A growing talent drain in AZ high school basketball…Part II

(This is a continuation of yesterday’s Part I post…)

When Hillcrest Prep debuted its national basketball program during the 2015-16 season, it was the only boys’ program of its kind in Arizona.  Now there are enough similar programs around the state to cobble together their own little tournament.

Commonly referred to as a “basketball factory,”  organizers say that a program like the one at Hillcrest is created to further develop those high school basketball players with exceptional talent and provide them a better opportunity for exposure to college recruiters by playing similar programs on a national tour.

The most glaring problem with this approach, as we outlined in Part I of this article, is the talent drain it causes among those ‘traditional’ high school programs, the schools that are members of the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA), which enables them to play a normal in-state schedule.  National programs like Hillcrest aren’t allowed AIA membership.

At first, there was little thought given to the talent drain that would occur as these basketball academies began to open.  But since Hillcrest opened five years ago, four more have been added, resulting in a slow exodus of high school coaches that these academies need to run their national programs.

The latest is Eduprize, a Gilbert charter school that will field a national team and a varsity team this coming season, with the varsity team participating in the Canyon Athletic Association.  Eduprize follows the establishment of similar programs at Hillcrest, Dream City, AZ Compass Prep, Bella Vista, and PHH Prep.

And now the players are beginning to follow their coaches to the national teams in increasing numbers.  That transfer activity has begun reaching new heights in just the last couple of weeks, as more than a dozen players have reportedly switched to the academies.

AZ Compass just announced that the guard tandem of Kam’Ren Rhodes and Kamryn Doty will be transferring from Tucson’s Sabino High School to join their head coach, Jamaal Rhodes, who led Sabino to last year’s 3A state title and will now be taking over the AZ Compass girls’ team.  Rhodes was Sabino’s top rebounder and Doty was second-highest scorer.

A couple of top Chandler teams also have reportedly lost key players to AZ Compass.  LeeLee Willis is said to be transferring from Seton Catholic, the reigning 4A state champion, where the sophomore was that team’s No. 2 scorer and top rebounder.  Junior Samara Curry is expected to leave the Hamilton High team that was state runner-up last season; she was the team’s top rebounder.

The drain on the boys’ game has been even more significant.  According to an article just days ago in The Arizona Republic, PHH Prep director John Ortega announced the addition of 10 players, scattered among eight different high schools.

Mountain Pointe High School and Desert Vista High School, both Ahwatukee-area schools, are each losing two players: Micah Pierce and Qbon Sullivan from the Pointe and Andrew King and Will Coates from DV.   Sullivan is the only senior-to-be out of the group, the rest will be juniors.

Rounding out the group are seniors Riley Fornerette (Dysart HS) and J.T. Elder (Cienega HS), and juniors Logan Pohl (Paradise Honors HS), Sidney Wooten (Sunnyslope HS), Dominic Capriotti (Skyline HS), and Kemp Van Es (Arcadia HS).  PHH Prep got a ‘two-fer’ with Capriotti since his father, James Capriotti, is also joining the program as a coach after five years as the Skyline head coach.

The AIA is definitely taking notice of all the movement, and the subsequent resentment from its member schools.  “There’s always going to be some friction because, traditionally, in the sports of football, basketball, volleyball, baseball, and softball, kids typically play for their high school team,” said AIA Executive Director David Hines in a recent media interview.

“The rub really is coming more (because) they’re kicking them out of their school setting.  So that’s a concern for schools and high school coaches.”

Some of the national teams affiliate with academic programs, usually charter schools, while players at the others continue taking classes at their regular high schools and travel to team practices.

As the list of some of the top prep stars in Arizona leaving AIA programs continues to grow, it’s beginning to look like our high schools are turning into feeder programs for national academies.

And that’s a very disturbing trend.