Tempe Corona del Sol sophomore point forward Marvin Bagley III is in North Augusta, S.C., this week, playing for a Tennessee-based Nike EYBL team called “We All Can Go.”
Former Gilbert Perry junior point guard Markus Howard also is at the Peach Jam in South Carolina this week, playing for the Las Vegas Prospects, who gained exclusive EYBL status this spring when Howard joined the Prospects with Las Vegas Centennial’s Troy Brown, considered by some recruiting services as the top 2017 point guard in the nation.
At the end of this month, Corona del Sol junior point guard Alex Barcello will join Team Bayless to play in a national showcase in Las Vegas. That Adidas team is comprised of all California players, except for Barcello, who averaged 24 points in April national showcases, causing his recruitment to jump the rails.
Welcome to the new world of AAU basketball in July, when Arizona’s top prospects join forces with other top players from out of state to play in top-tier showcases before college coaches.
Even though Corona del Sol was among the top-10-ranked teams in the nation by MaxPreps after this past boys basketball season, and Arizona has three of the nation’s top players in the country – Bagley is rated the No. 1 player in the country in the 2018 class by ESPN, Howard is rated 31st overall in the country in the 2017 class by Rivals.com, and Barcello is ranked 65th overall for the 2017 class by Rivals – it’s been an impossible task to get all of the state’s best players together to play in July.
Arizona basketball players with something to prove in July showcases:
It has caused a perception that Arizona is second tier in basketball on the national scene, according to John Ortega, who helps coach Arizona Power Basketball.
Mitch Lightfoot, a 6-9 senior who has offers from Arizona and Arizona State, among several others, is among the very few top-tier Arizona high school players playing for a locally-based club team, Power, which recently lost its leader, Sundance Wicks, who took an assistant coaching position at the University of San Francisco.
Lightfoot, who led Gilbert Christian to the Division II championship last season, is ranked 140th in the country in the 2016 class by Rivals.
Art Dye, considered the grandfather of club basketball in Arizona, dating to the 1980s, has seen his Stars program fade in the avalanche of club programs that have started in the past decade.
The Stars had a Nike deal in the early 2000s that got them to Peach Jam, which started in 1996. Dye’s Stars teams peaked in the 1990s with Mike Bibby and Richard Jefferson. Both went on to star at the University of Arizona and play in the NBA.
Those Stars teams competed for national championships, playing in the top bracket, where gymnasiums were filled with college coaches.
Arizona Premier took over in latter part of the 2000s as the go-to club program in Arizona. But that fell apart after Russ Pennell left in 2008 to return to college coaching.
Now, it is Arizona Power Basketball Academy (now led by Jeff Becker), Arizona Magic (with Kenny Mullins coaching), Passion 4 Ball (former Arizona State player Justin Allen leading the way) and Arizona D1 Ambassadors (led by Glen Mayberry) competing for top talent, along with the AZ Aces and the Arizona Warriors.
They’ve all produced college players and win games on the national stage. They’ve even produced college coaches.
“But as with anything, we could always be better, and the tools are right in front of us,” Ortega said.
However, with greater competition, there is greater temptation to play for teams outside of Arizona.
“Right now there is no major shoe contracts in Arizona,” Becker said. “I think the shoe companies want exposure and high-level athletes. From a club standpoint, you’re trying to cut financial costs as much as possible to help the kids. It’s a win-win, but hard to get.”
That is causing Jeff Meadows, an area scout who writes for HoopsReport.com, to consider taking his son Bryce, a rising 2018 point guard at Scottsdale Coronado, out of state to play for a club team.
“We want to stay and play for a local team but Arizona does not have an organization that has a shoe sponsorship which nowadays is a must for a top prospect or any aspiring top prospect,” Meadows said. “As far as that goes, this is the worst predicament that Arizona has ever been in. It’s truly a sad day and time for our state, because we have the players but no vehicle for the them to look forward to.”
Nike would likely come running if a club program in Arizona had Bagley, Barcello, Howard and Lightfoot all on the same team and put it in the EYBL.
“It’s very hard to get that,” said Becker, whose program still has sent 60 kids to colleges in now its third year of existence and will have players seen before 40 to 100 college coaches at each their three stops this month. “It’s interesting. Phoenix is such a highly populated area. We do produce so many great athletes every year. California and Nevada are connecting states and the competition and the level of exposure that kids feel they need, it’s very highly competitive.”
Howard is a relentless worker, always trying to raise the bar to make him the best possible player. Howard enjoyed Perry High, where he averaged a state-best 32.4 points last season, making All-Arizona for a second consecutive season.
But in order to improve as a player, he felt he had to play against the toughest competition outside of the high school level.
That meant transferring to national power Las Vegas Findlay Prep, where he’ll begin playing in August. It also meant playing on a club team that enabled him to play against the best in the country, said his mother, Noemi Howard. Howard stood out for the Prospects in the spring, helping the Las Vegas team get that prized Peach Jam invite through the EYBL.
