Summer ball is an absolute necessity for high school basketball programs that want to be ready for the coming season. It’s an important time for coaches to begin blending in new players who are moving up to varsity, or those who came off the bench the previous season but will be expected to contribute more to help fill the void left by graduated seniors.
So the play is more than a little ragged as the kids begin learning to play together.
However, that problem is practically non-existent for at least one high-profile team. The Gilbert Christian boys’ team won the Division II state title last season and has four of its top players returning, a group that combined last season to average 55 points each night and lead the Knights to a 25-6 record.
Mitch Lightfoot (post), Cameron Satterwhite (small forward), Dontez Thomas (guard), and Tony Licavoli (power forward) will all be seniors as the 2015-16 season begins.
It’s that talent load and depth that enabled Gilbert Christian to hold its own against the No. 1 team in the state in last weekend’s Prime Time Boys Hoops Invitational at Chaparral High School. That and the towering presence of the 6’9″ Lightfoot.
The Knights held Corona del Sol High School to a 26-26 tie going into halftime, as Lightfoot scored 11 points and held Corona’s own big man, 6’10 Marvin Bagley III, to just eight points. But Bagley, an incoming sophomore touted by some recruiting sites as the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2018, turned the tables in the second half, scoring 12 points and limiting Lightfoot, who began the second half with three fouls, to a pair of free throws.
Bagley turned on the afterburners in the second half and the Corona offense worked its way to a 13-point lead early in the fourth quarter, eventually pulling out the 50-41 victory.
Bagley, who scored 31 points against Mesa’s Mountain View High School earlier in the tournament, finished the title game with 20 points and was named the tournament’s MVP. He had some help in beating Gilbert Christian as senior guard Tyrell Henderson contributed 16 points.
Henderson, a Portland State commit, helped fill the scoring void left by the absence of Alex Barcello, who was attending an elite summer camp in Virginia while the Prime Time tourney was being run. The 6’2″ point guard was named the Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year last season as a sophomore.
The Prime Time tourney is in its fifth year and is providing a good opportunity for teams more interested in facing off against good competition than in entering the weaker events in order to win a trophy. This tournament had an eight-team field and included the reigning state champions in Division I (Corona) and Division II (Gilbert Christian) and six more teams that all qualified for the state tournament in their respective divisions.
Shadow Mountain High School, which made it to the D-II semifinals last season, earned third place in this year’s Prime Time. The Matadors, who ran up a 23-7 record last season, lost by eight points to Gilbert Christian in failing to get into the finals, but came back and beat Perry High, 61-51, for the third-place finish.
Yes, it’s just summer ball, but Corona del Sol is making a solid case for being considered the favorite to win an unprecedented fifth-straight state title. The Aztecs dominated the competition for five games in the Prime Time – and did it without their second-best scorer on the floor.
And Gilbert Christian showed why they also have a good chance to repeat as state champions in Division II.