The Gilbert Christian boys basketball team has won games by 60, 41 and 36 points this season and is the favorite to win a third state title in four years.
Such is life for a dominant private-school program in Division III, but the Knights won’t be there long. Gilbert Christian will move up to Division II next season and is in a pair of high-profile tournaments this month as it continues to seek out tough competition.
The first is the Christian Cup, which takes place Thursday through Saturday at Gilbert Christian H.S. Local schools Valley Christian and Phoenix Northwest Christian are in the field, with Eads (Tenn.) Briarcrest Christian, Solana Beach (Calif.) Santa Fe Christian, Lynden (Wash.) Christian, Las Cruces (N.M.) Mesilla Valley Christian and Huntington Beach (Calif.) Brethren Christian. Lynden Christian won a state championship last season, while Briarcrest and Mesilla Valley were both runners-up.
Later this month, Gilbert Christian is in the VisitMesa.com Basketball Challenge with many of Arizona’s top teams as well as out-of-state programs.
“Our players want to continue to get better in practice and in game situations,” Gilbert Christian coach Jerome Joseph said. “The only way to get better is to play against top competition. Most of our guys play on high-competition AAU teams in the summer. They see that speed of the game and the talent level, so they’ll be ready.”
Valley Christian will play Brethren Christian on Thursday at 5 p.m. Brethren Christian is led by 7-foot-5 center Mamadou Ndiaye, who has committed to UC-Irvine. Gilbert Christian will play Mesilla Valley Christian at 6:30 p.m on Thursday in its first-round matchup and could play Brethren Christian on Friday.
Briarcrest Christian boasts 6-foot-8 senior Austin Nichols, a power forward who chose Memphis over Duke, Vanderbilt and others. Gilbert Christian could play Briarcrest in the tournament championship game on Saturday at 6 p.m.
“We would definitely look forward to it and the players would look forward to (playing Ndiaye or Nichols),” Joseph said.
The Knights are 4-0 this season. Returning starters Sam Jones (20.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.3 steals), Roberto Reyes (17.5 points, 5.8 assists, 2.0 steals) and Dylan Bliss (11.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.0 steals) have played well. Other big contributors are Hamilton transfer Keaton Ranger (14.8 points) and freshman Cameron Satterwhite (6.3 points).
Depth will be key moving forward.
“I feel really good about it right now,” he said. “We’re smaller compared to last year’s team, but we’re much more athletic. We only played five or six guys last year. It’s good as a coach playing seven, eight, nine guys.”