When I began scouting players in the state of Arizona in 1995, the state was almost void of any exposure opportunities for Arizona's top talent, and there simply were not as many top-rated players to scout, although there were many good ones. I began covering Arizona's top talent in an attempt to help establish and also improve the overall basketball culture in the state. Through the development of my scouting service, the Arizona Hoop Review, the Arizona Preps platform and also organizing and operating events, such as the Arizona Preps Fall Showcase, I worked to develop our basketball culture in the state. I also directed and operated a top-rated club program for (17) years to help promote Arizona's best talent to college programs. Now (28) years later, the state has more than developed, and now has become a hotbed for basketball talent, and has become one of the top producing state's for recruitable basketball talent in the country.
Of course, there have been many other factors involved in the development of Arizona basketball, as it has taken a village to improve this state's basketball culture, which today is at it's highest level of producing top-rated basketball talent.
For many years, since 1995, I have personally carried the torch for Arizona's top prospects - attempting to raise awareness to college coaches around the level of basketball talent in our state. Truthfully, Arizona did not have loads of talent and many of our top prospects left our state to play for highly-acclaimed club programs in other states to gain maximum exposure to college coaches. The development of elite prep programs around the state, and also the development of The Grind Session put prep programs at the forefront, and today, as I had expected many years ago, prep programs have developed into much more than just schools, as they are now regarded in the manner top club programs were perceived more than (10) years ago. Shoe companies such as Nike, Adidas and Under Armour are now more focused on prep programs, especially as a result of the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic that hit the world in 2020.
With the consistent and growing pandemic upon us between 2020 and 2021, and club basketball suspended and high school basketball programs and tournaments across the country also suspended until further notice throughout the summer and fall, prep programs continued to play, and, as a result, attracted even more of the nation's top prospects, as student-athletes looked for new homes for their talents. While prep programs packed their rosters and prepared for their respective seasons, The Grind Session became even hotter, as it became the only place in America that would provide consistent high-level competition for the nation's best teams and players. While there may have been a few challenges initially, The Grind Session circuit blossomed and become the talk of the national basketball community, while the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) and Canyon Athletic Association (CAA) in Arizona, as well as other regional and national high school governing bodies, looked to develop a plan to play through the pandemic.
With the state of Arizona still hosting tournaments and events, while following strict COVID protocols, many event organizers and regional scouts moved their events to the state of Arizona throughout the pandemic, while many events/tournaments were cancelled. Through all of the confusion, The Grind Session organizers moved much of their circuit to the state of Arizona, and organized numerous (2)-week "Bubbles" within the state, which provided for extreme competition and exposure for all of their participants, as the games and highlights are well-featured on social media outlets and also live-streamed for college coaches to watch, while college coaches were not permitted by NCAA rules to hit the road and see prospects in person. The Grind Session found a home in Arizona, and helped to make Arizona into a sure-fire hot spot for top-rated basketball competition and elite players and performances.
The Grind Session raised Arizona basketball to even higher heights, as a result, and it was an absolute joy to have the opportunity almost every night of the week to go watch the nation's best talent and teams compete in one forum, on one main court for maximum exposure.
Over the past couple years, elite prep programs in the state have continued to soar and consistently bring in top-rated national talent annually, improving to greater heights each year and producing loads of Division-I college talent for college programs, and also consistently showcasing many prospects for the NBA Draft annually, as the state has produced numerous NBA prospects for the annual NBA Draft each year. Such local prep programs as AZ Compass Prep, Dream City Christian Prep and also Hillcrest Prep have carried the torch for top-rated prep programs in the valley, and produced loads of elite national prospects for national scouts and media to marvel at.
Each of these three prep programs have produced first-round draft picks for the NBA, and also loads of division-I prospects that will also have the opportunity to get drafted over time. AZ Compass Prep has produced players and coaches for the Division-I level, and also received tremendous national acclaim annually, as the program has consistently competed for National Championships. AZ Compass Prep has recently produced NBA players Josh Primo (San Antonio Spurs), Ty Ty Washington (Milwaukee Bucks), Maxwell Lewis (LA Lakers) and Jabari Walker (Portland Trailblazers) currently, with many more prospects currently in college that will also have an opportunity to potentially play in the NBA.
