The state of Arizona's rapidly developing basketball culture has completely gone to another level recently, and has been changed forever as a result of the emergence of many new prep schools in the valley. The program that started it all, of course, was Hillcrest Prep. Organized by basketball aficionado Nick Weaver and Matt Allen, the basketball program has changed the basketball landscape in the state through producing consistent high-major division-I basketball talent, and also bringing major national attention to the state through such national prospects as this year's #1 NBA Draft Pick DeAndre Ayton (Phoenix Suns).
Program Director Matt Allen and Recruiting Coordinator Nick Weaver worked together at former state prep power Westwind Prep, and helped the school to produce (3) different NBA players, before the school eventually went out of business through very little financial support. Weaver and Allen then decided to continue their mission to bring the state of Arizona a respectable program to compete nationally and produce top-rated talent - forming Hillcrest Prep in 2013. Upon creating the program, the two organizers faced loads of opposition within the state from the local basketball community and the AIA, as numerous Arizona prospects began to look at Hillcrest Prep as a viable option for their basketball futures.
Nick Weaver advised me many years ago after starting Hillcrest that his goal was not to attract Arizona's top talent, but rather attract top-rated national and international talent to the state. But after receiving very little support from the local AIA and even backlash in some cases, Allen and Weaver decided to open the floodgates for the Hillcrest program, and received loads of national attention after the nation's top two prospects in America for their respective classes, DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley (Sacramento Kings), came to the program in the fall of 2015. The two prospects were both ranked as the #1 overall prospects in the 2017 and 2018 classes, and the emergence of such nationally acclaimed prospects at the Hillcrest program brought extensive amounts of national attention to the Hillcrest program almost overnight. College coaches, scouts and media began to flock to the state of Arizona to catch a glimpse of the two future pros together - watching Ayton and Bagley compete against local junior colleges and overmatched prep programs.
Ayton and Bagley would only play together for a short period of time, as Bagley would eventually leave the state of Arizona and transfer to Sierra Canyon HS (CA), but the Hillcrest program would then achieve the almost unthinkable for a newer prep program - maintaining the enrollment of DeAndre Ayton in the Hillcrest program for two full seasons. Not only were Weaver and Allen able to keep Ayton in their program, amidst all the wolves in the basketball community across the country, but they were able to help Ayton get qualified academically per NCAA eligibility rules.
Ayton entered the Hillcrest Prep program as a future academic casualty with no hopes of ever qualifying academically, and never, ever seeing an NCAA basketball court. Several division-I college coaches advised me upon Ayton entering the program that there was absolutely no way that Ayton would ever qualify academically, and that his grades were so poor that the addition of Ayton simply was a waste of time. Not the case for Allen and the Weavers. Instead, they buckled down and rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Not only did they work extremely hard to develop Ayton, on and off the court as a young man, but they brought in other top-rated national talent to join Ayton. Soon, Hillcrest Prep was a nationally recognized prep program and was playing their games on ESPN and in major national events and venues across the country.
Ayton would bring loads of respect to the Hillcrest Prep program in the fall of 2016 when he would release his college decision to the University of Arizona on national television on ESPN. With millions of people watching across the United States in desperation to see where the nation's #1 overall 2017 prospect would land, Ayton, with his Hillcrest Prep teammates surrounding him, gave an early fall commitment to head coach Sean Miller and his staff.
In 2016, Hillcrest Prep also joined the Grind Session, a nationally recognized travel schedule for the nation's premier prep programs. Led by the play of Ayton and numerous other division-I prospects, Hillcrest Prep traveled across America - competing against the nation's top talent. While most basketball enthusiasts in the state were not aware, Hillcrest Prep received loads of national interest from the nation's elite scouts and college coaches. While playing on ESPN in 2016, television basketball analyst Paul Biancardi raved about the Hillcrest program and mentioned the hard work of Matt Allen and Nick Weaver in developing the program. Hillcrest Prep had firmly arrived and Ayton was a major part of the emergence.
Ayton and Hillcrest's coming-out-party, of sorts, came in the 2015 Hoop Hall West event in Scottsdale at Chaparral HS when Hillcrest faced off with Advanced Prep International (TX). Advanced Prep was absolutely loaded, led by the play of future Duke signee, Trevon Duvall, and also future University of Kansas signee Billy Preston. The game was featured nationally on The Cube, and it would become known as the game when DeAndre Ayton made his stamp on the #1 national ranking he had received. Ayton would dominate the contest and lead Hillcrest Prep to a big victory. From there he would go on to completely dominate the Grind Session nationally, and eventually lead Hillcrest to a National Championship for the Grind Session in the spring of 2016.
Ayton would go on to star at the University of Arizona last season, and this summer was selected as the #1 overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns. Amazingly enough, former Hillcrest Prep performer Marvin Bagley would follow suit as the #2 overall pick in the draft, after having a stellar freshman campaign at Duke University. The two amazing college prospects would both represent the state of Arizona in fine fashion in the NBA Draft, both being proud to represent the state. And while many members of the national basketball community knew that both elite prospects had come from the state of Arizona, there was also an underlining understanding that both prospects also played for Hillcrest Prep.
Today, after now winning more than 100 games against national competition, Hillcrest Prep has absolutely reloaded - led by another future McDonald's All-American, Arizona State commit, 6-foot-5 junior guard Kyree Walker, who also has received loads of national attention and will also follow in the footsteps of Ayton as a future pro, the Hillcrest Prep program looks to be in excellent shape for the future. Throw in recent transfer, 6-foot-4 junior guard Dalon Terry, who is receiving loads of national recruiting attention, and the program will look to have one of the nation's best backcourts in the country this season.
As a result of the Hillcrest Prep program and the loads of national respect the program has brought to the state of Arizona, the state of Arizona has now seen the emergence of many new prep programs in the state, and several programs which are now adding to the serious steam that Hillcrest Prep had created. Brother Kyle Weaver, formerly the head coach at Hillcrest Prep, has moved on from the Hillcrest Prep program, and last season developed a nationally recognized prep program at Bella Vista Prep. Bella Vista and Hillcrest have yet to play each other head-to-head.
Many things have been said about the Hillcrest Prep program over the years, but, at the end of the day, the program has brought loads of respect to state of Arizona. As a result, the basketball culture in Arizona has been changed forever and is now the best it has ever been.