After a month of play for boys high school basketball in the Central Section, the following article takes a looks at the top ten teams in the area. This list is based on teams I have seen play in person, as well as some input from coaches and local media outlets. I have not seen all of the teams in the Central Section play, and given the restrictions due to Covid-19, some of the anticipated match-ups have been cancelled. The list starts with the two teams that have separated themselves from the rest up to this point. The next 3 teams have all beat each other and it is tough to justify one over the other at this point in the season. The last 5 teams could make moves into the top 5 based on how they perform in league play. I will update this list at the end of the regular season and before playoffs at the end of May.
The Knights have started the season off red hot, with their only loss coming Saturday in a competitive game against powerhouse Sierra Canyon. St. Joseph returns all 5 starters from last season and has great chemistry, solid guard play, size in the interior, and the physicality of a veteran team. The consistency on the defensive end has been a huge part of the Knights success and a key reason why I have them as the top seed midway through the season.
Significant wins: Bakersfield Christian (won both games) and Brentwood.
Impact players: Seniors Jincho Rivera, Sam Bazunga, Anyel Ortiz and Steven Vasquez; Junior Dre Roman; Sophomore Luis Marin.
The defending Central Section Open Division champions are off to a great start this season with all seven wins by double digits. The Panthers return a majority of their core from last year's roster, but there have been a few new additions (James Prescott moved from Virginia, Khristian Holmes transferred from Fresno High and Mike Davis Jr. returned from injury), along with the loss of 2 core pieces (Stephon Young graduated and Devin Newsome moved back to Michigan). The Panther’s have had moments where they look like the most dynamic team in the Central Section, but with the new additions and subtractions to the line-up, the team is still working on building the consistency and chemistry required to defend their Sectional Championship.
Significant wins: Clovis West, Clovis North, Bullard, and Clovis East.
Impact Players: Seniors Jaden Geron, Jalen “JD” Douglas and James Prescott; Junior Joseph Hunter; Sophomores Mike Davis Jr., Khristian Holmes.
The next three teams I have in a 3-way tie at this point in the season, as they have all defeated each other head to head and all 3 have played tough schedules with quality wins. After the next few weeks, there will be a better picture of which team has separated themselves as the clear #3 seed in the Section, as Clovis North and Clovis West are in the same league and Bakersfield Christian’s schedule is the strongest in the Central Section.
The Broncos have had a strong start to the 2021 season, and despite some key pieces graduating from last year’s roster, this year’s team has looked very solid as a unit and players have fit nicely into the roles. Ak Okereke has been a force on both ends of the court, along with solid guard play from Nico Jones and Connor Amundsen (freshman that has been a sniper from beyond the arc). The Broncos have some big wins the first month of the season, and their only 2 losses came at the hands of 2 of the top 3 teams in the Fresno/Clovis area (San Joaquin Memorial and Clovis West). Broncos should be solid for the foreseeable future, as a majority of the core will be returning next year.
Significant wins: Bakersfield Christian (won both match-ups), Bullard, Hoover, Sanger and Clovis East.
Impact Players: Seniors Ak Okereke and Landon Humprhey; Junior Nico Jones; Sophomore Jaylen Bryant; and Freshman Connor Amundsen.
The Eagles were in a tough predicament when high school basketball was cleared for take-off in California, as they would not be competing in the league they have been a part of in previous years. Coach Brown took the initiative and put together the strongest schedule of any team in the Central Section, as they have already played Heritage Christian, St. Joseph, Clovis West, Clovis North, and Bullard, and are headed to play Pacifica Christian (Orange County) on Monday, May 3rd. The defending Central Section Division 3 Champs, and Division 4 State Champs (awarded by CalHi Sports) have seen major changes to their roster from a year ago, which has led to some big wins and tough losses in the first month of the season. Despite being a game over .500, I have Bakersfield Christian in the Top 5 because of their strength of schedule that included 2 huge wins over Clovis West in the span of a week. The perimeter play for the Eagles has been the foundation of this year's team, but the lack of size in the interior has been problematic against teams like St. Joseph and Clovis North. Depending on how the Eagles do against the remainder of their schedule will play a big part of where they finish this season.
Significant wins: Clovis West (won both match-ups) and Heritage Christian (Northridge).
Impact Players: Senior Seth Marantos; Juniors Jackson Tucker, Erick Chaney and Zach Hiebert, Sophomore Charlie Stump, and Freshman Bentley Waller.
The Golden Eagles had a few hiccups to start the 2021 basketball season, with opponents focusing their entire defensive schemes on keeping the ball out of Clovis West’s all time leading scorer, Senior Cole Anderson. After dropping 3 of their first 5 games (two losses to Bakersfield Christian and the season opener to San Joaquin Memorial) the Golden Eagles have won 7 straight games, as the underclassmen have stepped up big to take pressure off of Anderson, forcing teams to pull off the box-in-one defense. Specifically, the scoring of Sophomore Issac Martinez has been a key boost for Clovis West and allowed Anderson to play more freely, which was evident by his 51 point performance last Saturday, April 24th, connecting on 13 threes. The Golden Eagles would be the team I would project to round out the Top 3 teams in the Central Section by the end of the regular season.
Significant wins: San Joaquin Memorial, Clovis North, Central and Hoover.
Impact players: Seniors Cole Anderson and Ryus Vang; Junior Justin Rangel; Sophomores Issac Martinez and Kaleb Jackson; Freshmens Marshel Sanders and Jackson Young.
The teams that round out the Top 10 for the Central Section have had some impressive wins, talented rosters, and could move up this list if they have success throughout league play.
The Grizzlies started the season out with four 20+ blowout wins and have been able to impact the game from the perimeter, as well as in the interior. Despite the departure of Juniors Jaylan Walton and Kaylon Mason, Central has been led by Senior Cedric Coward and Juniors Teriq Streets and Marquis Greene.
Significant wins: Hoover, Sanger and Clovis HS.
Impact players: Senior Cedric Coward; Juniors Marquis Greene, Teriq Streets and Marques Green; Sophomores Dylan Swillis and Henry Madden III.
The Falcons’ season started last week, on April 28th, with back to back wins over Ridgeview Wolfpack. Despite the lack of games played, due to the later start for the South Yosemite Leagues, the defending Central Section Division 2 Champs return their top player from last year’s team (Cameron Brown), and have added 3 players to the roster that make them a likely contender for repeating as D2 Section champs.
Impact players: Senior Levi Latu; Juniors Cameron Brown, Michael Pineda and D’Monte Moten; Sophomores Tyron Tyler Jr. and Tramaine Stocker Jr.
The Knights started the season out strong, winning 5 of their first 7 games, highlighted by a double digit win over Bakersfield Christian. Despite the strong start, Bullard is coming off a tough week with losses to San Joaquin Memorial, Modesto Christian and Sanger.
Significant wins: Bakersfield Christian, Clovis East, Buchanan and Clovis HS.
Significant wins: Bullard and Roosevelt
Impact players: Senior Luke Dillon, Juniors Jonathon Dillon and Luke Karle, Sophomore Kaleb Cole.
Significant wins: Clovis HS, Clovis East and Roosevelt
Impact players: Seniors AJ George, Mikale Hoggatt and Dyllion Moua; Juniors Anthony Swillis and Jeremiah Simmons.