We took in both days at the Ron Massey Memorial Fall Hoops Classic at McBride (Long Beach, Calif.) and review what we learned from the event. CIF Southern Section powers Centennial of Corona and St. John Bosco of Bellflower ended up in the title game. Each team used for player development with Centennial winning the final, 62-48.
1. California's 2026 Class Can Be Special
Over the past 50 years, California has produced some special classes that dominated college with many of the top players in each going on to NBA careers. The most recent stellar class was in 2020, which produced NBA 2021 NBA No. 2 pick Jalen Green out of Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.) via San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno, Calif.) and No. 3 pick Evan Mobley of Rancho Christian (Temecula, Calif.). That class also produced 2021 No. 10 pick Ziarie Williams of Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) and a fourth first round pick in No. 24 Josh Christopher of Mayfair (Lakewood, Calif.). This current crop of rising sophomores could have that type of impact on the 2027 NBA Draft, if they continue to work hard and develop.
Even if you didn't include the nation's two two prospects in the class who are now at Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.), 6-foot-7 wing A.J. Dybansta and 6-foot-7 forward Tyran Stokes, this is still a terrific group. It's led by point guards Jason Crowe of Lynwood (Calif.) and Brandon McCoy Jr. of St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.), both who participated at Ron Massey in the Challenge of Champions bracket reserved for eight outstanding teams. Crowe, last year's Cal-Hi Sports State Freshman of the Year, continues to progress and is getting stronger, while McCoy is a rare all-around prospect who defends the ball, has quick explosion off vertical or off the dribble horizontally and the ball skills that puts him in rare company in this region of the country. Not many high level prospects from California over the years have that combination of skill, athleticism and desire on the defensive end. Three of the players in the next tier of California's 2026 class were at Massey: big guard Tajh Ariza of St. Bernard (Playa Del Rey, Calif.), point guard Kaiden Bailey of Crean Lutheran (Irvine, Calif.) and wing Brayden Kyman of Santa Margarita (Calif.). That doesn't include forward Brannon Martinsen of Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), who was nursing a minor injury and did not play in the Challenge of Champions. Ariza is the one talent who could push and perhaps even pass some in the top group with his combination of size, feel and skill. He is starting to feel comfortable shooting the 3-ball off the dribble and catch. Once Ariza gets some consistency, watch out. Five players who have entered the discussion to join that second group of four are led by Isaiah “Slim” Rogers of Centennial (Corona, Calif.), who has improved by leaps and bounds over the summer and helped Centennial reach the Ron Massey title game. The other four knocking on the door are Ariza's teammate Malachi Collins, Julius Price of St. Joseph (Santa Maria, Calif.), Kyman's teammate at Santa Margarita Drew Anderson, and Caleb Newton of Birmingham (Van Nuys, Calif.). Two 2026 big man who displayed rapid improvement at Massey are 6-foot-8 Jacob Majok of Crean Lutheran (Irvine, Calif.) and 6-foot-9 Abdoul Bare of St. Joseph (Santa Maria, Calif.). We haven't even mentioned Alijah Arenas of Chatsworth (Calif.), who some have pegged higher ranked than all expect the Prolific Prep duo, but we are slow-playing him a bit as a prospect because he simply hasn't dominated elite competition just yet.
California's best class, by the way, is the 1975 class led by Mr. Basketball USA Bill Cartwright of Elk Grove (Calif.) and two other first five All-Americans in Verbum Dei (Los Angeles) teammates Roy Hamilton and David Greenwood. All three made the NBA along with five other players from the famed California class: forward James Hardy, guards Reggie Theus and Brad Holland and centers Bill Laimbeer and Paul Mokeski. That core of players twice played a legit United States all-star team and beat them both times, once in Sacramento in front of Cartwright's big NorCal following and once at the Long Beach Sports Arena in front of the SoCal contingent. That class had everything (in terms of size and skill), some other great classes were defined by top prospects at the top (1986, 2008) while others were defined by depth (1993). The 1997 class was supposed to rival the 1975 class, but it peaked early and some flamed out so nothing is guaranteed for this 2026 class. The current sophomores don't have the size in the class to surpass the 1975 class, but there is a solid chance they'll end up being compared to the 1986 and 2008 class one day because of the skill on the perimeter and wings.
