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West Valley Preps
Typically, the Arizona summer is full of smaller leagues and weekend tourneys, with the lesser-known players toiling in local gyms, while the big name ballers and college recruiters barnstorm the country on the Amateur Athletic Union circuit and pick a prep school to play for.
But the Valley was the basketball epicenter of the western United States June 21-23, as the Section 7 Team Camp, a collaboration between the Arizona Basketball Coaches Association and Arizona Interscholastic Association filled local gyms with quality and quantity. In this case, the term camp is a bit of a misnomer since the event was a collection of nine 16-team brackets featuring high schools from nine different states and organized by talent level.
“I believe they did a good job of putting teams together and matching them up pretty well. There might have been a couple teams that were over-matched but there were also many good quality teams that were matched up well,” Centennial coach Randy Lavender stated in an email.
After the wave of NCAA sanctions the body moved its live period to June, allowing high school teams into the fray.
While states like California, Nevada and Oregon declined to explore hosting a showcase tournament, ABCA and the AIA filled the void. While tweaks are inevitable in future years, the consensus from participants is that Arizona created an event that may serve as a template for recruiting-based high school summer basketball tourneys.
“David Hines with the AIA jumped on this with Matt King, the president of our organization to get us to host this. Other states didn’t want to host,” Liberty coach Mark Wood said. “Our coaches association, headed by Matt King, Matt Gordon, Todd Fazio, Ray Arvizu and Marc Beasley did a terrific job of putting this together.”
In the wake of federal bribery and corruption trials regarding college basketball recruiting that began last year and continue to this day, the NCAA created recruiting windows for June 21-23 and June 28-30 at events sanctioned by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
The AIA is the local NFHS representative and, with the state basketball coaches organization, jumped on the opportunity to host one of 28 such events in June. On that weekend the Section 7 camp had the west to itself, as the next furthest west event was in Minnesota.
This NCAA decision effectively took this signing period away from traveling AAU teams and basketball-driven prep schools and reintroduced high school teams to the world of big-time college hoops.
Phoenix Brophy Prep hosted the elite bracket where Arizona schools like Phoenix Desert Vista, Millennium and Mesa Skyline locked horns with elite West Coast programs Like Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei and Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O’Dowd. Predictably, major NCAA Division I head and assistant coaches on down to Division III and NAIA packed these games — capped by Bishop Gorman’s June 23 title game victory over Mater Dei.
However, a decent amount college recruiters from all levels made their way to the other Valley sites. All three coaches from Peoria schools taking part in Section 7 said their kids benefited from having greater visibility than previous summers — particularly players on the fringe of the AAU circuit.
For example, Sunrise Mountain coach Gary Rath said a handful of college coaches were at all of the Mustangs’ games. His team played at Moon Valley the first two days and Sunnyslope June 23. Junior wing Colin Carey and senior forward Tanner Mayer are the program’s top recruiting targets.
“A couple of coaches have contacted me about Colin and Tanner that probably would not have seen them play had it not been for the tourney,” Rath stated in an email interview. “One of our top players senior Brandon Taylor was unable to play all weekend due to a concussion from the previous weekend at the Summer 64 tourney where we ended up finishing in fourth place. Brandon didn’t play in our last four games, so that was disappointing for him. I really believe he can play at the next level.”
Lavender said senior Malcolm Daniels received some interest from schools in the first two days, and the coach believed Daniels received more interest than he would during a regular summer tournament schedule.
Centennial’s three rising sophomore starters, Lavender stated, did not get as much attention but could be targets next summer.
“Yes, we had some coaches show up at our games in the beginning at Camelback even though we played a late game at 9:45 p.m. The next day was better as we played at 1 p.m. where there were a little bit more coaches that showed up at Camelback,” Lavender stated.
Liberty also was based at Camelback High School — not the main event but close enough to attract an array of college coaches and assistants.
Unlike the callow Coyotes, the young Lions attracted the attention of NCAA recruiters. It always helps when your sophomore prospect is 6-8 and your incoming freshman wing is 6-5.
Liberty’s duo are like brothers — in spirit if not by blood. Sophomore-to-be center Foune Doucoure and incoming freshman swingman Seydou Tamboura are from the same village in Mali and now live with a West Valley family.
Wood said both already fit the Division I mold physically and are beginning to catch up in their skill development. One coach from a smaller school told Wood he will keep an eye on senior forward Jacob Patterson.
Competitive losses to Bellflower (Calif.) St. Johns Bosco and Northridge (Calif.) Heritage Christian showed Liberty how it needs to grow.
“Based on that, our kids got an opportunity, that there’s no way they get that anywhere else,” Wood said. “We learned we were not strong enough physically. We decided the weight room in the No. 1 priority. We played teams with as much athleticism and height and more strength and we had trouble finishing inside.”
Sunrise Mountain lost its opener, then bounced back by knocking off Arizona rivals Willow Canyon, Fairfax and Thunderbird to win the consolation bracket.
“We ended up winning our last three games after losing our first game to a New Mexico team in a game that could have gone either way. I was happy with our overall record, but saw some things in all four games we need to get cleaned up before the season starts for real in November,” Rath stated.
The Mustangs’ region rival Centennial ended the weekend with similar thoughts even though it went 1-3 in Section 7 games.Lavender stated the tournament gave him a better idea of where the Coyotes need to be against the better teams. Many of 5A’s best — like Sunnyslope, Ironwood, Apollo and Sunrise Mountain — are Centennial’s Northwest Region rivals.
“Our team did decent over the weekend and faced a pretty good team in Foothills Christian out of California and lost by three points. Then we faced Liberty out of Nevada and beat them by 12 points. The other teams we faced were Eaglecrest (Colo.) and Dorsey (Calif.) in which we lost to both teams. I believe the bracket for us was pretty well balanced and it was good for us to face other teams outside of our usual Arizona teams,” Lavender stated.
Sunrise Mountain wrapped up summer play at the ASU team camp June 28-30. They went 3-1, defeating Dysart for the consolation bracket title.
“Overall it was a good summer for us, we played several good teams and saw lots of different styles of play,” Rath said.
To Wood this is what made this tournament, and this summer, better. The Lions are full of potential and Section 7 gave their younger stars a healthy dose of adversity and fatigue.
Resembling regular season play more than a typical summer showcase, Section 7 have lacked the one-stop shopping of talent appeal of a major AAU field. But there was more than enough talent to dray some heavy hitters of college basketball, who got a better feel for how a player responds to pressure defense, or attacks a zone or handles multiple facets of the game in an offensive system.
“It was awesome because you got to see players in a system with coaches trying to scheme against certain players,” Wood said. “We treated it like it was in season and played teams as good as any competition we’ll see this year.”