REGION — A year ago, The Coast News partnered with Army and Navy Academy and then-assistant Coach Sam Eshelman to put on the The Coast News Tip-Off Classic, a 10-team high school basketball tournament that pitted some of North County’s top teams against other teams from Riverside and Orange counties.
Flash forward to today and Eshelman is now the head coach at Carlsbad High School, but he and The Coast News have once again teamed up for the second installment of the Tip-Off Classic. Eshelman believes the tournament will surpass the inaugural event.
“I think we have a lot of great teams who play the right way and play hard, and there is a lot of individual talent,” Eshelman said. “I think people will be really impressed with the quality of basketball.”
The tournament also doubles as a junior varsity tournament for the 10 schools participating — Army Navy, Carlsbad, El Camino, La Costa Canyon, Mission Hills. Mission Vista, Santa Fe Christian. Scripps Ranch, Temecula Valley and Westview high schools. This also allows attendees to get a glimpse of many of the future stars in the respective programs.
The Coast News has your preview of the tournament, which kicks off Nov. 29.
What’s new this year?
The host site of the tournament has shifted from Duffield Sports Center to Lancer Gymnasium at Carlsbad High School, where Eshelman was named head coach over the summer.
Eshelman said Carlsbad’s main gym, which has hosted the Under Armour Holiday Classic in previous years, will give his program a chance to showcase its facilities and the upstart program to the rest of North County and beyond.
Additionally, the tournament format has changed with the elimination of a semifinal game, meaning that the top teams in each of the five-team pools will play for the championship. Last year, as a result of CIF Southern Section rules that bar their teams from playing in more than five games in a single tournament, Temecula Valley was unable to participate in the title game after winning its semifinal. Eshelman said the change allows for teams from the Southern Section to participate in the tournament both now and in the future.
What is the same?
Pool games are played at the host team’s site and all begin at 7 p.m. This gives teams an opportunity to play home games before their conference season and serves as a nice fundraiser for the respective sites, Eshelman said.
All games on the final days of play, Dec. 8, 9 and 10 will be held at Carlsbad High School. The varsity championship will be held at 7 p.m. on Dec. 9.
Who is the favorite in Pool A?
Last year, you could point to star-studded host Army Navy has the clear favorite, but this year the field is much more wide open, with several teams capable of taking home the title.
From pool A, expect Army Navy or Temecula Valley to make a push for the finals berth. If it were January, the clear favorite would be Mission Hills, as they have two very significant players sitting out after transferring: former Escondido F Warren Washington and former Army Navy PG Ed Fenzi. The Grizzlies do have two other transfers, Chris and Josh Olave from Eastlake HS, who are both solid basketball players but have a much higher profile as football players.
With that said, Army Navy boasts perhaps the top player in the field in senior F Richard Polanco, who is considered to be a mid-major Division 1 prospect. Temecula Valley is undersized, but has a senior-heavy team with very experienced guards who can shoot the ball, spearheaded by PG Shaun Mitchell and F Bryce Denham. Expect most of the games in Pool A to be very competitive, but if push comes to shove, the Golden Bears have to be considered as the slight favorite to emerge.
Who wins Pool B?
Pool B will also be very competitive with traditional powers La Costa Canyon and El Camino headlining the field, but the favorite might be a surprise to some: Santa Fe Christian. The parochial school from Solana Beach has the most experienced team in the field, and can beat you in a variety of ways. Point guard Owen Aschieris is one of the region’s most underappreciated talents, and senior post Charles Dudley, who recently announced a commitment to Bryant University, is a bruiser down low with post moves reminiscent of his father, former NBA standout Chris Dudley. Add into the mix an intriguing junior wing in TJ Askew, and Santa Fe Christian might be favored to win the entire thing. In fact, mark them down as the favorite.
What will be the best games to attend?
The action starts almost out the gate with a Nov. 29 tilt between Army Navy and Mission Hills at Mission Hills. A Dec. 2 matchup between host El Camino and Santa Fe Christian will also be an intriguing matchup. On that same evening, Army Navy travels to Temecula Valley in a rematch of what was arguably the tournament’s best game last year. A Dec. 7 game between Scripps Ranch and Westview features two of the top shooters in the county in Falcons senior G Baturay Koyuncu and Wolverines senior W Ben Okhotin.
All of the games start at 7 p.m.
