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, particularly the Challenge of Champions bracket. Nevada power Bishop Gorman won the championship in the main bracket for the third consecutive time (the 2020 event did not take place). We cover the event's top performers, what it means for California's top teams and 2022 players looking to earn a college scholarship.
1. There Is No Clear Cut No. 3 Team in Cali
There is little doubt defending CIF Southern Section open champion Centennial (Corona, Calif.) and national power Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) are the top two teams in the Golden State and will appear in the 2021-22 preseason FAB 50 National Team Rankings, which is set for a late October release. Evaluating the teams at Ron Massey and seeing how Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) rolled to the Challenge of Champions title for the third consecutive time by a winning margin of 21 points, including a 78-60 championship game victory over 11-time CIF champion Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), there is a clear drop-off after Centennial and Sierra Canyon. Of the teams that did not participate at this weekend's event, Etiwanda (Calif.), Damien (La Verne, Calif.), Campolindo (Moraga, Calif.) and Modesto Christian (Calif.) got mention as the potential No. 3 preseason ranked team from the nation's largest state, but there isn't a slam-dunk choice as of now. There is certainly no shame in losing to Bishop Gorman at this stage of the season. The Gaels, however, are still a relatively young team and will get better as the season progresses, so California clubs have their work cut out if they plan on moving up in the rankings. If recent history is any indication, however, at least two more teams from California will emerge as FAB 50 ranked clubs as the results pour in from early-season high level tournaments and showcases.
2. Bishop Gorman Won't Miss A Beat
Last school year the Gaels were one of the handful of nationally-ranked outfits that didn't get to play an official high school basketball season, joining clubs from Virginia, New York, and Maryland. Last season Coronado (Henderson, Nev.), led by NBA G-League signee Jaden Hardy, felt it had the talent to dethrone Gorman as the Nevada Class 4A state champs, but unfortunately the season in Clark County was cancelled in December 2020. Despite the graduation of three high major D1 seniors, Gorman is still the team too beat in Nevada despite its relative youth. The Gaels have nine to 10 players that can play in crunch time against high level teams and a senior leader in 6-foot-6, Darrion Williams, who moved to Las Vegas last year from Sacramento, Calif., and was unable to play his junior campaign. There is little doubt missing last season is a motivating factor as the Gaels head toward the 2021-22 regular season. "I got hurt at the wrong time during the recruiting season, so it (not playing) is definitely a big motivation," Williams said. When Bishop Gorman finished as runner-up to Centennial (Corona, Calif.) at the Section 7 tournament in the top division during the June scholastic live period, Williams sat out with injury. He made up for lost time by averaging 15.3 ppg (tied for team lead with 2024 guard Jase Richardson) and 7.7 rpg in three convincing victories at Ron Massey. Williams has an offer from Long Beach St., and other Big West teams would be wise to make him a recruiting priority. As for Gorman, the Gaels are locked in and will play in another fall league in St. George, Utah early next month as they prepare for the Border League in Henderson Nev., the weekend of October 15-17, where they will face quality competition including the likes of Sierra Canyon, Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) and Dream City Christian (Glendale, Ariz.).
3. There Continues to be Under-Recruited 2022s
There is no question the 2021 NCAA scholastic live period, particularly Section 7 in Arizona, was the most important one-stop-shop recruiting setting for players in the West Region, but there are still players in the region flying under the radar. That should change during the fall and early winter, particularly for some of the standouts at Ron Massey. First and foremost, there is Josh Jefferson of Liberty (Henderson, Nev.), who was the most impactful interior player in the Ron Massey Challenge of Champions Division. The 6-foot-9 power forward has continued to work on his physical conditioning with devastating results, as it has also helped his shooting down the stretch in high level games. Not only does he punish defenders with his back to the basket game, but now he has the deep stroke going for him in pick-and-pop situations. He went for 27 points and 11 rebounds in a close first round loss to Bishop Montgomery (Torrance, Calif.), 24 points in a 74-72 victory over Heritage Christian (Northridge, Calif.) and 19 points in a 79-76 consolation title game loss to West Ranch (Valencia, Calif.) Jefferson has been offered by UNLV and has serious looks from Utah St. and St. Mary's, but expect more programs to get in the mix now that he's 100 percent healthy. One of the most improved players in Southern California is 6-foot-6 2022 forward Kaden Minter of Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.). The Monarchs lost three quality D1 interior players to graduation, but Minter's development will be one of the keys to Mater Dei's CIF Southern Section open division chances. The Monarchs have to like what they saw at Ron Massey, as Minter used his offensive I.Q. and repertoire to lead Mater Dei to the Challenge of Champions title game versus Bishop Gorman. Minter went for 28 points in the Monarchs's 59-58 first round win over Heritage Christian (Northridge, Calif.) and 27 points in the 59-43 semifinal victory over Bishop Montgomery (Torrance, Calif.). No one moved better without the ball at this event than Minter, who will be a nice pickup at the low D1 level. One of the differences in Gorman's title game victory over Mater Dei was the play of 6-foot-3 2022 guard Ryan Abelman. He's a terrific student who is a highly-effective 3-point shooter. He hit five 3-pointers and had 21 points in the title game and has looks from Northern Arizona and Columbia. Abelman's recruitment should pick up from here.
4. Some Parents Are Clearly Costing Their Kids
Unfortunately, this has been true in recent years and is heightened by new COVID-19 recruiting realities. As social media has made athletes' off-the court activity a bigger priority for families and a bigger focus for recruiters, player character has never been more important in the recruiting process for high school players. Parents' conduct at events and the perception of their character is under a larger microscope compared to the days when technology didn't consume the lives of Americans. In fact, the No. 1 comment we get from college coaches who are on the fence about a recruit is, "we're hearing their parent(s) are too involved." What that comment means is there is too much coaching from the stands, overheard comments about the team's play and verbal berating of players on their son's team, the opposition and even referees. In fact, at Ron Massey some of that type of activity led to verbal and physical altercations that actually halted games and made one team drop out of the bracket in order to avoid any future incidents. Simply put, these actions are hurting players' scholarship chances. For a college looking to get involved with a potential recruit, it simply is easier than ever before to pass on recruiting a player whose parents' conduct poorly reflects on their son's chances of succeeding when he hits adversity as a college player. With the players available in the robust transfer portal, non-elites are already a less desirable recruit than they were before COVID-19 and when there are any parental red flags it makes it easier to look the other way as a college staff.
5. High School Basketball Isn't a Farm System
No, even though traditional high school is losing players to academy-type programs at an alarming rate, it still holds tremendous value from a recruiting and developmental standpoint. Yes, legitimate programs (and even those that masquerade as winter travel clubs) are recruiting after the players have already established a pecking order in their respective national class. Sure, sometimes elites enroll in these programs as incoming freshmen, but in conversations with high school coaches, it almost feels as if the expectation is traditional high school programs won't keep a great player for all four years. The reality is that's not true in every situation and high school basketball still provides an excellent platform for competitive games, structure and development, and in many cases, better exposure. The old mantra "the grass isn't always greener on the other side" definitely applies here.