Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Jeff Kaufman easily recalls highlights of his senior season with the Valley High basketball team more than 30 years ago. The Vikings won the state championship in 1980, beating the likes of Bishop Gorman, Western and Reno in the tournament.
They became a local dynasty by also winning the next three titles. Those legendary Valley teams, though, never had to face this type of opponent in the playoffs.
A new season begins next week, and the Las Vegas area is loaded with teams led by players considered among the best in the nation.
Take Kaufman’s Coronado High program, for instance. The Cougars are led by Jaden Hardy, who is ranked as the nation’s fourth overall recruit for 2021, and top freshman Richard Isaacs, another national recruit. Yet, they are just ranked No. 3 in the Sun’s preseason top 10.
That’s because seven-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman, whose lineup includes four starters with major Division I scholarship offers, is again No. 1. At No. 2, Clark is led by Oklahoma signee Jalen Hill (18 points per game last year) and three-year starter Antwon Jackson, who signed with Arkansas State. And at No. 6, Liberty has top 2020 prospect Julian Strawther, a five-star recruit, leading the way.
“We had a lot of guys who went to college, but not these types of guys,” Kaufman said.
Here’s a look at the Sun’s preseason top 10.
Last year: State champions
What’s to like about Gorman: Gorman’s lineup includes post player Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-10 power forward who has more than 40 offers and will be a matchup problem all season. The same is true for shooting guard Noah Taitz, who is being courted by the likes of Washington and Stanford. Both are only juniors. Sophomore point guard Zaon Collins and forward Will McClendon thrived last season to help Gorman win its seventh straight title. Senior Chance Michels, a guard, is a three-year varsity player.
Last year: Lost in the regional finals
What’s to like about Clark: Hill and Jackson have a championship pedigree, winning a 3A title with the Chargers as freshmen and leading them to the large-school championship game as sophomores. Hill can score from the inside and out, Jackson won’t be pushed around near the basket, and sophomore point guard Frankie Collins has a scholarship offer from UNLV. Look for Collins to have a breakthrough season.
Last year: Lost in the regional finals
What’s to like about Coronado: Coronado’s starting five could be the best in the state. Hardy averaged 25 points per game last season as a freshman. On any given night, the guard can single-handedly lead the Cougars to a win against any opponent. But he isn’t alone. Isaacs, a point guard, already has multiple scholarship offers. Juniors Tyrelle Hunt, who last season averaged a double-double, and Felix Reeves bring varsity experience. At center, Carl Lewis (6-foot-10) transferred in from California.
Last year: 3A state champions
What’s to like about Desert Pines: Desert Pines has long argued it has the state’s best program regardless of classification. They Jags will immediately impact the 4A and threaten Canyon Springs’ dominance in the Northeast League. The Jags have many capable players, especially in the backcourt with freshman Milos Uzan and junior AJ Pullens. Sophomore Dayshawn Wiley averaged 12 points per game last season. Post player Darnell Washington, a top 2020 recruit in football, also has an Oregon State basketball offer.
Last year: Northeast League and Sunrise Regional champions
What’s to like about Canyon Springs: Canyon Springs is the favorite to win the new Mountain Region. The Pioneers typically have the best athletes on the court, overwhelming the opposition with its up-tempo attack and full-court press defense. Guard Alexander Spaight and forwards Kayvon Alexander and Mervin Soares give the Pioneers three experienced players who fit into the program’s fast-paced play.
Last year: Lost in regional quarterfinals
What’s to like about Arbor View: This will be one the best teams in Arbor View’s 12-year history. Led by junior guard Donovan Yap and senior Tyre Williams, the Aggies will again be a playoff contender. Last year, they lost at the buzzer in the regional quarterfinal. This year, they are expected to contend for a regional title and state tournament berth. Guard Favour Chukwukelu is the leading returning scorer at nearly 10 points per game last season.
Last year: Lost in the regional semifinals
What’s to like about Liberty: Junior Julian Strawther, depending on who is talking, is the state’s best player. The 6-foot-6 wing is a consensus top-25 recruit for the class of 2021. Last year against Coronado, Strawther scored 45 points to lead the Patriots to victory. Strawther is joined by senior forward Jordan Wafer and sophomore guard Kobe Stroughter.
Last year: Northwest League champions; lost in the regional semifinals
What’s to like about Faith Lutheran: In the wide open Mountain Region, Faith Lutheran — led by sharpshooter Brevin Walter — is primed to make a deep playoff run. The Crusaders have gone from class 3A power to winning postseason games in the large-school classification in each of the past two seasons. Walter, who averaged 14 points per game last season, will be joined by senior guard Donovan Jackson.
Last year: Lost in the 3A state championship game
What’s to like about Cheyenne: Cheyenne will be an instant contender in its maiden season in the 4A Northeast League, especially with returners Damion Bonty and JD McCormick leading the way. Big things are also expected from sophomore Glenn Taylor Jr., who was a starter last season for a Desert Shields team that lost in overtime of the state title game.
Last year: Won Southeast League; lost in regional semifinals
What’s to like about Foothill: The Falcons are led by four-year varsity contributor Jace Roquemore, who averaged by 14 points per game last season, and Dylan Hushaw, who averaged 13 points per game. Paul DeSantis, a longtime assistant, was elevated to head coach and envisions continuing the program’s winning ways. Other players to watch include Caleb Stearman and Collin Russell.
Outside looking in
Durango, with junior standout Anthony Hunter, who averaged 20 points per game last season, will again be competitive. The Trailblazers’ core group of younger players, including brothers Keshon and Kendrick Gilbert, give coach DeShawn Henry reason for optimism. Big things are expected from Keshon Gilbert, a 2021 point guard. … Centennial is led by two senior returners, post player Leland Wallace and guard Savio Gines-Rivera. The Bulldogs also have capable underclassmen in Chris Dockery and Austin Anderson. That should be plenty to threaten for a state tournament appearance. … Democracy Prep, the defending 2A state champion, is the favorite to win state in its first class 3A season.