The boy's basketball landscape in Arizona has completely changed over the past (10) years, as prep schools have developed and taken over, in some respects. The initial development and tremendous success of Hillcrest Prep, has spurred the development of numerous other prep programs in the state. As a result, the game has now changed for high school basketball prospects in the state, who are flocking to different Arizona prep programs, in an attempt to gain maximum recruitment and exposure for themselves. While top-rated local prospects are drifting to the prep ranks, local Arizona prep programs also continue to bring in top-rated national talent consistently - growing the state's national basketball presence in the process.
It has been a long time coming, but it was just a matter of time for Arizona basketball to get a face-lift. After the emergence of future NBA Lottery picks DeAndre Ayton (Phoenix Suns) and Marvin Bagley (Sacramento Kings) at Hillcrest Prep years ago, it was well understood by those that understand that players were now coming, and so would the development of more prep programs. Hillcrest Prep has had loads of national success and acclaim, and the selection of Ayton and Bagley both going #1 and #2 in the NBA Draft was monumental, as two prospects formerly from the same prep program would receive such status.
While such an event had never been seen or heard of before in basketball anywhere in the world, the state of Arizona also has never seen the level of basketball and the large number of prospects in this state that we now have. As someone that has been covering the state's best basketball talent since 1995, and also played here in college, junior college, high school and as a youngster, I have a very strong grasp and feel for the state's rich basketball history. While there have been many top prospects to come from the state over the years, the state has always been very top-heavy, and lacked true depth in the amount of Division-I prospects available in each class for Division-I programs to recruit. While the intention is not that every kid strives to become a Division-I prospect, but rather when there are more D-I prospects to recruit in the state, the better it becomes for more Arizona prospects to get recruited overall.
Since the initial emergence of Hillcrest Prep, the state now has many prep programs that have developed, and continue to bring in top-rated national level talent annually.
Bella Vista Prep quickly emerged, after the departure of Kyle Weaver from Hillcrest Prep. In two seasons, Weaver would develop Bella Vista into one of the elite prep programs in the country - winning a national championship on the Grind Session in the second season of the program's operation. Under Kyle Weaver and Director of Operation's Dionne Phelps' guidance and leadership, the program reached new heights fast and produced loads of division-I talent for numerous Division-I programs in a short period of time - producing such high-level talents as Terry Armstrong (University of Arizona-professional), Addison Patterson (University of Oregon), Rick Issanza (University of Oklahoma), Zion Harmon (Western Kentucky), Jimmy Bell (Saint Louis), Emmanuel Tshimanga (UC-Irvine), Nicolas Elame (UT-Artlington), Girr Ring (Coppin State) and Jeron Artest (UC-Irvine).
Then after just two big seasons at Bella Vista Prep, Weaver and Phelps would move on - building a new prep power at Dream City Christian Prep last season. The opportunity for Weaver and Phelps was too much to pass up, and, as a result, the Bella Vista Prep program has rebuilt, and now, after one year of transition, has one of the most talented prep lineups in the country, again. This week, Bella Vista hired basketball aficionado Corey Boswell as the Head Coach of their national team, and Boswell has already began to place his stamp on the recruiting of top-rated prospects to the school.
Bella Vista is loaded with bigger post prospects currently, and the best is 6-foot-11 rising junior post Youssouf Singare. Singare is a future elite-high major prospect that has developed a great deal since coming to the program - suggesting also that these prep school programs not only feature top-rated national talent, but they also develop it. 6-foot-5 rising junior forward Cameron Harris also could round into a future high-major division-I prospect, while the additions of 6-foot senior guard Simon Wheeler from Michigan and 6-foot-9 rising senior post Keeshawn Mason from Kansas will be tremendous.
After one year of operation, and an excellent season it was for Dream City Christian Prep, Head Coach Kyle Weaver and Director of Operations Dionne Phelps have built a lineup of players for the up-coming season that could defeat some Division-I college programs. After sending off numerous prospects to Division-I programs this spring, the program will return this season and will be led by one of the nation's elite prospects, 6-foot-11, 210-pound rising senior forward Alex Tchikou (University of Alabama commit). Tchikou is a big-time talent with excellent size, length and an advanced skillset that allows him to show excellent versatility and an ability to score inside and out, while handling the basketball and making plays for himself and others.
