West Side Basketball Alive and Well

by Justin Vargas | Posted on Friday, February 9th, 2018

When I first arrived on to the Arizona high school basketball scene, I would bounce around from one Westside gym to the next. At the time, former Arizona Wildcat and current Philadelphia 76ers point guard Jerryd Bayless was dominating the scene at St. Mary's, and was a top-10 nationally ranked recruit.  Mountain View and long-time Head Coach Gary Ernst were running the East Valley and filling up the High School trophy cases with players such as Harper Kamp, Kendall Wallace, Stephen Rodgers, Brendon Lavender and Vaughn Compton. The North Side of town was being ran by Deer Valley and stars like Lawrence Hill, Joey Shaw, Christian Polk, Jeremy Brooks and Eli Davis. Along with the sharp-shooting talent of Zane Johnson at Thunderbird.

However, my heart remained on the West Side, as I bounced from gym to gym.  From Independence High School, where you would see arguably the best highlight-reel dunking the state has ever seen in Gary "G-Smith" Smith, and the frantic on-ball defense of point guard A.C. Ford. Or maybe it would be the dominance of Apollo High School and their star Mr. Do-It-All Tristan Wilson and volume scoring guard Kody Braddix and a young bull named Shayar Lee.

If you wanted to hit the Maryvale section of the West, you could catch little 5-foot-9 point guard John Pena randomly drop 40 on someone at Maryvale High, or make your way to the historic program of Trevor Browne where one of the most dominating high school players, Ty Morrison, eventually handed off the torch to guys like Kaleo Kina, Daren Jordan and Louis Barraza.

Whenever Trevor Browne would travel to play their biggest and most heated rival at the time, the Westview Knights, it was the talk of the town. Standing room only and if you were late, kids would have their friends sneak into the locker rooms to let them in through the back. The Knights were armed with players like Chaz Neal and Leon Cruz at the time.

A couple years later passed, and it was the far West Valley that held the show. Agua Fria High School, led by a talented guard duo of Travis Payton and D.J. Hamilton and a block-shot machine in John Underwood, was an up-and-down entertaining show. Current Philadelphia Phillies right-fielder Aaron Altherr and Washington Nationals relief pitcher Sammy Solis both played on those squads, coached by current Copper Canyon Head Coach Paul Murphy.

Millennium High School was led by former ASU Sun Devil and Cleveland Cavaliers draft pick, Carrick Felix. Felix would lead the Tigers to a State Championship his senior year over West Valley rival Agua Fria.  I was treated to two match-ups all season between those two every year while those guys were there. And those games had some of the most memorable, dramatic finishes I have ever seen at the high school level.

The same year (2008) that Millennium team defeated Agua Fria for the state title - Desert Edge in Goodyear won the state title for their league behind Mitchell Watt, Andrew Fulbright, Gilbert Morales and Adam Arcienega.

The West Valley had a buzz!

So in my return this season to the Arizona High School basketball scene it boggled me how nobody seemed to mention much about the West Valley basketball scene. No favorites to win any State titles. And in a time where high school basketball has went viral and has so many media outlets that cover it, you just don't see the coverage that it probably would have garnered more of back in the mid-2000's.

It is no secret that most coverage comes out of the East in North Valley, and rightfully so. This Mike Bibby-coached Shadow Mountain team is one of the best AZ high school teams I have ever seen with Jaelen House, Jovan Blacksher and Shemar Morrow having national appeal.  Nico Mannion has become a viral sensation. He has earned that, no question. Higley has a super-sophomore duo on their roster with Shon Robinson and Jason Harris.  Brophy, Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista are widely considered the cream of the crop, as far as high school teams go in the 6A Division.  Red Mountain has arguably the best high school player in the State right now (not including Prep schools) in Utah signee Timmy Allen, to go with the grown man that is Andre Harris. It should be understood that the other parts of the Valley have earned the reputation as being the talent-rich parts of town.

But I am here to let you know, in case you didn't already, West Valley basketball is not dead!

Is it what it was in the time-frame I was covering it, absolutely not. Not even close. But there are still some premium, talented teams and players out this way. There is also an uprising in talent, with some young guys that look to have some promising futures playing this game.

Head Coach Randy Bland and the Buckeye Hawks have built one heck of a program in team in about as far West as you can go in the Valley. Their young duo of 6-foot-5 junior Otis Frazier and 6-foot-1 sophomore Tay Boothman is as good of a duo as you will see in the state.  And the system they run with is nothing short of a show with their run-and-gun, trap-everything style of play. Their only loss in the state of Arizona came at the hands of the 10th-ranked team in the nation, Shadow Mountain.

While their season has been scarred by injuries and transfer sit-outs, when they are all-hands-on-deck, the Liberty Lions and Head Coach Mark Wood have one heck of a team.  6-foot-6 senior forward and Montana State commit Quentin Guliford and 6-foot-1 junior guard Josh Ursery are another top-notch duo.  6-foot-5 senior Connor Ray and 5-foot-10 junior Jacob Edahl are two of the better 3-point shooters in the state.

Apollo's 6-foot-7 junior forward Emmanuel Taban is a top-150 nationally ranked recruit with a sky-high upside, and 6-foot-2 freshman guard Paris Woods is one of the better looking freshmen around.

Westview's 6-foot-4 guard D'Maurian Williams is one of the better junior prospects in the state. Williams has an all-around game with an offensive repertoire and a great perimeter defender. He and 6-foot-4 senior Christian Diaz lead a Westview team that is heading for the 6A state playoffs.

Head Coach Ty Amundsen has a wealth of young underclassmen at his disposal right now at Millennium, returning the basketball buzz to the West Valley. 5-foot-10 freshman guard Justus Jackson, 6-foot-9 freshman center DaRon Holmes and 6-foot-1 sophomore guard Isaiah Floyd lead the charge for the young Tigers. Mark my words, this team and program is going to be a powerhouse moving forward behind elite coaching and talent. I can not tell you how much I am looking forward to cover this program in the future.

There are players such as 6-foot-3 senior guard Grant Greabell and 6-foot-8 junior forward Shaun Wahlstrom from Estrella Foothills, who have led the Wolves to a 20-6 record, who will play basketball at the next level somewhere.  Or Copper Canyon's 6-foot-2 junior guard Isaiah Marin, who despite a frustrating losing season, should also find a 4-year home to play college ball at. Paradise Honors in Surprise, AZ is led by 6-foot-9 senior big man Jared Perry, who has led them to a 25-1 record and is the favorite to win the 2A State Championship.

So if you are one of them people who just don't know much about what's going on in the West Side Hoop Scene, be on standby.  There is still some quality basketball and talent on display out that way!

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