For the eighth year, West Valley Preps has announced honors for the best boys basketball players it covers in the West Valley. This time around, we saw so many quality players that a third team was necessary. Here is the all-West Valley Preps boys basketball team:
F — Colin Carey, senior, Sunrise Mountain
F — Daryian Matthews, junior, Dysart
G — Jalen Scott, senior, Paradise Honors
G — Jake Lifgren, junior, Centennial
G — J.J. White, senior, Ironwood
F — Elijah Thomas, senior, Valley Vista
F — Jayson Petty, junior, Centennial
G — Miles Guliford, senior, Liberty
G — Jackson Leyba, senior, Deer Valley
G — Pike Tancil, junior, Willow Canyon
W — Brett Chappell, senior, Liberty
W — Coleman Fields, senior, Millennium
G — Bailon Black, senior, Ironwood
G — Blessing Nwotite, junior, Paradise Honors
G — Seve Moreno, junior, Estrella Foothills
Underclassmen to watch: Noah Amenhauser, F, (Soph.), Estrella Foothills; JaiAnthony Bearden, F, (Freshman), Kellis; Andrew Camacho, G, (Soph.), Peoria; Kaden Cooper, F, (Soph.), Shadow Ridge; Jamaal Dean, G, (Soph.), Ironwood; Carter Gittens, F, (Soph.), Sunrise Mountain; JayJuan Gould, G, (Soph.); Matthew Henry-Harrison, G, (Soph.), Paradise Honors; Bradey Henige, C, (Freshman), Cactus; Davis Hester, G, (Soph.), Liberty; Isaac Hymes, F, (Soph.), Millennium; Aadem Isai, G, (Soph.), Valley Vista; Micholas Nally, F, (Soph.), Glendale Prep; Gabe Pickens, F, (Freshman), Millennium; Christopher Ruiz, G, (Soph.), Kellis; Jayden Sleeper, G, (Soph.), Deer Valley; Clayton Werner, G, (freshman), Valley Vista; Emery Young, F, (Soph.), Centennial.
Jalen Scott — Stat-wise Scott does not seem like the pick. He’s not even the Panthers’ leading scorer — that’s Nwotite. But basketball is more than points. The 6-4 guard led his team in rebounding (6.5), was fourth in the state in assists (6.5) and paced the Panthers in steals (2.7). Also, basketball is more than statistics. Most point guards handle the ball and drive to the basket. Scott managed the game like a conductor and ran the Paradise Honors offense. He also controlled end of game situations in two playoff nail biters, finding Nwotite for the game winning layup in the final seconds against Desert Edge and taking over late to beat Salpointe in Tucson.
Jake Lifgren — Everyone who watched Centennial knew Lifgren was having a great season. Again, stats aren’t the be-all end-all. In this junior’s case we could only guess what those numbers were. Centennial only published statistics on MaxPreps after the season was over. Lifgren was named first team all region and all-5A conference. Even then, the numbers were pretty shocking when they came out. Lifgren averages 21.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.9 steals a contest. He shot 49 percent as a 6-1 guard and was the only Coyote to figure out the Catalina Foothills defense during the difficult 5A finals loss, scoring 18 of Centennial’s 45 points.
Colin Carey — None of the first-team all West Valley Preps players had as much of a scoring burden on their shoulders as Carey. Scott, Lifgren and White all had teammates who could make up the gap on off nights. Carey could not have an off night, even with solid guards Chase Pavey and Rafe Canale. He averaged 20.1 points and 8.2 rebounds, even with the focus of every defense trained squarely on him. He could handle, shoot from three and dunk in traffic. And Carey led the Mustangs through the toughest region in 5A into the playoffs, where Sunrise Mountain upset Buena to make the quarterfinals.
The Liberty boys basketball team, coach Mark Wood, red shirt, and assistants Blake Kellard, white shirt, and Jerry Conner smile after the Lions finish their first round playoff win against defending 6A champion Phoenix Desert Vista. Wood is the West Valley Preps boys basketball coach of the year. [Christine Andert/For Independent Newsmedia]
Mark Wood, Liberty — No year has been tougher to determine this award. It is very difficult to cut this field of candidates down to three, much less one. But Wood wins because of our ultimate tiebreaker criteria. Which team was the biggest surprise based on where it was expected to finish. Wood and his staff knew what they had in a deep and committed senior group. But Liberty was a bit of an afterthought in 6A entering the season, following a play-in loss last year. Yet the Lions won their region and made the main 6A playoff bracket for the first time. Once there the surprise entry knocked off defending champion Phoenix Desert Vista, and pushed state title contender Phoenix Brophy Prep until the final seconds in the Broncos’ gym. This team was the ultimate embodiment of the culture Wood has established at Liberty — selfless, incredibly deep and interchangeable, relentless pace on both ends, gritty and empowered to take any and every reasonable shot. Years ago Wood realized the only way to compete with established power programs was to push the tempo, play 12-15 kids with frequent substitutions, press and shoot a ton of threes. Liberty showed without a doubt this year that this approach works, and had a ton of fun doing so.
Randy Lavender, Centennial — In some circles, Centennial’s 5A runner up season was almost as surprising as Liberty’s season. Not here. Sports editor Richard Smith pegged the Coyotes as the No. 3 team in the conference going into the season. But the way Lavender got this group there was impressive. In some ways it was better than the job he did in his debut season (2017-18) when he was the coach of the year. After one game Lavender realized his son Trent, the Coyotes’ leading returning scorer, could not keep playing on an iffy knee. He turned the keys over to Lifgren and Petty and junior point guard Abe Rangel led the most lethal fast break in the conference. Like Liberty, Centennial had nothing approaching a conventional post player or even a forward that could slide into the post. While the Coyotes didn’t play at warp speed like the Lions, they did a similarly impressive job of team rebounding. From there, the three juniors and sophomore Young could almost trade roles in transition as need be.
Joseph Colletti, Willow Canyon — It is almost more difficult to cut off the awards at three than to pick a winner. Zach Hettel led Paradise Honors to the state final in its first year in 4A. Gary Rath led Sunrise Mountain one round further in the 5A playoffs after losing most of his starting lineup. Carlon Brown took over Glendale Prep a month and guided the Griffins to the 2A quarterfinals. Ty Amundsen, Jordan Augustine and Jed Dunn always deserve consideration. But Colletti is the choice, as Willow Canyon’s season was nearly as big of a surprise as Liberty’s. Colletti led the Wildcats to their first playoff berth in 10 years, first region title in more than a decade and even a road playoff win. While Tancil is a star, Colletti figured out how to manage the rest of the roster overrun with solid but unspectacular guards.