2. Corona Centennial Will Be In The Mix
The Huskies graduated a terrific senior class, including 2023 Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Basketball Jared McCain (Duke), that made up a core that finished No. 1 in the state in 2021 and 2022 and won three consecutive CIF Southern Section open championships. At first glance it would seem coach Josh Giles' club is too decimated by graduation, but think again. We talked about the Golden State's terrific 2026 class and the Huskies have three sophomore starters led by Slim Rodgers. The 6-foot-3 point guard has grown at least an inch in the last year and is gaining confidence at every event we see him at. Rogers has a terrific change of pace and is now more consistent with his shot-making. The sophomore that actually saw the most playing time on the 2022-23 Centennial varsity was 5-foot-10 Justice Griffith, a physical play-maker who can terrorize teams on the defensive end and makes winning plays. He scored the game-winning basket right in front of the rim in the Huskies' 68-66 semifinal win over St. Joseph (Santa Maria, Calif.) in the Pangos Elite 8 (Challenge of Champions) bracket. The third super soph is Markee White Jr., a 6-foot-6 athlete who is a key rebounder and defender. He starred on the JayVee team as a freshman and has made plenty of strides in his offensive game. UCLA-bound Eric Freeny is the teams' go-to player and once Arizona-bound forward Carter Bryant becomes accustomed to the Huskies' system, this team could be right there to challenge defending CIF state open champ Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood, Calif.) and St. John Bosco for the CIF Southern Section open crown. Some feel Bryant is the state's best senior prospect, so if he meshes with Freeny and the sophomores continue to improve, this young club could be FAB 50 ranked at some point during the season and more importantly, will be a dangerous team in February and March.
3. Mater Dei's Brandon Benjamin is a Difference-Maker
Among the players on the teams in this event and the best overall ones in SoCal, the pecking order in the 2025 class is well-established. St. John Bosco's Elzie Harrington and Brayden Burries of Roosevelt (Eastvale, Calif.), both big guards, lead the pack along with wing Nikolas Khamenia of Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood, Calif.) and shooting guard Jovani Ruff of Poly (Long Beach, Calif.). After Roosevelt defeated St. Bernard (Playa del Rey, Calif.) in a highly-charged opening round game of the Elite 8 bracket, 54-51, Burries did not play in Sunday's two games, including Roosevelt's 61-60 semifinal loss to St. John Bosco. Tounde Yessoufou of St. Joseph, leads the 2025 group from a statewide perspective and he's the one whose talent level is on par with Harrington and Burries. The powerful wing has been the event's most prolific scorer over the past two years and led his team to third place. The one player who could be knocking on the door down the line in 2025 is 6-foot-5 small forward Brandon Benjamin of Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), who played last season at Canyon (Anaheim, Calif.). Benjamin fits in with the Monarchs' returning talent seamlessly not only because he's talented, but also because he's what the doctor ordered in terms of his unselfishness and I.Q. Benjamin is strong around the rim and never rattled or off balance. He also is patient in letting plays develop and and is an excellent passer, especially from the high post or elbow extended. Mater Dei's coaching staff loves what they see out last year's Orange County Register Player of the Year, especially when the team is at full strength. In this event, the Monarchs played without sophomores Martinsen and Luke Barnett, plus senior Brady Karich. Benjamin and Martinsen will be key cogs in leading Mater Dei back into the CIF Southern Section open playoffs, which they missed for the first time last season since it began in 2013-14. Other rising juniors who had nice outings at Ron Massey include guard Julien Gomez of La Mirada (Calif.) and power forward Doug Langford of Pius X-St. Matthias (Downey, Calif.).
After averaging 33.7 ppg in three Challenge of Champion games last year, Yessoufou was once again scoring and shooting at a high clip at this year's Ron Massey. He went for 27 points in a 80-69 first round win over Mater Dei, then came back with 35 in the two-point loss to Centennial in the semifinals. He finished up with 28 points in a 69-67 St. Joe's victory over Roosevelt for third place. Yessoufou finished with a 30 ppg averaging while nailing 11 3-pointers. In the championship game, St. John Bosco's Harrington and the rest of the Braves' regulars did not suit up while Centennial's starters did not start. Bosco easily downed Windward (Los Angeles) in its opening round game, 66-44, while Centennial zoomed past Crean Lutheran (Irvine, Calif.), 67-38, in its first round game.