We continue our new Fall Player Rankings with our next release - the 2016 class fall player rankings for small forwards. This position among the 2016 class is the most loaded of it's kind, as many prospects in this position have already verbally committed to college programs. This position is loaded with talented prospects for the collegiate level.
Moving up to our top spot in this position in the class is Sunrise Mountain High School's very talented 6-foot-6 senior wing Elijah Thomas. Thomas became one of the elite prospects in Arizona's 2016 class with a terrific performance this spring and summer. As a result, Thomas received loads of college recruitment. With numerous college programs to choose from, Thomas found his fit before the start to the signing period - giving a verbal commitment to Saint Mary's College and highly successful head coach Randy Bennett.
Thomas had coaches all summer intrigued by his raw talent and versatility. This summer was a true coming-out-party for Thomas, as many college coaches and media marveled at his abilities to handle the basketball and make the right plays for his team. His college-ready body also intrigued coaches. Thomas is a high-major athlete that probably would be looking at a future pro career in football as a tight-end if he chose to go that route, but instead, he is a versatile wing prospect that is capable of scoring from inside and out and excels in the open floor. This young man is a sure-fire big-time talent for the future.
Checking in at our #2 spot is Gilbert High School's 6-foot-7 senior forward Chris Bowling. Bowling needed a strong performance this club season to boost his college recruitment, and he was up for the challenge. Bowling would have numerous strong performances on the summer club circuit, including a big performance in the championship game of the Pangos Sweet 16, as he would lead his club program, the Arizona Magic Elite, to the tournament championship with a gutty performance. As a result, Bowling would receive several scholarship offers for himself.
While Bowling has still yet to garner as much division-I interest as expected, he has received division-I offers thus far from Idaho State, Sam Houston State and Texas Rio Grande Valley. He has also generated serious interest from Hawaii, Northern Arizona, Nevada, Southern Utah, Denver, Sal State Bakersfield, Weber State and San Diego.
Bowling showed a sweet shooting stroke and very good athleticism this summer - playing his best basketball of his young career. While Bowling is very thin, he gets a lot done and is very skilled. Over time Bowling could be the steal of the class once he develops physically. He is still deciding on whether or not he will wait until the spring before signing.
6-foot-6 senior wing Brock Gardner of Tri-City Christian Academy is among the elite overall prospects in the class and has already givien a verbal commitment to Liberty University, after receiving very strong college recruitment this summer. While Gardner had numerous scholarship offers, Liberty got in on Gardner very early in the recruiting process and seemed to recruit him the hardest. Gardner chose Liberty University over other offers from LeHigh, Dartmouth, UC Davis, Columbia, Air Force and Central Arkansas.
Last season as a junior, Gardner's best season to date, he poured in 25.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.5 steals and 2.1 blocks per/contest. What has been most impressive about Gardner is that he also averaged 24 points and 10 rebounds as a sophomore, and 19 points and 8 rebounds as a freshman. Gardner has had an amazing career already for himself, and should have another huge senior season.
One of the top overall sleeper prospects in Arizona's 2016 class is Moon Valley High School's athletically gifted 6-foot-6 senior forward Bryce Cheney. Cheney had a strong showing for himelf this summer and everything changed for the talented wing prospect. After soaring well below the recruiting radar through much of the spring and summer, Cheney put it all together this summer and earned several offers, before verbally committing to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Cheney also received offers from UTEP and Weber State as well. Cheney has come a long way after having a subpar junior season for the Rockets, as he missed many games during the season with a groin injury. Cheney would return to average 10.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per/game. Cheney will have a big senior season though for the Rockets, as he has really improved as a player and gotten much bigger and stronger physically.
The state of Arizona's 2016 class of prospects got much better this spring after 6-foot-5 senior wing Aaron Weidenaar moved to the state of Arizona. A Montana native, Weidenaar moved to Arizona and enrolled at Horizon High School this spring - instantly improving the number of prospects in the state. Weidenaar was regarded among the top prospects in Montana before moving to Arizona.
