Transfers, social media put spotlight on Gilbert Christian, Shadow Mountain hoops programs

Transfers, social media put spotlight on Gilbert Christian, Shadow Mountain hoops programs


Transfers, social media put spotlight on Gilbert Christian, Shadow Mountain hoops programs


Phoenix Shadow Mountain and Gilbert Christian began the boys basketball season as the top two rated teams in Division II.

That was after the Arizona Interscholastic Association began checking out both programs this summer.

The AIA Executive Board denied the hardship appeal of Shadow Mountain junior point guard Bryce Fisher, who had transferred from Gilbert Perry, where he started on last season’s Division I semifinal team. At the root was Fisher’s prior affiliation with Team Bibby, which is coached by former Shadow Mountain, University of Arizona and NBA point guard Mike Bibby. Bibby is in his second season leading the Shadow Mountain varsity basketball team.

There is an AIA bylaw that requires the transferring student to sit out a calendar year if he is going to a team where there was a coach in which he had prior contact.

Related: 3 Shadow Mountain players make Top 25 list

Fisher hadn’t played for Bibby’s club team not quite a year to the date that he enrolled at Shadow Mountain.

Gilbert Christian, meanwhile, was red-flagged in the summer for two high-profile transfers — 6-foot-9 forward Mitchell Lightfoot and 6-2 point guard Bakari Evelyn.

Lightfoot, who starred last season as a sophomore at Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge, enrolled at Gilbert Christian on May 2, according to his dad, Matt, after the father was made full-time in his job that required him to be in the Valley at least four days a week.

Evelyn left Detroit — he scored 28 points for Southfield Christian in the Michigan Class D championship game victory last season — and enrolled last summer at Gilbert Christian. New Gilbert Christian coach Kurt Keener, who left Scottsdale Desert Mountain in March, coached 35 years at Detroit Country Day, where he won 678 games and nine Michigan championships.

Evelyn has not been cleared by the AIA, with legal guardianship apparently an issue.

Lightfoot’s hardship will be addressed again during Monday’s monthly AIA Executive Board meeting.

During the summer, Shadow Mountain and Bibby became the focus not only with Fisher’s imminent move, but with a top point guard from Medina, Ohio — 6-3 Craig Randall — and a big man from the Dallas area — 6-8, 250-pound Isaiah Jones — coming to Shadow Mountain.

Both of those players were cleared by the AIA.

But the moves at Shadow Mountain and Gilbert Christian prompted recruiting accusations on social media.

Related: 2 Gilbert Christian players make Top 25 list

“I’m here for these kids,” said Bibby, who began coaching his son, Michael, on Team Bibby when Michael was in fifth grade. “I’m not getting paid anything. I’m here on my own free will.

“If I was recruiting, I’d have some monsters in here. So obviously I’m not recruiting. We’ve had kids come through my farm system. They started here as freshmen. That’s the way it goes. I’m not going around states and seeing which kids I can pick out of them.”

A red flag was raised in late May when a team photo turned up on social media of Keener and Lightfoot posing in a team picture after Arizona Power Basketball, a club team, won a big tournament in Canada. That was the first time Keener helped coach a team that had Lightfoot on it.

That raised prior-contact concerns that the AIA has been investigating.

John Ortega, who works with Arizona Power Basketball, was a Keener assistant last year at Desert Mountain. But Ortega said he did not join Keener’s staff at Gilbert Christian, mainly because Gilbert Christian is one of the gyms Power uses to train.

Power has players, including Lightfoot, from all over the state at various schools. It rents out various facilities, not just Gilbert Christian.

Sundance Wicks, the director of Power Basketball, said he has spent the past three years “in the trenches,” building relationships with high school coaches and said “we want that trust.”

“We train kids to become better basketball players,” said Wicks, who has about 320 players — boys and girls, statewide, from fifth grade to seniors in high school — involved in his program. “It doesn’t matter if that kid plays at Agua Fria, Corona del Sol, Campo Verde, Highland. There are 40 to 50 schools who have kids we train. Our singular focus is to train them to become better basketball players.”

Related: AIA denies Shadow Mountain basketball’s Bryce Fisher appeal

Coaches also are being developed through Power.

Keener said he was reluctant to talk about the Lightfoot situation until after Monday’s final hearing.

In May, Keener began helping out with Power, after Lightfoot had the Gilbert Christian documents stating that he was enrolled there, Matt Lightfoot said.

“It was a significant, positive career move for me,” said Matt Lightfoot, who said he also enrolled his two other sons, a freshman and a third grader, in the Gilbert Christian Schools in early May, but allowed them to finish their spring semesters in Oro Valley. “I know all of the focus is on Mitch. But we were looking at the entire situation of our family and how we can make it a better situation for them.”

Chuck Schmidt, association executive director of the AIA, said a process involving the sending and receiving schools communicating the transfer with a 520 form needs to be completed.

Ironwood Ridge Athletic Director Tony Jacobsen said he wasn’t at liberty to comment on the Lightfoot case.

Meanwhile, Lightfoot scored 19 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in Gilbert Christian’s season opener last week, as Gilbert Christian Superintendent Jim DesMarchais saw no reason to keep Lightfoot out.

Related: Mike Bibby becoming big attraction at Shadow Mountain

“The issue in question is, ‘When can a student who is transferring to a new school begin participating on a team that the AIA would consider as a non-school team associated with a school?’ ” DesMarchais wrote in an e-mail. “In other words, ‘When can a transfer student like Mitch Lightfoot participate on a team like Power basketball?’ The answer is contained in the AIA bylaws under, in number 5 of the frequently asked questions (FAQs).”

It asks, ‘How may a student document that the transfer process was initiated prior to participating on a non-school team associated with the school to which the student is transferring?’

The answer: ‘The student should obtain a written, dated document from the administrator or other school representative with whom the student (or parents) correspond prior to participation at the school to which the student in transferring, and a copy of the document is provided to the school from which the student in transferring.’

DesMarchais believes Gilbert Christian followed this.

Still, the AIA is asking if Ironwood Ridge had signed off on it before Lightfoot played in the Canada tournament in which Keener was a coach.

Related: AIA to meet with Gilbert Christian regarding boys basketball transfers

“I don’t see in the bylaws that the sending school has to sign off on a player,” DesMarchais said. “I’m not quite sure how a school would have an issue with a family whose father’s job changed to four days in Phoenix and one day in Tucson, and they make the decision to move.”

Arizona’s Top 25 high school boys basketball players:

The Arizona high school boys basketball season is upon us. Here is a look at Richard Obert’s top 25 basketball players in Arizona, regardless of division and class.


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