Dream City Christian has also gone to new heights consistently, and also produced two first-round draft picks in the 2022 NBA Draft, as Shaedon Sharpe (Portland Trailblazers) and MarJon Beauchamp (Milwaukee Bucks) both were selected as first round draft picks. The program also have numerous other collegiate prospects that will soon get an opportunity to get drafted as well.
Hillcrest Prep has consistently produced elite national talent and is the original elite prep program in the state. Hillcrest Prep has produced DeAndre Ayton (Phoenix Suns), Marvin Bagley (Detroit Pistons), Josh Green (Dallas Mavericks) and Dalen Terry (Chicago Bulls) for the NBA. Hillcrest Prep began this prep school craze in the state, and continues to soar. The program also has numerous other prospects that could reach the NBA soon as well, such as Mike Foster, who is currently floating between the NBA and the G-League.
The state has continued to develop as a result, and each of the established prep programs in the state have worked hard to improve their rosters annually, such as Bella Vista Prep, which is now on the rise behind the leadership of former successful college coach Matt Gordon and Head Coach Tony Miller. PHH Prep has retooled their roster with national talent this year, and will compete with Hillcrest Prep this season in the Overtime Elite league, which is a tremendous honor for both programs.
There are also many new prep programs that are also developing in the state now, while other established prep programs such as Skyline Prep (pictured) have improved a great deal and added many new faces to their national and post-graduate rosters. Skyline Prep will be a force in the prep school ranks going forward, as they have reeled in top-rated national talent as well. New prep programs such as Canyon International Academy and also Inspire Prep Academy have also now developed, and will look to take the state by storm as well. Canyon International Academy is absolutely loaded with elite national talent, and is coming off a big weekend in Southern California, where many of their prospects were selected for all-star games in the Pangos All-West Frosh/Soph Camp. Inspire Prep Academy will host a team this season comprised of many of the nation's elite prospects for the 2028 Class, which will establish a new platform in the state that has not been seen before, as these young prospects will compete against older prep programs.
As a result of the consistent production of the prep programs, and the increased college recruitment around the state's top prospects, this high school season will be the most competitive season in many years for the AIA and the CAA. Last season, the AIA developed the Open Division for the state's elite high school programs to compete in, while also finally adding a shot clock for each of their games in the division. Last season was an excellent success for the AIA, which saw the level of play among their teams and players, as well as the desire to play in the AIA rise to another level for interested players. This season will be electric, as such teams as Sunnyslope, Millennium, Perry, St. Mary's, Desert Mountain, Brophy and Basha each will be in the hunt this season for the Open Division State Championship. While Perry High School was absolutely dominant last season, this season there will be much more parity - making for some excellent competition all season and some excellent games for fans and spectators to observe. This year will be the best competition ever for the AIA.
The CAA is also loaded with talent across the state and the prep schools have helped to take the CAA to another level as well. The CAA features teams from AZ Compass Prep, Dream City Christian, Bella Vista Prep and PHH Prep, among many others, which have also raised the level of basketball in Arizona.
While watching the AZ Compass Prep Fall League over the past month or so, it has been widely apparent just how much Arizona basketball has risen to another level. The league has featured many of the state's elite prep programs and also some high school programs as well, in a very nice format of high-level competition each night. On Monday evening, as the league featured (6) different playoff games, I marveled at how many different Division-I prospects were in action on the night, as I personally counted more than 30+ Division-I prospects between (10) different programs that competed on the evening. Unreal in a state that once may have had (30) different Division-I prospects total, at one time. The state if absolutely loaded with college-level talent, and the majority of the kids competing were not even from the state of Arizona, but rather implants from around the country and even the world.
College coaches need to take extreme notice of these facts, as Arizona is now a true hotbed for national basketball talent and is completely on another level. Whether recruiting players from prep programs or high school programs, there are many players for college programs to take a very hard look at. College coaches often recruit the same players, and very few college coaches actually work hard to uncover top-rated talent, but rather watch rankings and recruiting lists. Those days are over in this state. I work very hard to see Arizona's best talent, but cannot even keep up anymore as new players are introduced consistently within the state. Arizona basketball has officially reached an entirely new level and will continue to soar.