There’s room at the top, but not much.
This winter’s boys basketball bounty looks plentiful, which is good news for the upper crust, and potentially bad news for those trying to break in.
Nearly everyone returns at Phoenix St. Mary’s, plus California transfer and recently minted Arizona State commitment Demetrius Walker. That makes the Knights the team to beat.
Gilbert Highland has a terrific backcourt back in Matt Carlino and Nick Johnson.
Chandler Basha will be back, defending champion Phoenix Desert Vista lost a lot but not everything, and no one should discount a team coached by Gary Ernst (Mountain View).
In 5A-II, Scottsdale Horizon and Phoenix Pinnacle will be in the running but must deal with Texas commitment Daniel Bejarano and Phoenix North, as well as defending champion Tucson Ironwood Ridge.
In 4A-I, Scottsdale Saguaro was hit hard by the graduation of point guard Dominick Ruth and swingman Matt Rhodes, but Steven Morin will look to keep the Sabercats among the conference elite.
In 4A-II, Tucson Santa Rita is the overwhelming favorite after finishing as the state runner-up the previous two years.
Look out in 2A, where Scottsdale Christian and Chandler Valley Christian are contenders again.
5 players to watch
1. Matt Carlino, Highland, 6-1, G, So., Debuted last season for Hawks averaging 16.2 points and 5.6 assists.
2. Tyler Miller, Basha, 6-6, F, Sr., Offers solid game with last year’s 14.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg and 3 apg.
3. Byron Fulton, St. Mary’s, 6-7, F, Sr., Great inside presence for talented Knights.
4. Jahii Carson, Mtn. Pointe, 5-8, G, So., Posted gaudy numbers as a freshman (18.3 ppg, 6.5 apg).
5. Devirous Johnson, Chandler, 6-3, W, Jr., Averaged double-double (points-rebounds) last season for the Wolves.
Others to watch
Nick Markovich, Basha, 6-6, F, Sr.; Tyler Hornacek, Brophy, 6-2, G, Sr.; Ryan Harty, Brophy, 6-2, G, Sr.; Leland Devlin, Corona del Sol, 6-2, G, Sr.; Danny Franz, Desert Mountain, 6-5, F, Sr.; Judd Welfringer, Desert Ridge, 6-5, G, So.; Marcus Lever, Desert Vista, 6-0, G, Sr.; John Bailey, Dobson, 6-8, F, Jr.; Eric Donzella, Gilbert, 6-0, G, Sr.; Elliott Clark, Gilbert, 6-0, G, Sr.; Stephen Topercer, Horizon, 6-0, G, So.; Collin Woods, Horizon, 6-1, G, So.; Kyle Tresnak, Horizon, 6-9, F, Jr.; T.J. Burke, Marcos de Niza, 6-6, F, So.; Donte Medder, Mesa, G, 6-0, Sr.; Michael Ramirez, Mountain Pointe, 6-3, F, Jr.; Nathan Murphy, Mtn. View, 6-4, G, Sr.; Nuno Muandumba, Pinnacle, 5-11, G, Sr.; Nate Murdock, Pinnacle, 6-1, G, Jr.; Paul Newendyke, Red Mountain, 6-2, G, Jr.; Demetrius Walker, St. Mary’s, 6-4, G, Sr.; Anthony Resendes, St. Mary’s, 6-4, G, Sr.
David Carroll, Arcadia, 6-2, W, Sr.; Zach Jones, Arcadia, 6-8, C, Sr.; Gus Gabel, Chaparral, 6-7, F, Sr.; Zeke Chapman, Chaparral, 5-10, G, So.; Devonte Thornburg, McClintock, 6-6, F, Sr.; Nate Dudley, Notre Dame, 6-4, W, Sr.; Naheer Mirza, Paradise Valley, 5-8, G, Jr.; Chase Richardson, Perry, 6-1, G, So.; Steven Morin, Saguaro, 6-5, F, Sr.; Johnathan Nelson, Saguaro, 6-6, F, Sr.; Bo Barnes, Scottsdale Christian, 6-3, G, Sr.; Kyle Mahoney, Seton, 6-2, G, Sr.; Thomas Harty, Seton, 6-4, W, Jr.; Marcell McClain, Tempe, 5-8, F, Jr.; Austin Moyers, Williams Field, 6-4, G, Jr.; Wade Urig, Valley Christian, 6-2, G, Sr.; Jordan Kerpan, Valley Christian, 6-2, G, Sr.
Saturday: Championship game of Fear the Hop Tournament at Mesa High.
Dec. 26-30: Second annual Arizona Basketball Challenge at Mountain View High School featuring 5A champ Desert Vista; Highland, Mountain View, 3A champ Estrella Foothills, Saguaro, Pinnacle, North, Hamilton, Tucson, Red Mountain, Dobson, César Chavez and a quartet of out-of-state opponents, Highland Lone Peak, Utah; Harvard-Westlake, Calif.; Sagemont, Fla.; and Federal Way, Wash.
Jan. 19: MLK Classic at Wells Fargo Arena — Phoenix North vs. Gilbert Highland; Scottsdale Christian vs. Northwest Christian
Boys preseason top 5
5A DIVISION I
1. St. Mary’s: Addition of out-of-state transfer Demetrius Walker gives Knights an even tougher lineup from runner-up finish.
2. Highland: Mostly same cast led by sophomore Matt Carlino returns hoping to avoid first-round upset and make big-time run at title.
3. Basha: Bears made a nice run last season; Tyler Miller, Nick Markovich and Co., looking to go further this time.
4. Mountain View: No huge names after four years of star-power, but a cast of role players should compete well.
5. Desert Vista: Coach Doug Harris must do some retooling after reaching the top last year but has a decent nucleus, led by Marcus Lever.
5A DIVISION II
1. Phoenix North: Texas-commit Daniel Bejarano might be the best player in the state, and he has a good supporting cast around him.
2. Ironwood Ridge: Lost a lot from the title team of a year ago, but Brandon Douliakas and Lawrence Hampton will lead quest for a repeat.
3. Horizon: The Huskies have talented guards and good size up front.
4. Pinnacle: Nuno Muandumba and Nate Murdock will fill the void left by Taylor Rohde, now at Arizona State.
5. Carl Hayden: Bryan Rhymes averaged 20 points per game last year as a freshman, and older brother Byron (a junior) isn’t bad either.
4A DIVISION I
1. Sunnyslope: Kansas commit Royce Woolridge, just a junior, is one of the better players in the state.
2. Shadow Mountain: Four of the top five scorers return, including Martyre Demarco, who averaged 13.4 points, 6.7 assists as a freshman.
3. Cienega: Kino Region winners and state quarterfinalists get back four starters.
4. Apollo: Daniel Scroggins (18.6 points, 6.8 rebounds per game) returns for a Hawks team that is always in the mix.
5. Saguaro: Steven Morin and Johnathan Nelson return to last year’s state semifinalists, but the Sabercats lost 10 seniors.
4A DIVISION II
1. Santa Rita: Junior point guard Terrell Stoglin makes Eagles, state runner-up in ’07 and ’08, favorite to cut down the nets this year.
2. Cortez: Colts return all five starters from last year’s state semifinal team.
3. Arcadia: Titans will be more balanced offensively; two-point loss to Santa Rita in state quarters has team highly motivated.
4. Greenway: Demons will be slow out of the gate due to injury and academic issues, but team has talent to make return trip to final four.
5. Desert Edge: Scorpions graduated much of last season’s state title team, but strong guard play should have them in the mix again.