Head Coach: Bobby Huggins
Previous record: 21-11, CIF Open Division qualifier
Key returners:Richard Polanco (6-7 Sr. F), Juan Carlos “JC” Canahuate (6-1 Jr. PG)
Key newcomers: Albert Pichardo (6-3 Fr. F)
Tournament outlook: The Warriors have arguably the top player in the field in Polanco, a talented, albeit mercurial senior forward. But the team doesn’t have a ton of depth and must absorb the loss of standout forward Aziz Seck, who is now at Northern Arizona, and Ed Fenzi, who transferred to Mission Hills. Canahuate is a reliable second option, but look for Pichardo, who also hails from the Dominican Republic, to become the Warriors third option.
Head Coach: Sam Eshelman
Previous record: 6-21
Key returners: Isaiah Ramos (6-4 Jr. F), Stone Stapleton (6-4 Sr. F), Bronson Montgomery (5-9 Sr. PG), Zane Emery (6-3 Sr. F), Jack Clinnin (6-4 Sr. F)
Key newcomers: Blake Adams (5-8 So. PG), Carter Plousha (6-4 So. W), Brogan Pietrocini (6-4 So. F), Gavin Schmidt (6-4 So. F), Julian Tursini (6-1 So. W)
Tournament outlook: After two very down years, Carlsbad’s future has a bright outlook with a very impressive sophomore class.But this team is very much still a work-in progress and newly hired head coach Sam Eshelman will take some lumps in year one.
Head Coach: Tom Tarantino
Previous record: 29-7, CIF Division 1 finalist
Key returners: DeVante Shepherd (6-6 Sr. F), Trevor McFeely (6-6 Sr. F), Jalen Flanagan (6-3 Jr. G)
Key newcomers: Antonio Hale (6-0 Jr. G), Logan Cremonesi (6-6 Fr. F), Roxroy “RJ” Ellis (6-1 So. G), Brad Yasukochi (6-0 So. G)
Tournament outlook: The Wildcats were hit hard by graduation, losing three of the team’s five starters, but Flanagan is a rising star who will be one of the region’s breakout players, and McFeely and Shepherd provide length and versatility on the front line. One of the Wildcats youngsters will have to step up in order for El Camino to resume its dominance. Cremonesi is a star in the making.
La Costa Canyon
Head Coach: Dave Cassaw
Previous record: 16-12, CIF Division 1 playoffs
Key returners: Graham Cook (6-3 So. G), Drew Mead (6-3 Sr. G), Christian Gallagher (5-10 Sr. PG), Logan Wazny (6-4 Sr. F), Andrew Hogan (6-4 Sr. F)
Key newcomers: None
Tournament outlook: The Mavs have one of the most experienced teams in the field, returning almost all of its leading scorers from last season. But last year’s team was the first time that Mavs fans have used the “R” word (rebuilding) in a long time, as the team struggled to a third-place finish in the Avo West before bowing out in the first round of the playoffs against Santa Fe Christian. Look for Cook to become the leader of the team, and the senior players to complement him.
Head Coach: Curtis Hofmeister
Previous record:12-17 CIF Div. 1 playoffs
Key returners: Cameron Wager (6-3 Sr. W), Alec Cherveny (6-2 Sr. G), Domenic Magemeneas (6-5 Sr. F), Michael Molen (6-3 Sr. F)
Key newcomers: Warren Washington (6-11 Jr. F), Ed Fenzi (6-0 Sr. PG), Chris Olave (6-1 Jr. G), Josh Olave (5-9 Sr. G)
Tournament outlook: This season will be a tale of two teams. The one pre-Jan. 2, when Washington and Fenzi must watch from the sidelines, and the other after Jan. 2, when the two suit up. Washington is a Division 1 prospect with offers from several Pac-12 schools who changes the game with his skill and length, and Fenzi is an experienced point guard who can score and distribute. Before their arrival, however, still expect the Grizzlies to be competitive, especially with the infusion of the Olave brothers, who transferred from Eastlake but were forced to sit out this season for football. Magemeneas is also a senior sleeper.
