6 Bey, a three-star recruit who scored 17 points per game last season, can single-handedly lead the Gaels to a win in any given game. Gorman again will play a who’s who of national opponents leading into local play, giving its players invaluable reps against quality competition. That will be key in developing seniors DJ Howe and Saxton Howe, each of whom had strong offseasons and are primed to thrive in their first significant varsity minutes.
The biggest obstacle for Gorman: Gorman will rely on many underclassmen — sophomores Isaiah Cottrell and Noah Taitz, and freshmen Zaon Collins and Will McClendon — who already have major scholarship offers but lack high school varsity experience. Taitz showed flashes of good play last year, including scoring 19 points in the state semifinals, to usher in a new generation of Gorman basketball. Cottrell is skilled 6-foot-9 big man. When they get up to speed, Gorman will have a great chance to continue its dynasty.
Last season: Southeast League and Sunrise Region champions
What’s to like about Coronado: Coronado has gone undefeated in Southeast League play the past three seasons in winning back-to-back Sunrise Regional championships. While the Cougars graduated most of their key pieces from last season, including a pair of forwards who out-muscled opponents on the interior, it appears they have reloaded. Seniors Patrick Sims, Sam Truman, and twins Tahj and Taieem Comeaux — 6-foot-6 forwards — are expected to be team leaders. Freshman Jaden Hardy, who has a scholarship offer from UNLV, could be the Sunrise’s best player.
The biggest obstacle for Coronado: While new-look Coronado projects to again have a strong lineup, it’s still unproven. The preseason will be vital in gaining experience and developing a winning culture. More important, Coronado will need to develop contributors off its bench — more players with limited varsity minutes.
Last season: Advanced to the Sunrise Regional championship game
What’s to like about Foothill: Foothill has the most experienced team in the Sunrise Region with multiyear varsity performers Marvin Coleman and Jace Roquemore at guard. The seniors each averaged double figures in points per game last season and project to be Division I players. The Falcons have seven returners, many of whom were key contributors last season when Foothill had a double-digit halftime lead in the Sunrise championship game. Michael Shaw, a top reserve last season, is expected to be a leader on both ends of the court. Also, look for Dylan Hushaw and a host of others moving up from Foothill’s 19-3 junior varsity team to be impactful.
The biggest obstacle for Foothill: The Falcons have a guard-heavy lineup with few options on the interior, meaning they’ll struggle with rebounds and could be at a disadvantage against teams with quality post players.
5. Canyon Springs
Last season: Northeast League champions; lost in Sunrise semifinals
What’s to like about Canyon Springs: Kevin Legardy is one of the Sunrise Region’s top returners, having averaged about 18 points, four rebounds and two assists per game last season. Canyon Springs will again rely on its speed and athleticism — two strengths the opposition has rarely matched in the program’s dominance. It won three straight Sunrise titles through 2015 and last season went undefeated in Northeast League games. De’Shawn “Cornbread” Keperling, who scored about 10 points per game last season, also returns.
The biggest obstacle for Canyon Springs: The Pioneers return just three players and one starter, meaning developing team chemistry in early season games will be crucial to another winning season. They are the unquestioned team to beat in the Northeast and likely will get everyone’s best game, which isn’t ideal for a team lacking experience.
6. Faith Lutheran
Last season: Took second in Northwest League; lost in Sunset semifinals
What’s to like about Faith Lutheran: The Crusaders return many key performers from last season’s team, which finished in second place of the Northwest League and won a playoff game. It was a significant step for a program just a few years removed from the 3A classification. While most teams have only a handful of returners, Faith Lutheran has two seniors — Elijah Kothe and Jaylen Fox — who have received significant playing time since their freshman season. Both scored in double figures last year. The Crusaders also return Josh Hong, a football standout who is expected to be stingy defensively.
The biggest obstacle for Faith Lutheran: Kothe, a San Diego State commit for football, is recovering from collarbone surgery and won’t return to the Faith Lutheran lineup until January. Even though the Crusaders return virtually their entire lineup, replacing one of their top players won’t be easy.
Last season: Took fourth in the Southwest League
What’s to like about Durango: The Trailblazers’ core players were significant contributors last season, including sophomore guard Anthony Hunter, who averaged nearly 10 points per game as a freshman. Junior guard Nick Blake, who scored seven points per game in 2016-17, has multiple scholarship offers, and senior Vernell Watts (6-foot-5) is primed for a breakout season.
The biggest obstacle for Durango: While Durango’s starters are experienced, it’s second unit is unproven. To survive the rigors of Southwest League play, where five teams are ranked in the preseason top 10, the Trailblazers will need to develop depth. Like most teams, one injury — especially to Hunter or Blake — could derail the season.
Last season: Won the 3A Sunset League; lost in state championship game
What’s to like about Cheyenne: Strong guard play wins championships, and Cheyenne has two of the state’s best in senior Kavon Williams and sophomore KeShawn Hall. Hall is a legitimate Division I prospect who played last season as a freshman, and coach Teral Fair compares Williams to the greats of yesteryear at Cheyenne. That speaks volumes when you consider it previously was a perennial power. Big-bodied post player Damion Bonty, at 6-foot-3, 220-pounds, will be a matchup problem on the interior.
The biggest obstacle for Cheyenne: The Desert Shields are considered the team to beat in the 3A classification, meaning they will get everyone’s best game come Sunset League play. Managing the expectations, everything from not overlooking an opponent to not becoming complacent with blowout wins, could define the season. If Cheyenne isn’t ready for the playoffs, other teams — namely Desert Pines — will be close behind.
9. Sierra Vista
Last season: Finished in third place of Southwest at 13-14 overall
What’s to like about Sierra Vista: The Mountain Lions on most nights will have the best two players on the court in Columbia signee Maka Ellis, who last season averaged 25 points per game, and multiyear starter Maitland Williams. Williams, who averaged 14 points per game, is one of four returning starters. That experience is a commodity many other schools lack.
The biggest obstacle for Sierra Vista: The tallest player on the Sierra Vista roster is 6-foot-5. There are also two players listed at 6-foot-4. That means defending the post and rebounding will be a point of emphasis all season.
10. Desert Pines
Last season: Won the 3A state championship
What’s to like about Desert Pines: The defending state champion Jaguars are a different squad from last season, with virtually all contributors graduating. But the cupboard is far from empty. The Jaguars have many talented (and unproven) pieces, whether it’s players who were at the end of the bench last season or younger players seeing their first action. Tye Moore, Lorenzo Brown and AJ Pullens will be counted on to continue the winning. Brown, a Montana signee for football, is athletic for a big man. Moore is a quick point guard who will lead the Jaguars full-court pressure defense, and Pullens on the wing could be the team’s leading scorer.
The biggest obstacle for Desert Pines: The season hinges on how quickly the newcomers gain experience — everything from learning how to play with each other to becoming comfortable competing on the varsity basketball team. The defending state champions, regardless of the sport or city, always get an opponent’s best effort. Desert Pines should see plenty of closely contested games as a result.
Others to watch
Desert Oasis, with senior Jacob Heese, who averaged more than 20 points per game last season, will be a tough opponent. The Diamondbacks also have a strong group of underclassmen they are confident in. ... Arbor View returns most of its roster, including senior Jarrod Burks and emerging sophomore Donovan Yap. ... Colin Darfour, who last season coached Clark to the state championship game, takes over at Silverado. The Skyhawks have one of the Southeast League’s best players in senior Caden Farley. … Also in the Southeast, sophomore guard Julian Strawther, a heralded recruit with double-digit scholarship offers, will help Liberty be a threat. Liberty also returns senior Cameron Burist, who scored in double figures last season.