The pirating of Arizona’s top high school basketball players by national teams has become an all-out assault.
And the state’s governing body for prep sports continues to struggle with what has become a major issue for its 200+ member schools. The Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) apparently has no remedy to stop the looting.
So, in the meantime, high school coaches are left to find ways to adapt to the talent drain.
This off-season has seen an escalation of epic proportions. Within the last year, for example, Paradise Honors HS has lost four key players on a team that went 22-6 last year and would have been in state title contention this season.
Last year, the Surprise school lost a couple of post players, including 6’11” Matur Dhal, to PHH Prep. This summer, the problem got worse when Nate Pickens, who averaged 16 points a game last season, and 6’10” junior Logan Pohl announced plans to play for PHHP in the coming season.
How do you build a top-tier varsity program when you have that kind of talent drain?
When Hillcrest Prep debuted its national basketball program five years ago, it was the only one in the state, a program commonly referred to as a “basketball factory” because it was established for the sole purpose of giving high school students accelerated training and a chance to compete against other “elite” teams around the country.
Now there are six of these programs in the state. Hillcrest; PHHP,; AZ Compass Prep; Bella Vista; Dream City Christian; and Eduprize Prep, the latest addition to the growing list. Just over the summer alone, PHH Prep claims to have added at least 10 players from eight different AIA schools.
Some of the schools taking the biggest hits from the various national programs include Tucson’s Sabino HS, which lost its top rebounder and second-highest scorer from a team that won last year’s 3A state title; Pinnacle HS, which lost freshman phenom Royce Ramos, who was being counted on to help with a rebuilding process after the Phoenix school posted back-to-back state titles before falling below .500 last season; and Desert Vista HS, which lost starting guard Andrew King, who led the team to last year’s 6A state championship.
On the girls’ side: Sabino’s team leader in scoring and blocks, 6’1″ forward Kiya Dorroh, is transferring to AZ Compass; Ally Stedman, the assist leader for Pinnacle who averaged 18 points a game last season, is heading to PHHP.; and Valley Vista‘s top scorer and rebounder, Marisa Davis, announced her departure for AZ Compass.
There are many more players getting swept up in this exodus from their school teams, but these illustrate the scope of the damage that is being done to the teams they are leaving behind.
Phxfan ran a two-part article on this disturbing trend back in May. But a continuing flow of high-profile transfers to national programs warrants another look at a problem that is obviously getting worse with time.
Within just the last week, Peoria HS lost its senior guard, Kevin Kogbara, who announced he will take his talents to Dream City, while senior point guard Justus Jackson is leaving Millennium HS for greener pastures at Eduprize.
Jackson will be joining a team at Eduprize that will now include Devontes Cobbs from Shadow Mountain HS and Duke Brennan from Perry HS, two of the top players in the state who made the switch weeks ago.
The loss of Kogbara will have a significant impact on the Peoria program. The 6’7″ swing player was a major factor in the program’s run to the 4A state championship game and would have been instrumental in making another run at the title this season.
So far, the AIA coaches who have been affected by the growing number of transfers to the national programs have been unable to do anything except watch their top players walk out the door and wish them well with their new programs.
All they can do is hope the AIA begins to realize the seriousness of the problem and starts working toward a solution — or at least finds a way to help minimize the bleeding.