Senior hoops stars grow profile during Section 7

Willow Canyon basketball coach Joseph Colletti talks to his team during a time out in a Section 7 tournament game in late June. [Courtesy Willow Canyon basketball]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

College basketball coaches and high school fans outside of the West Valley learned what the Westside already knew – upcoming seniors Dominic Gonalez and Sunday John are next-level talents.

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.

Ironwood coach Jordan Augustine said Gonzalez, his 6-3 shooting guard averaged nearly 26 points per game, as well as four assists and six rebounds. The Eagles went 2-2 with wins over Cleveland (N.M.) and Orange (Calif.) Lutheran and losses were to Sacramento Jesuit and Crater (Ore.) led by 6-11 junior Nathan Bittle, a five-star recruit.

“This event definitely aided our guys in receiving quality competition and exposure. We were able to play against high caliber prospects in an environment that was structured to aid prospects in receiving opportunities to be seen,” Augustine stated in an email. “Our guys performed at a high level and gained valuable experiences as well as collegiate interest.”

John, a 6-3 guard for Willow Canyon, played games on the Moon Valley and Sunnyslope courts through the weekend.

Wildcats coach Joseph Colletti said multiple NCAA Division I and junior college coaches attend his team’s games and he was able to speak with them.

“We also had several coaches whom we had spoken to directly that came specifically to Sunday John. Several coaches commented about their impressions about our underclassmen players as well,” Colletti stated in an email. “Sunday received added interest from some California schools and a college from Washington that he would not have gotten outside of Section 7.  Our 2022 class has two players whom really have grown this spring/summer in Pike Tancil and David Bright.  Pike was invited to play in the WIBCA Recruiting event in Washington on June 29-30.  David has improved his shooting ability and will be counted on to contribute next season.  I’ve had conversations with several schools regarding Pike and they are going to be watching him the next few years.”

After a recent 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.

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.

“I first heard of the concept in conversations with Matt King, Todd Fazio, Mark Wood and others during the fall last year when we were prepping for the ABCA Coaching Clinic. Our state association has a great vision to unite and serve our basketball community and alongside their partnership with the AIA, this tournament will raise the standard of Arizona HS Basketball,” Colletti stated. “This tournament was incredible. I’ve coached for a few years now and I haven’t seen this level of competition, professionalism and opportunity for networking available to players in our state before.  The execution was outstanding and from follow up conversations and feedback, I see it getting better and better as (hopefully) the tournament continues.”

Augustine also said tournament was very successful in providing exposure and competition.

His pair of juniors-to-be at guard flanking Gonzalez also raised their level of play. JJ White averaged about 14 points per game with almost four three-point shots made made per game, and Bailon Black averaged nearly 13 points and 8 assists per game.

Ironwood was the No. 3 seed in 5A last year and with those three guards returning, the Eagles are poised for another top 10 finish. The only hang up is the rest of the Northwest Region, which features four other potential top 10 teams in Sunnyslope, Sunrise Mountain, Centennial and Apollo.

“All of these games prepared us for the rigors of our region. We have one of the toughest regions in the state with many college basketball-bound prospects,” Augustine stated.

Colletti said the Wildcats’ bracket was very balanced, staring with a Fairfield (Calif) Vanden that was tight before Willow Canyon ran out of gas in the second half.  He said John, Tancil and senior Joevanni Larcia (2020) and Tancil played well against very tough guard play from Vanden.

John scored 28 points in a 66-60 loss to Sunrise Mountain. Against region foes Verrado and Goldwater, the Wildcats tried guys in various spots to give them a chance to develop.

Summer growth is key for a team with only John and senior forward Jayson Hayes returning to similar roles from last season.

“Our growth this summer has been phenomenal.  We played in the Embry Riddle Team Camp to open our summer and we struggled.  That’s what June is for.  We’d much rather face adversity and learn who we are in June than wait and hope for the best in November,” Colletti stated. “In order for us to achieve our goals as a program, we will need to continue to build as we head into the fall.  We will take a few weeks off to recharge with most of our guys playing some form of AAU in July – either with high level travel teams or Relentless (a program we work alongside for club).”

Augustine said due to the Eagles’ talent and the high level of talent on opposing teams, we had the opportunity to play in front of many coaches.

The question Ironwood and its coach hoped to start answering this summer was who earns the most time around Black, Gonzalez and White – particularly at the forward spots.

“We still have a ways to go in terms of figuring out and buying into our identity. With that said, we played at a high level this summer. Including Section 7, we played the most competitive summer schedule we have ever played. Our guys with minimal and no varsity experience performed well. They received quality reps that will prepare them for the regular season,” Augustine stated.

Ironwood’s Dominic Gonzalez looks to pass the ball against Apollo on Feb. 1 2019 at at Ironwood High School in Glendale. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]


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