During the high school football season, there was plenty of talk about the haves and have nots in each division, and the divide seems to be at an all-time high. In boys basketball, that doesn't seem to be the case.
The new conference realignment has pushed several former 5A-II powers up to Division I, which should lead to an exciting basketball year. Pinnacle and Chaparral headline the list, as both have the talent to play with the top big-school teams.
"I am in total favor of more teams going for the same state championship," Mesa coach Shane Burcar said. "Thirty-two teams was not enough. It's tough to win a state championship no matter what, but I like this much better."
There is a new format this season, with a 24-team state tournament in which the top eight seeds will get first-round byes. There will also be sectional tournaments leading into the playoffs. The top four finishers in each sectional tournament will get automatic playoff bids, with the next 12 qualifying based on power point rankings.
Unlike last year with Jahii Carson, there is no clear-cut star, although Corona del Sol guard Calaen Robinson has the talent to separate himself from the pack. Some teams have already started playing in preseason tournaments, and now with football in the rearview mirror, it's time to focus on the hardwood.
Players to Watch
Camyn Boone, Sr., F, Mountain View: Maybe the most polished big man in the state is very effective on both ends of floor
Calaen Robinson, Sr., G, Corona del Sol: One of E.V.'s best scorers can beat you off the dribble or with jumper
Drew Bender, Jr., F, Pinnacle: Scores, rebounds, passes very well and big part of why Pinnacle is preseason No. 1
Dorian Pickens, So., G, Pinnacle: Great shooter may actually be too unselfish at times
Eric Jacobsen, Sr., F, Hamilton: Good fundamentals and athleticism for big man
Larry Lewis, Sr., G, Arcadia: Great scorer does other things well, too
Jaron Hopkins, Jr., G, Basha: Game has improved lately, and will help decide if Basha can be a contender
Danny Powell, Sr., F, Desert Vista: Not the prettiest player, but always effective
Derreck Brooks, Sr., G, Desert Ridge: Wiry guard can fill it up for Jaguars
Torren Jones, Jr., F, Basha: Basketball IQ is starting to catch up to natural talent
Desmond Medder, Sr., G, Mesa: His team now with Jahii Carson at Arizona State
Joe Boyd, Jr., F, Chaparral: Early-season injury a downer for one of E.V.'s top big men
Paul Watson, Jr., F, Paradise Valley: Averaged 17.5 points and eight rebounds as a sophomore
Jeff Lowery, Sr., G., Desert Vista: Smart and unselfish, one of key reasons why Thunder start in top-5
James Harper, Sr., F, Brophy: Ultra-smooth, will take over as leader of last year's state runner-ups
Kodi Justice, So., Dobson: Did not play on varsity last season, but should contribute heavily
Jalen Jenkins, Fr., G, Mesa: Possibly the best freshman in the state
Payton Dastrup, So., F, Mountain View: Looking to become next dominant big man for Toros
Casey Benson, So., G, Corona del Sol: Scored 13 points per game last season as freshman and will be a pivotal part again
Jake Toolson, So., F, Highland: Teaming with older brother Connor to lead Hawks
Nov. 29 - Pinnacle at Desert Vista
Dec. 8-10 - Christian Cup
Dec. 27-30 - McClintock Holiday Shootout
Dec. 27-31 - VisitMesa.com Basketball Challenge
Jan. 13 - Mountain View at Brophy
Jan. 16 - Corona del Sol vs. Hamilton at ASU
Jan. 16 - MLK Basketball Classic
Feb. 7-11 - Various sectional tournaments
Feb. 11 - First round of Div. IV state tournament
Feb. 14 - First round of Div. III state tournament
Feb. 16 - First round of Div. I and II state tournaments
Feb. 25 - State championship games for all four divisions
Did you know?
•Westwind Prep petitioned up to play in Division I and likely would have been the preseason No. 1 if not for a chaotic offseason. The private school boasted two of the top players in the country in DeMarquise Johnson and Chris Thomas, but both transferred before the start of the year, and coach Gary Trousdale also left. The 2A defending champions are a shell of their former selves and could be looking at a tough year.
•Chaparral coach Aaron Windler resigned just weeks before the start of the season. He led the Firebirds to back-to-back 5A-II championship game appearances the past two seasons.
•With the reduction from seven division to four, three defending state champions have been lumped together in Division II. Defending 4A-II champion Tucson Amphitheater, defending 4A-I champion Nogales and defending 5A-II champion Betty Fairfax will all be competing against each other to repeat as state titlists.