After a season like no one has ever seen before, I take a look at some of the top teams for boys high school basketball in the Central Section, as the regular season concludes and playoffs kick-off June 2nd. The following article takes a look at the top ten teams in the area, 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 contested seeding for the Top 4 that will play in the Open Division, which most would agree on the teams I have listed but not necessarily the order they are ranked in. The remaining 6 teams all have a chance to win a Section Championship in the next two weeks, as well as a few others like D2 contenders Rooselvelt and Independence. Thank you to the coaches and staff that have allowed me access to your games in a highly regulated season.
After dominating the County Metro League, along with some impressive non-league wins, I have moved the Panthers up one spot, as the overall top seed in the Central Section. The Panthers are the deepest team in the Section, with a starting five that includes national junior prospect Joseph Hunter, Rice commit Jaden Geron, defensive specialist Jalen Douglas, rising sophomore prospect Mike Davis Jr., and senior point guard James Prescott. The Panthers bring TJ Hall, Khristian Holmes, Kevon Travis and Jack Wade off the bench. The Panthers present problems for defenses, with the ability to knock down the deep ball efficiently, push the pace in transition, and have multiple players that can create their own offense when the team needs scoring. Defensively, the length and athleticism of the Panthers swarms opponents, and allows their transition offense to really flourish.
Significant wins: Clovis West, Clovis North, Bakersfield Christian (twice), Hoover, and Bullard (twice).
The Knights have had an outstanding season, and have played one of the toughest schedules of any team in the Central Section. The chemistry, physicality, and skill of the Knights starting five has been tough to match by opponents. Inside, seniors Jincho Rivera (Chicago State commit) and Sam Bazunga have dominated the boards and enforced their will on both ends of the court. Matching the play in the paint, senior guards Anyel Ortiz and Steven Vasquez have locked up their opponents and have been effective in hitting shots from the pereminter. Rounding out the starting five has been the impressive play of junior combo guard Dre Roman, who has really become a threat scoring at all three levels and is emerging as the #2 Prospect in the Central Section for the Class of 2022. St. Joseph’s two losses were at the hands of the state’s #1 seed in Sierra Canyon and the veteran squad from Capital Christian.
Significant wins: Brentwood School (Los Angeles), Bakersfield Christian (twice), Bullard and Taft (Los Angeles)
The Golden Eagles are the hottest team in the Central Section, and Friday night they wrapped up the Tri-Rivers Athletic Conference title, going undefeated in league play. After a rough start to the season, dropping three of their first five games, Clovis West has won sixteen straight and are looking to return to the Central Sections Boys Open Division Championship Game. The Golden Eagles have been led by the school’s all time scoring leader and UC Santa Barbara commit Cole Anderson, who had numerous impressive scoring outings this season that included a 51 point game against Garces Memorial. However, it has been the emergence of sophomore combo guard Issac Martinez, along with senior veterans Ryus Vang and Marcel Sanders that have allowed the court to open up and prevent teams from focusing all their defensive attention on Anderson. The Golden Eagles just got 6’6 freshman Dre Davis in the line-up and that will provide more inside presence, which could be the missing piece that helps Cole Anderson finish his high school career in an ideal fashion. Despite playing the toughest league competition of the top three seeds, the common factor that the top three teams have is their record against Bakersfield Christian. The two losses to Bakersfield Christian, even though early in the season, are why I have Clovis West at the third seed in the Section.
Significant wins: San Joaquin Memorial, Clovis North (twice) Central (twice), and Hoover
The Broncos have been one of the most consistent teams throughout non-league and league play, and finished the season with only three losses, one to San Joaquin Memorial and twice to Clovis West. The Broncos have been anchored by senior Ak Okereke, who has led them in scoring and rebounding, with some big scoring performances throughout the season. Alongside Okereke has been the solid play of junior point guard Niko Jones, freshman phenom Connor Amundsen, and sophomore Jaylen Bryant. The Broncos are looking to return to the Boys Central Section Open Division and make a run at the championship game, which evaded them last season.
