The four East Valley boys basketball coaching searches are either in the interview stage or nearing it. There doesn’t seem to be a ton of overlap among the top candidates for each position, and each situation is unique from the others.
Here is a look at openings and their pros and cons:
Last year’s record: 15-13, lost in second round of Division I state tournament
Key losses: Jordan Bellamy, Sr., G (7.4 ppg, 3.2 apg); Marcus Ramirez, Sr., F (6.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg).
Key projected returners: Khari Holloway, Jr., G (18.2 ppg, 4.8 apg, 3.9 rpg); Austin Witherill, So., G (11.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.0 apg); Jalen Brown, So., G (7.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.2 spg, 1.8 bpg).
Positives: The three most talented players will return to a Mountain Pointe team that was one possession away from making the state quarterfinals. The Pride played many elite teams competitively last season and could be a top-10 squad next season.
Negatives: The team doesn’t have a lot of size returning, especially if Kenny Lacy doesn’t play next season. He is a coveted football recruit and it’s difficult to project if he will play basketball. The area is talent-rich, but Desert Vista and Corona del Sol are close by and both have more established programs that will draw players.
Long-term analysis: This is probably the most attractive opening in the East Valley. The team next year should be good, and the area consistently produces some of the best players in the state. The problem at Mountain Pointe has been securing and keeping those players. Jahii Carson played for the Pride for two seasons before transferring to Mesa. Desert Vista has traditionally been the basketball destination in the area, but this is a big-time opportunity for a coach to turn Mountain Pointe into a perennial contender. The avenues are there to make it work.
Last year’s record: 22-7, lost in the second round of the Division I state tournament
Key losses: None.
Key projected returners: Jaron Hopkins, Jr., G (21.8 pppg, 7.0 rpg, 6.0 apg, 5.3 spg); Torren Jones, Jr., F (19.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg); Nathan Markovich, So., G (8.5 ppg, 1.4 spg); Maurice Kirby, Jr., F (7.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg).
Positives: This was the No. 1 ranked team in the state for a portion of last year and no one of substance graduates. Jaron Hopkins, Torren Jones and Maurice Kirby may all play Division I college basketball. The talent on the team is undeniable, and a coach that gets these players to buy in would have a shot at a championship in his first year at the helm.
Negatives: The season fell apart late, as Basha lost its final three games, punctuated by blowing a 16-point fourth quarter lead against Perry in the second round of the playoffs. Brad Pinter resigned after the season, which has caused both Hopkins and Jones to consider transfer options. Even if everyone returns, this team lacked cohesiveness last year and the new coach will need to work out various issues.
Long-term analysis: This is definitely a high-risk, high-reward position. In a best-case scenario, the new coach will come in, persuade Hopkins and Jones to return and lead the team on a deep run in the state tournament. That would set up the program very well, as the area should continue to grow and there is talent in close proximity. In a worst-case scenario, Hopkins and Jones leave and the Bears struggle next season. Basha benefited from open-enrollment and transfers under Pinter, but a culture change with a new coach could dry up those avenues. It would then remain to be seen how much talent ends up at Basha, and it could be a tough transition.
Last year’s record: 14-14, missed Div. I playoffs
Key losses: Luke Tingey, Sr., F (13.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg); Alan Burgess, Sr., F (9.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg); Gerardo Arzaga (9.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg).
Key projected returners: Josh Brown, So., G (7.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.4 apg); Shomari Gilliam, So., G (4.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
Positives: The Warriors had a solid season, hung with some of the better teams in Division I and finished .500 for the year, although they did miss the playoffs. Josh Brown put up solid numbers as a sophomore and should increse his production next year.
Negatives: Westwood loses its top three scorers, including Luke Tingey, the team’s best player. With its location in the heart of the East Valley, the team’s schedule is always going to be tough.
Long-term analysis: This program is a notch or two below Mountain Pointe and Basha in terms of attractiveness. Westwood hasn’t had a lot of success recently, and the area’s demographics don’t seem to be changing. However, a good coach can do wonders for a program, and nearby Mesa is still a basketball powerhouse despite similar challenges, so it’s not a dead end.
Rancho Solano Prep
Last year’s record: 13-15, missed Division IV playoffs
Key losses: Ishan Ranjan, Sr., G (8.2 ppg); Joey Vinck, Sr., G (6.2 ppg).
Key projected returners: Jordan Shouse, Jr., G (18.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg).
Positives: The Mustangs barely missed the postseason in their first season as an AIA member in 2011-2012. Jordan Shouse is back after putting up good numbers last season, and the program figures to continually get stronger as it moves forward.
Negatives: The program is still in its infancy with fewer than 100 students enrolled. The team only had three seniors last year, but two — Ranjan and Vinck — were key contributors. Nearby private schools Scottsdale Christian and Notre Dame have both won state titles, so Rancho Solano must compete with them to get players to come to its school.
Long-term analysis: It’s unknown if Rancho Solano can become a small-school basketball power, but the start seems encouraging. Former Notre Dame coach Matt Harris is the athletic director and has a grand vision for sports at the school. Rancho Solano eventually plans to expand to 700 students from sixth through 12th grade, so it should have the type of numbers to be a perennial contender. Harris said more than 60 candidates have applied for the job, so many seem to believe it can become a small-school power.