Joining Tchikou is also one of the nation's elite prospects - 6-foot-7, 200-pound rising senior forward Arthur Kaluma. Kaluma is another big-time talent and had a big spring of offers for himself - proving his value to college coaches. Kaluma has received offers from Kansas, Texas A&M, Arizona State, Arkansas, Kansas, Syracuse, Oklahoma, UNLV and USC. The longer he waits, the more schools that will get seriously involved with him, as he is a strong and athletic forward that gets buckets and makes plays.
Dream City Christian Prep has had a big off-season as well during the COVID pandemic, as the program has already announced the additions of skilled 6-foot-6 rising senior guard Demari Williams, skilled 6-foot-1 rising junior guard Jaden Clayton, and, recently, the program added the impressive 6-foot-5 rising junior guard Shaedon Sharpe to the fold. Sharp transferred from prep powerhouse Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Aire, Kansas). The London, Ontario, native is regarded as the #2 prospect in all of Canada for the 2022 Class.
Sharpe has received offers already from Alabama, Xavier, Cincinnati, Creighton, Minnesota, Grand Canyon and Cal, with many more college programs now looking to recruit him over the next year, in hopes of landing such a strong college prospect.
Hillcrest Prep started this prep domination of the state, and the program continues to reach new heights nationally. After producing loads of Division-I talent over many years of operations, and winning several major national events last season, the program was highlighted a great deal on ESPN recently when 6-foot-11 2020 prospect Makur Maker made world and historic news with his huge commitment to a HBCU - Howard University. The commitment started a national movement among the nation's top basketball prospects, and, in the process, showed Hillcrest Prep all over sports channels and media outlets across America.
No stranger to producing NBA-level talent, Hillcrest currently has one of the nation's top overall talents in 6-foot-9 rising senior forward Michael Foster. Foster came to Hillcrest a year ago, and has been exactly what he was thought to be - a dominant, high level talent that is a problem for any player or team to defend. For his efforts last season, Foster was selected as a First-Team All-American selection by Sports Illustrated.
Foster came to the state of Arizona from Milwaukee, WI, last summer in fine fashion, and immediately became the state's top overall prospect, as he was rated as high as the nation's top overall prospect in America's 2021 Class by numerous services around the nation. Amidst elite team and opposing player competition last season, Foster averaged very impressive numbers - 26 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks per/game.
Currently, Foster has a large number of scholarship offers for himself, as you might imagine, but he is currently focusing on Baylor, Georgia, Florida State, Michigan, LSU and UCLA, I was advised by the Hillcrest Prep program. Foster is a sure-fire NBA talent and pro-prospect for the future, and it is absolutely scary to believe that he will be back for another prep season. It has also been reported that the NBA's G-League will be tough to beat for Foster's services after next season.
Hillcrest has not slowed down either, as the program recently announced the additions of 4-star 2022 guard Trey Pettigrew, rising senior guard Brandon Weston from Chicago's Morgan Park, gifted 6-foot-7 rising junior forward Carlos Harris from Wisconsin and the nation's #4 overall 2023 prospect, 6-foot-8 rising sophomore forward Omaha Biliew of Des Moines, Iowa. All three prospects are elite-level talents with loads of Division-I offers already for themselves, but Biliew is one of the highest rated prospects the state has ever seen at such a young age. NBA player and University of Arizona product Jerryd Bayless was rated as high as #7 by most national scouting services, and NBA star guard Mike Bibby was rated as a Top 10 national prospect and the nation's #1 overall point guard prospect. DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley both were rated as the #1 overall prospects in their respective classes. Michael Foster has also been rated #1 overall in the 2021 Class, at one point, and still currently remains among the nation's top 10 prospects, so Biliew is absolutely special and among excellent company.
Also recently, Hillcrest Prep signed a new brand partnership deal with Meek Mill's Dream Chasers imprint. Dream Chasers is the Philadelphia-bred artist's record label and merchandising company. So many more big things are expected from Hillcrest Prep in the future, as the program continues to be a trend setter for Arizona basketball.
We will continue Part II of this amazing story on Arizona Preps, so stay tuned.