Eight of the top teams from Arizona met up to play in the Mesa Summer PrimeTime tournament last weekend. Several local powers will be taking part in the Best In Basketball Summer Invitational beginning Thursday.
While the regular season is still five months away, teams are sizing each other up on the hardwood.
After watching several games on Friday and Saturday, and knowing the personnel teams are bringing back, here’s a stab at way-too-early summer rankings for Division I.
As a reminder, next year’s format has essentially combined 5A-I and 5A-II into one division, and 24 teams will make the postseason.
With injuries, transfers and more development sure to happen in the upcoming months, these rankings could change once the season gets here, but it’s our early look at how the summer is shaking out.
1. Pinnacle: The Pioneers are making the jump up from 5A Division II, but they are bringing back their top six scorers off a team that went 24-5 and made the state semifinals. Pinnacle beat Mesa, Saguaro, Chaparral, Horizon and Desert Mountain among others last season, and four of its losses came by three points. Junior Drew Bender was an All-Tribune second team selection last year, averaging 17.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. Sophomore shooting guard Dorian Pickens recently picked up a scholarship offer from Arizona State after averaging 10.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game as a freshman, shooting 59 percent from the floor. “There’s going to be a lot of competition (at the Division I level),” Pickens said. “It’s going to be tough for us, but we’re excited to see where we’re at.”
2. Corona del Sol: The Aztecs were given a tough draw in last year’s state tournament, running into the Mountain View buzzsaw in the 5A-I quarterfinals, where they bowed out. Corona del Sol finished the season 23-6 and had the No. 5 seed in the postseason. With star guard Calaen Robinson leading the way, this team is looking like an early contender for the crown. Key players Casey Benson, Andrus Peat, Avery Moss and Braden Tennyson all return, which gives the Aztecs experience to go along with its talent. With a better draw, Corona del Sol could have been the team playing Mountain View in the state finals last season. Now, it will try to follow in the Toros’ footsteps and win a championship.
3. Mountain View: The Toros lost plenty of talent in Jaren Sweeney, Mark Mazzucco and Kyle Bingham, but don’t expect to see this team fall too far. Forward Camyn Boone is wrapping up his stellar career as a senior, and his athleticism and soft touch around the hoop makes it tough for any team to guard him one-on-one. Point guard Jeff Kerr returns after missing the second half of last season due to injury, and Mitch Wallace should move into the starting lineup. The Toros’ defense and balance should keep them in the mix.
4. Desert Vista: Coach Dave Williams likes the way his team has been playing this offseason, and there’s enough talent here that a state title is within reach. The Thunder has one of the best 1-2 punches in the state in forward Danny Powell (19.2 points per game, 10.5 rebounds) and swingman Jeff Lowery (10.7 points, 2.0 steals). John Marshall, Steve Klein and K.J. Hoffman also will make an impact as the team brings back five of its top six scorers from last season. Desert Vista finished last year with a record of 21-10 and made the state quarterfinals, where it lost to Buena, 74-73. Williams said the team has only lost twice this summer. “We’re playing well,” Williams said.
5. Basha: Torren Jones and Jaron Hopkins have been on varsity since their freshmen years, and will now look to take a step forward as juniors. The Bears went just 12-14 last season, but lost eight games by five points or fewer. Jones averaged 14.2 points and 9.9 rebounds per game last season and Hopkins added 13.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists. Basha will be buoyed by the incoming transfer of 6-foot-8 Maurice Kirby, the Arizona State commit who averaged 12.9 points and 12.6 assists last year for Poston Butte. Kirby and Jones are still developing their offensive games, but will be tough to score on in the paint with their size.