With onset the 3A Arizona State Boys Basketball Tournament just over the horizon, it’s time to scour the state to uncover some of the teams the Longhorns could face if they qualify, as expected, for the 16-team postseason shoot-out.
Estrella Foothills leads the pack
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about 3A basketball and not focus on two-time defending state champion Estrella Foothills and the school’s Arizona State-bound superstar Corey Hawkins.
EF is currently 21-1 with its only loss, 78-66, to Ocean View High School of Huntington Beach, Calif. in the Visitmesa.com Basketball Challenge.
Estrella rebounded quickly from that defeat to whip 5A powerhouse Phoenix St. Mary’s, 79-76, also in the Basketball Challenge.
After than win, Estrella went on to slip past powerful North Lawndale College Prep of Chicago, 81-78.
In Arizona 3A play, Estrella has totally dominated with landslide wins such as a 122-84 defeat of Buckeye and a 100-30 win over North Pointe Prep.
Against Fountain Hills, a pretty good 3A team that is now 15-9, Estrella ran roughshod 81-36.
Much of the success of the Wolves can be attributed to Corey Hawkins, son of former NBA star Hersey Hawkins.
Corey currently leads Estrella in scoring (35.1 ppg), rebounding (11.0 per game), steals (4.9), three-pointers (3.5) and free throws (153 for 209, 73 percent).
Last year as a junior, Hawkins committed to Arizona State and Sun Devil coach Herb Sendeck has taken in several of the Wolves games.
If there is a team in Arizona that can play on the same level as EF, it might be the Chinle Wildcats (21-2) from the rugged North Region.
The Cats are on a 10-game winning streak and are buoyed by senior Koyai Clauschee who averages 14.8 ppg, second best in the North.
Clauschee is billed as a threat from beyond the three-point line and a good high school free-throw shooter.
In the West Region, Florence is 20-7 and led by junior Kyle Washington, who is scoring at a 19.1 ppg average.
He’s also a threat from downtown having hit 20 of his 59 three-pointers.
Safford (14-4) is also a power in the South, but was beaten by Chinle in the Round Valley White Mountain Tournament.
In any state tournament there are always a handful of dark horses capable of making a deep run while making life miserable for the favorites.
This year, two of those teams could be the Holbrook Roadrunners (19-3) and the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets (18-2).
So where does Payson fit into the state scenario?
With a lowly 9-13 record, it doesn’t at first appear the Longhorns are much of a threat.
But on a second look, the Horns are now fully healthy, something they haven’t enjoyed since mid-December when senior center/forward Dakota Marshall went down with a broken ankle beginning Payson’s downward spiral to an eight-game losing streak.
Senior wingman Cody Waterman has also been sidelined with an ankle injury, but has returned to the lineup to give the Horns another scoring and rebounding threat.
PHS athletic director Jason Lobik says recent postponements and rescheduling of regional and state tournaments to a later date, which were
were due to inclement weather, has actually benefited the Longhorns.
“(The postponements) have given the players more time to heal,” he said.
With Marshall, Waterman and senior point guard Ever Figueroa in the lineup and everyone healthy, the Horns were once a force, opening the season with a 7-1 record.
With all three back in full form, the Horns have the potential to be the surprise team of the regional and state tournaments.