Significant wins: Bakersfield Christian (twice), Central (twice), Hoover, Bullard
The Eagles have had an intriguing season that has seen some major highs and some lows. The Eagles found out before league play started, that they would not be playing in the South Yosemite League, which meant that they would not have a league title to compete for. Coach Brown wasted no time and assembled the strongest schedule of any team in the Central Section. The Eagles have played all the top teams in the Central Section, undefeated Modesto Christian, and various schools from Southern California. Bakersfield Christian has been led by senior point guard, and Fresno Pacific commit, Seth Marantos. The four year varsity starter has been the leader that drives the Eagles engine throughout a season like no other. The addition of junior guards Jackson Tucker and Erick Chaney has had a big impact on the team's success, as they have been the leading scorers for the Eagles. Recently, freshman Bentley Waller and senior Gabe Iruh have stepped up and found their fit to add depth to the defending Boys Central Section Division 3 Champs. Bakersfield Christian had some big wins, but also had some losses that kept them out of the top four seeds. The Eagles are poised to make a run at the Division 3 title again, but the Hoover Patriots may have something to say about that, as they defeated the Eagles in their only match-up this season.
Significant wins: Pacifica Christian (OC), Clovis West (twice), Santa Clarita Christian, Heritage Christian and Bullard
The Patriots have had another great season and finished very strong, currently on an eleven game winning streak and taking home their second straight North Yosemite League Championship. The Patriots have been led this year by Long Beach State commit AJ George, with some huge offensive outburst and a school record of 49 points in a loss to Central at the Sanger Showcase. However, the season took a turn for the better when player contribution was more evenly distributed, with George demanding so much attention that others were able to get theirs. Juniors Anthony Swillis and Jeremiah Simmons, and the lead guard play of senior IV Ruff have been a key contributor to the Patriots success. We may be headed for a repeat of last year's Boys Central Section Division 3 championship game against Bakersfield Christian, which Hoover got the better of a few weeks ago in a non-league match-up.
Signature wins: Bakersfield Christian, Roosevelt (twice), and Clovis East
The Patriots, like most schools in the South Yosemite Leagues, had a late start to the season and a variety of issues with covid protocol during the season. Nevertheless, most schools managed to assemble together enough of a season to get a good understanding of where these schools match up with the teams in the other areas of the Central Section. I have seen Liberty 3 times and they do all the things you need to do well in order to win basketball games. The Patriots have size, perimeter shooting, run their offensive sets to get the shots they want, and play together on both ends effectively. Liberty has been led by senior Brock Batten and arguably the top freshman in the Central Section Deshawn Usochu. I look forward to the playoffs to see how they match up against the teams from the other areas of the section.
Significant wins: Independence (twice), Centennial (Bakersfield):
The Grizzlies have looked like one of the top 5 teams in the Section at times this season, but have come up a bit short against the top teams in the Fresno/Clovis area of the Central Section. Senior Cedric Coward has been a monster this season for Central High School, putting up big numbers all year long. The guard play of junior Terik Streets and senior Milton Walker has put pressure on defense as both have the quickness and handle to put pressure on defenses and get into the paint. Sophomores Henry Madden III and Dylan Swillis have added depth and size to the Grizzlies roster. The season finale loss to Clovis East will likely impact the seeding for Central in the playoffs that start next week, but the Grizzlies have the talent and skill to make a run in Division 1.
Significant wins: Hoover, Clovis East
The Golden Hawks are a fairly young squad, with multiple impact players in the sophomore and freshman classes. The Hawks were sidelined for a few weeks and it will be interesting to see how they handle the post season with a younger team that has missed the time needed to build chemistry. Having said that, sophomores Jay Jay Jones and EJ West, along with junior Blake Dibble, senior Jacob Garcia and standout freshman Rippen Gill make for a talented group that has some size, toughness, plays together as a squad and has a few impact players.
Significant wins: Liberty
The Knights had a strong start to the season, but have had to deal with some roster movement, which will take its toll on any team. However, with players like junior Lejaun Watts and senior Omarion Thomas-Marshall, who have both had huge games this season, they can compete with most of the teams ahead of them outside the top four. Thomas-Marshall has really been filling it up on the offensive end, while the savvy and versatile play of Lejuan Watts is a dangerous combo that can win any one game and advance in the playoff format.
Significant wins: Bakersfield Christian, Kingsburg