Hillcrest Prep can’t seem to catch a break. The recently-established east Phoenix basketball academy has been getting more than its share of national media attention…but not necessarily the kind it was hoping for.
Located at 35th Street and McDowell Rd., Hillcrest has aspirations of becoming the next Findlay Prep, the nationally-recognized ‘basketball factory’ in Nevada that exists to turn elite-level prep basketball talent into college recruiting prizes.
To that end, the program boasts two of the nation’s top college recruits: DeAndre Ayton, the unanimous No. 1 prospect in the class of 2017, and Marvin Bagley III, the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2018.
But Hillcrest lost Bagley just as the 2015-16 season was getting underway. And now they appear to be having a difficult time finding enough quality college suitors for Ayton.
Bagley, who helped Corona del Sol High School in Tempe to its fourth straight state championship as a freshman, transferred to Hillcrest for his sophomore year. But just a few games into the season he left the program and began home schooling while deciding where to enroll next. That turned out to be Sierra Canyon High School in California.
The highly-publicized 6’11” center reportedly left the program, in part, out of concern that the academics at the school were not going to satisfy his college eligibility requirements. In a review of the school’s course offerings last October, the NCAA reported that the coursework did not meet NCAA nontraditional core-course legislation.
That was not the kind of publicity the program wanted. However, shortly thereafter the basketball program changed its academic alignment from Starshine Academy to Arizona Connections Academy, a K-12 online public school in Gilbert that meets NCAA requirements. Starshine continues to provide housing for the basketball program’s players and a gym for its practices.
Now Hillcrest is back in the national news. The focus this time is on Ayton, a 7-foot junior who transferred to Hillcrest from a San Diego prep school and averaged 22 points, 16 rebounds, and four blocks throughout this season.
College analysts seem to agree that he is mature for his age, shows leadership traits, works hard, is humble despite his incredible talent, and is very coachable. What’s not to like about this kid?
So it’s surprising to learn that he isn’t getting the college offers everyone had expected to see. As of last week, he said he has just one offer, although it is from perennial power Kansas. But that’s it. One offer.
Part of the issue involves academics, which doesn’t speak well for Hillcrest. However, the youngster insists he has no NCAA eligibility concerns. And his progress reports from the school seem to bear that out; he reportedly finished the first semester with a 3.5 grade-point average.
Recruiters are evidently also concerned about whether the native of the Bahamas will decide to skip college and jump into the NBA draft, which he is eligible to do since he will have reached his 19th birthday.
Two of the top programs in the country, Duke and Kentucky, actually showed interest in Ayton but have since backed off their pursuit.