Weidenaar is a good-sized wing prospect with a very nice shooting stroke with range - his best asset. He is able to score inside and out, but becomes a mis-match on the perimeter for players his size. He also looks very comfortable on the wing, although he will probably see much of his time next season in the post for Horizon. Weidenaar has a good looking body, with solid athleticism. He competes hard and plays with good intensity. He is also a good low post scorer and active rebounder, also a solid finisher.
There are also many other top-rated prospects at this position that could each move up the rankings for our spring edition, as each of them are very talented prospects - but still uncommitted. Campo Verde HS 6-foot-6 senior wing Brandon Whitaker, Mountain Ridge HS 6-foot-5 senior Jay Green, Gilbert HS 6-foot-5 senior forward Jacob Nicolds, Fairfax HS 6-foot-4 senior forward Kevin Mack, Pinnacle HS 6-foot-4 senior guard/forward Randy Bronner and Bradshaw Mountain HS 6-foot-3 wing Gilbert Ibarra (Committed to Embry Riddle) are all worthy of advancing in our next player rankings with strong performances this high school season. We will be watching each of these prospects closely this high school season.
Here are our new Fall Player Rankings for the small forward position in Arizona’s 2016 class. While we have not seen everyone at the position in the state, these individuals have proven to be the best at the position at this point in time.
Arizona Preps 2016 Class Fall Player Rankings – Small Forwards (In Ranking Order)
1. Elijah Thomas 6-6 SR SF Sunrise Mountain HS (Glendale, AZ) - Committed to Saint Mary's College
2. Chris Bowling 6-6 SR SG/SF Gilbert HS (Gilbert, AZ)
3. Brock Gardner 6-7 SR SF Tri-Christian HS (Chandler, AZ) - Committed to Liberty University
4. Bryce Cheney 6-5 SR SF Moon Valley HS (Phoenix, AZ) – Committed to Texas Rio Grande Valley
5. Aaron Weidenaar 6-5 SR SF Horizon HS (Scottsdale, AZ) – Committed to Central Arkansas
6. Brandon Whitaker 6-6 SR SF Campo Verde HS (Chandler, AZ)
7. Jay Green 6-5 SR SF Mountain Ridge HS (Glendale, AZ)
8. Jacob Nicolds 6-5 SR SF Gilbert HS (Gilbert, AZ)
9. Kevin Mack 6-4 SR SF Fairfax HS (Phoenix, AZ)
10. Randy Bronner 6-4 SR SG/SF Pinnacle HS (Phoenix, AZ)
11. Gilbert Ibarra 6-3 SR SG/SF Bradshaw Mountain HS (Anthem, AZ) - Committed to Embry Riddle
12. Adam Rees 6-5 SR SG/SF Desert Mountain HS (Scottsdale, AZ)
13. Lawrence Combs 6-5 SR SF Mountain Pointe HS (Phoenix, AZ)
14. CJ Van Beekum 6-4 SR SF Paradise Valley HS (Phoenix, AZ)
15. Ben Walker 6-4 SR SF Pusch Ridge Christian Academy (Tucson, AZ)
Fall Player Ranking Notes: Our player rankings have been determined by a body of work from each student-athlete. Each player’s body of work consisted of performances throughout the high school season, and also performances throughout the spring, summer and fall seasons. A top performance throughout the high school season impacts a player’s ranking a great deal. A student-athlete’s performance throughout the fall, spring and summer will have an even bigger impact, since our staff is able to observe Arizona players in competition against much better local, regional and national competition. The complete body of work has been taken into consideration for each of our player rankings. Player rankings are based on a particular student-athlete’s ability to play the game of basketball – not academic performance, although a player can help him or herself if he/she is an excellent student. Rankings are done to help aid college coaches in their ability to identify the top student-athletes by position and class in the state. These rankings are forwarded to college coaches at every level throughout the country. Rankings will be updated throughout the year.