But, despite all of that exposure, his recruiting didn’t really take off until he showed he wasn’t just a scorer, that he could play dogged defense, during the Team USA U16 team trials in Colorado City. Howard is up to 13 scholarship offers, including UA, after setting a Team USA U16 Americas record for 3-point shooting percentage, helping the team to the gold medal in Argentina.
“No bigger stage to perform,” Noemi called the Team USA experience for her son.
Bagley, azcentral sports’ Player of the Year as a freshman, after helping Corona del Sol to a fourth consecutive big-schools state championship, was part of Power during his elementary-school days. His father, Marvin Jr., helps lead his son to select competition, which has taken him to Nike EYBL-affiliated WACG, playing in the Peach Jam.
Marvin Jr., said two weeks ago that it would be the only national showcase event that his son plays in this summer. The rest of the time will be used to further develop his game.
Barcello, who scored a school-record 51 points in a showdown against Howard (who had 47 points) in a regular-season high school win against Perry, has 16 college offers, most of those coming after playing in the April Adidas Gauntlet Series.
Catching up with Corona del Sol basketball:
NBA guard Jerryd Bayless, who was a three-time Player of the Year at Phoenix St. Mary’s, wanted to build his club program around Barcello.
“He’s going to try next year to have more Arizona kids,” said Edward Barcello, Alex’s father. “He wants to showcase more Arizona kids on a national level. That’s his goal. The whole point of that team is to play the best competition in the nation.
“One thing Alex wanted, he wanted to play the best competition in the country. He wanted to travel back East and go out of state and play.”
Barcello soaked up the coaching at the NBPA Top 100 Camp in Virginia in June. He’ll compete next week in another big Adidas camp in New York. At the end of July, he will play in the Adidas Uprising Summer Championships in Las Vegas.
This week, Lightfoot is in North Carolina, competing in an Under Armour top 100 camp.
Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all compete for the top players in the country.
Just in the past five years, it has read like a who’s who of Arizona hoops players joining out-of-state club teams.
Mesa’s Jahii Carson, Paradise Valley’s Paul Watson and Mesa Dobson’s Jaron Hopkins played for the Compton Magic; Chandler Basha’s Maurice Kirby played for I Can California; Phoenix South Mountain’s Zylan Cheatham and Mesa Mountain View’s Payton Dastrup played for California Supreme; Phoenix Pinnacle’s Dorian Pickens and Phoenix Shadow Mountain’s Carlos Johnson played for the Oakland Soldiers (another Nike EYBL team); Mesa Red Mountain’s Jalen Jenkins played for Danny Granger D1; and Gilbert Christian’s Sam Jones played for Double Pump.
“Every single year, Arizona talent leaves Arizona to play for out-of-state teams,” Ortega said. “Meanwhile, the Arizona teams fight for the remaining talent and spread it so thin we can’t truly compete in national tournaments. We’ll, on average, have eight to 12 D-I players each year in Arizona. Rarely, do you see more than three on any single team.”
RECRUITING: Complete Arizona high school coverage
Bibby, who began his Team Bibby program while he was still playing in the NBA, said he would like to see all of the state’s top players get together to play in a tournament just to see how they fare against the best in the country.
“It’s different now,” Bibby said. “When I was playing, there weren’t as many big tournaments as there (are) now. I don’t remember hearing anything about the EYBL or the Adidas tournaments and the Under Armour events.”
Bibby said he tried to get his team in the EYBL, but there is a waiting list. Bibby’s best player is his son, Michael, a 6-foot-2 senior point guard, who didn’t play last summer and missed most of his junior season because of knee injuries.
Bibby also has J.J. Rhymes, another top player in the state.
After Carlos Johnson joined the Oakland Soldiers last year, he got an offer from California and he moved to the Bay area.
“They’ve asked some of our kids to play for another team, but I wasn’t going to pass my kids onto somebody else,” Bibby said. “It’s unfortunate that not all of the kids get all of the looks, because (most of the top) coaches go to those tournaments.”
Michael Bibby, who just got back from competing in NBA MVP Steph Curry’s Select Camp in the Bay Area, said he feels his dad’s team will attract enough college coaches this month at the various showcases to help his recruiting.
“We go places anywhere, we get attention just because of who he is,” Michael said. “It’s just going out there and showing what we can do.”
Mike Bibby said he feels Arizona has struggled for national respect since his Phoenix Shadow Mountain playing days in the mid-1990s, when his game enabled the Matadors to travel the country his senior year in 1995-96 to play in big national high school tournaments, such as the Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina.
“When I was playing, I was the No. 1 point guard in the country from Arizona, and a lot of people didn’t want that to happen,” Bibby said. “Some of the magazines and stuff like that were trying to get kids from New York and New Jersey to be the No. 1 point guard. I think they just had to do it.
“Kids out here can play. I think if we put a top team together out here, we could compete with anybody.”
Dye reflects on the ’90s, referring to it as “the wild, wild West,” when he put out great Stars teams that competed with the best.
He is hopeful that some day all of the club coaches could get together and put one top Arizona team together to play in a big July showcase.
But he has doubts he’ll ever see that.
“It’s a sad frontier right now, in my opinion,” Dye said.