Some of the nation’s best high school basketball talent continues to pass through Arizona. But local fans who would like to get a look at the players are pretty much out of luck, unless they’re willing to travel to watch the games.
Hillcrest Prep is the magnet drawing some of the country’s best players to the state, but the basketball academy in south Phoenix isn’t a member of the Arizona Interscholastic Association, which means it doesn’t play local high school teams. Instead, the school, oft referred to as a “basketball factory,” takes its game on the road to play other similar programs around the country.
Now, the school’s national team has picked up another high-profile recruit in Kyree Walker, last year’s MaxPreps National Freshman of the Year. Walker, a 6’6″ wing with a bucket full of college offers already – including University of Arizona – is transferring into the Hillcrest program from California.
Walker will bring with him the kind of national attention Hillcrest has enjoyed since it opened just prior to the 2015-16 school year, thanks to a couple of No. 1 college recruits.
Marvin Bagley III, the No. 1 prospect in the Classa of 2018, played his freshman year at Corona del Sol High School in Tempe and then transferred to Hillcrest for his sophomore season. The 7-footer left after one season to move to California, but Hillcrest followed up by securing the No. 1 prospect in the 2017 Class, Deandre Ayton.
Ayton, too, will be gone this coming season. Another 7-footer, he will be playing for UofA, dealing a heavy blow to Hillcrest’s chances of repeating its performance this past season on the national stage.
Hillcrest’s national team won this year’s Grind Session, playing against top teams in the nation and, by virtue of that performance and a 33-6 overall record, earned the national prep basketball title.
A local player will be trying to fill the void left by the dominating Ayton, replacing some of the size at least. K.J. Hymes, who has been playing his first three years at St. Mary’s High School in downtown Phoenix, announced in March that he will be transferring to Hillcrest for his senior season. The 6’10” center averaged 17 points and eight rebounds last year, is considered a four-star prospect, and has his own stash of college scholarship offers that include Arizona State.
Hillcrest is aligned with Precision High as its academic partner to provide players NCAA-certified coursework. But Hymes reportedly will attend classes at Millennium High School, which is located in Goodyear where the family resides, while playing for Hillcrest.
Both additions to the Hillcrest program are much-needed after the program lost point guard Virschon Cotton and wing Alfred Hollins to graduation.
Walker averaged 21.5 points and four assists while playing at Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward.
Making room for one of these elite athletes on the roster sometimes also requires making room on the coaching staff. Walker’s father, Khari, is expected to join the Hillcrest coaching staff for the coming season. A couple of years ago, Bagley’s father was added to the staff when his son agreed to play at Hillcrest.
There are many tools used in recruiting, even at this level. Adding a parent coach is one of those – and it seems to be working pretty well for Hillcrest.