It’s always been pretty simple for Tempe Corona del Sol junior point guard Alex Barcello. He enjoys being in high school. So why leave?
“I don’t really see the point,” he said.
Others do. The biggest story in Arizona high school basketball the last few years, outside of Corona’s four straight Division I titles? The exodus of the state’s top players.
Phoenix St. Mary’s guard Marcus Shaver left for Prime Prep in Texas. Gilbert Perry’s Markus Howard headed to Findlay Prep in Las Vegas. Marvin Bagley III, Barcello’s former teammate at Corona, bolted for Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix.
They were lured by the chance to play against better competition, thus honing their game for college, and for a national championship, as mythical as that might be. They’d get to travel and focus on basketball and, oh, wear the best shoes and gear corporate sponsorships can buy.
Barcello could have joined them. Some might say he should have.
The prep schools certainly wanted him. The 6-foot-1, 165-pound Barcello is the best player in the state. He’s ranked 72nd nationally in the 2017 recruiting class by future150.com and he already has scholarship offers from dozens of colleges, including Arizona, Arizona State and Virginia.
The coach he came to Corona to play for, Sam Duane Jr., resigned less than two months after last year’s state championship, and Bagley left school in August. Barcello is now the conductor for a less talented team, one that can only be compared unfavorably to Corona’s four straight state title clubs.
Yet when Barcello and his father, Edward, sat down to discuss the prep school overtures, the conversation was short and one-sided.
“I said I was going to stay loyal to my school,” Barcello said.
“I was so proud of him,” Edward Barcello said. “Even when his teammate left, he was like, ‘I want to stay here. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I want to continue to try to win a championship with my teammates.’ ”
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Before we go any further, an important point: Barcello doesn’t see himself as some sort of noble figure, protecting old-fashioned ideals. Nor will he ever criticize his contemporaries for moving on to prep schools.
“He (Bagley) was looking out for what was best for him, and I was looking out for what was best for me,” Barcello said. “We have each other’s backs on that.”
Still, the distinction is obvious. Shaver, Howard, Bagley III and hundreds of top players around the country have chosen their basketball careers over the high school experience. Barcello? He still enjoys being a kid.
“I know that when you go to college, you’re playing basketball all the time and doing schoolwork when you’re not,” he said. “I think prep school is like an extra year of college. I’m going to be in college in a couple of years. I’ll get that experience then. Right now, I’m just trying to enjoy high school while I can.”
Barcello goes to football games on Friday nights. He has friends outside basketball. Perhaps he does fall behind a bit, not playing against the top competition year-round. But it’s a trade-off he and his parents are willing to make.
“I think they feel like we have a lot to offer as a well-rounded experience,” Corona coach Neil MacDonald said. “I think they also know that if you’re good enough, the basketball will take care of itself.”
It’s not as if Barcello falls off the radar when he’s playing for Corona. He’s played in the NBA Top 100 Camp and the Adidas All-American Camp in New York. This summer, he’ll suit up for the Nike-sponsored Oakland Soldiers, one of the top club teams in the country. College coaches know what he can and can’t do; their opinion of him isn’t going to diminish because he’s playing high school basketball from November to February.
“He gets plenty of exposure,” Edward Barcello said.
Yet, when Bagley left Corona, Barcello’s teammates, friends and classmates asked him the same question. Are you leaving, too?
He is – after four years.
“I’m going to be loyal to my school and finish it out,” he said. “Corona is my family.”
It’s a philosophy Edward Barcello wishes others would share.
“To me, it’s a shame that some of these kids think they have to go somewhere else to get better,” he said. “I think if they were that good they should have stayed where they were and made their team better.”
Reach Bordow at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-448-8716. Follow him at Twitter.com/sBordow.
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