Prep ‘basketball factories’ raising Arizona’s nat’l profile


Arizona is becoming an increasingly popular stop on the college basketball recruiting trail, thanks in part to the growing number of “basketball factories” popping up all over the desert, those high schools started for the specific purpose of developing athletes considered among the nation’s best.

When Hillcrest Prep debuted its national basketball program during the 2015-16 season, it stood alone against the desert landscape.  The closest similar ‘academy’ was the highly-publicized Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, which was considered the gold standard for the sport.

Now there are enough teams right here in Arizona to cobble together their own little tournament.

Hillcrest laid a good foundation for the others that would follow.  That program gained instant credibility when Marvin Bagley III transferred from Corona del Sol High School in Tempe to launch the inaugural season.  The 7-footer was rated as the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2018.  With him leading the way, Hillcrest won that year’s national Grind Session, crowning that team with the national prep title.

Bagley left Hillcrest after one season, but the program replaced him with the top prospect in the Class of 2017, 7’1″ DeAndre Ayton.  Bagley went on to a college ‘career’ at Duke, while Ayton headed to Tucson to play for the Arizona Wildcats.  Both left after one season to play in the NBA.

The year after Hillcrest started up, Aspire Basketball Academy opened – and then went away a year later.  Aspire had partnered with Bella Vista College Prep to provide the academic affiliation it needed, but unexpectedly pulled up stakes and moved to Kentucky for the 2017-18 season.

Bella Vista picked up the loose ball and fielded its own national team for that season, with Kyle Weaver, the former coach at Hillcrest taking the reins of the new program.  The program gained instant recognition when it won last season’s national grind session.

After taking the program to the pinnacle, Kyle Weaver handed the program over to his brother, Nick, who had been the athletic director at Hillcrest.  And Kyle moved over to Glendale to start up Dream City Christian‘s national team.

Try to follow the bouncing ball…

Dream City is the former Joy Christian High School, which had been participating as a member of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.  The Dream City national team will be participating in the Canyon Athletic Association and scheduling games against junior college teams and traveling on the “grind session” circuit to play other similar programs around the country.

Weaver picked up his first major talent acquisition for Dream City when MarJon Beauchamp, a 5-star recruit, announced earlier this summer that we will be transferring in from Seattle, Wash.

But Dream City isn’t the only national program getting its start this season.  AZ Compass Prep, a charter school in Chandler, will be joining the party this year.  It’s being coached by former Chandler High coach, Ed Gipson.

And finally, throw this possibility into the mix:  It was just a couple of seasons ago that Bella Vista’s athletic director, Don Brown, threw out the idea of starting a women’s national team.

There’s no telling where all this is going to lead.  But for now, Arizona is loading up with some of the nation’s best high school basketball talent.

Of course, where there are top players, the college recruiters will follow.  And that’s good for everybody.