Head Coach: Davion Famber
Previous record: 16-13, CIF Div. 4 Champions
Key returners: Ben Cabrera (5-11 Sr. PG), Shane Foster (5-9 Sr. PG), Zeke Charleston (5-9 Sr. G), Kyle Ablan (5-9 Sr. G), Cade Twyman (6-5 So. F)
Key newcomers: Tanner Kreitel (6-0 Jr. G), Blake Woodmansee (6-7 Jr. F)
Tournament outlook: The Timberwolves were one of the feel-good stories in San Diego last year, overcoming years of futility to win the school’s first CIF title and Famber became the first coach in school history to post a winning record. Much of that team has graduated, including star forward Burke Twyman, but brother Cade is rapidly becoming a top player in his own right. The Timberwolves also have a feisty senior point guard in Cabrera, who broke his schools steals record as a junior and is one of the top defenders at his position in North County. Famber will need Cabrera and the younger Twyman to be forces in order for the Wolves to repeat last year’s magic.
Santa Fe Christian
Head Coach: Chad Bickley
Previous record: 11-19, CIF Div. 1 quarterfinals
Key returners: Charles Dudley (6-6 Sr. F), Demitri Washington (6-6 Jr. F), Owen Aschieris (6-0 Sr. PG), Derek Moore, (6-0 Sr. G), Matt Stevenson (6-4 Jr. F), TJ Askew (6-4 Jr. W)
Key newcomers: Jack McRoskey (6-0 Jr. PG)
Tournament outlook: The Eagles took their lumps last year in the ruggd Coastal League after losing Stevenson, the team’s rock, to a season-ending shoulder injury during the fall. But Stevenson is back, and the group has experience, size and high-IQ play. Askew might be a real sleeper with the length and skill to be a nice shooting guard prospect if he can add weight to his wispy frame. Washington might not play in the tournament due to football obligations, but once he returns, this is one of the top teams in San Diego.
Head Coach: Brian Keiser
Previous record: 14-14, CIF Div. 2 playoffs
Key returners: Baturay Koyuncu (6-3 Sr. SG), Michael Barcia (6-2 So. W), Matt Jewell (6-5 Sr. F), Sean Kelly (6-0 Sr. G), Kyle Mullin (6-4 Sr. F), Garrett Binns (6-0 Sr. G), Michael Phaneuf (6-4 Jr. F)
Key newcomers: N/A
Tournament outlook: The Falcons were one of the more improved teams in San Diego last year, but were upset in the playoffs after second-leading scorer Carsten DenHerder tore his ACL before the opening round playoff game. This team returns several key players from that team, starting with the back court of Kelly and Koyuncu, both sweet-shooting guards in their own right, and high-flying sophomore Barcia, who is a star in the making. Keiser’s teams are disciplined and run the Princeton system and pack-line defense to death, so don’t expect high scoring games when you play them, but that’s just how the Falcons like it.
Head Coaches: Kyle Armstrong and James Profit
Previous record: 29-7, CIF Southern Section Division 1A Finalist
Key returners: DeWayne Holmes (6-0 Sr. G), Camden Parenti (6-0 Sr. G), Zak Simon (6-0 Sr. G), Bryce Denham (6-5 Sr. W)
Key newcomers: Shaun Mitchell (6-0 Sr. G)
Tournament outlook: The Golden Bear’s team last year is night and day compared to the current roster. Last year, the bigger, brawnier Bears boasted a front line of 6-9, 6-6 and 6-5. This year, Denham, the team’s small forward a year ago, is the center by default. But the lack of size won’t be a deterrent, as the Golden Bears employ a high-octane system predicated on the deep ball, as the entire starting lineup can fill it up from three.
Head Coach: Kyle Smith
Previous record: 8-21, CIF Div. 1 Playoffs
Key returners: Ben Okhotin (6-6 Sr. F), Colton McLaughlin (6-2 Sr. F), Emeka Anyanwu (6-3 Sr. F), Kobe Gatti (6-0 Jr. G), Ricardo Hopping (6-3 So. G), Adam Chang (6-3 So. W)
Key newcomers: Jackson Krogman (6-3 So. F), Zack Ratzlaff (6-0 Jr. G)
Tournament outlook:This could be the most intriguing team in the field, if they can put it all together, because the pieces are there- they just haven’t had a lot of success in previous years. Okhotin has become a solid Division 2 prospect after growing six inches since the start of high school, and is one of the top shooters in the section. The Wolverines sophomore class is one of the more underrated groups in San Diego, starting with sleeper guard prospect Hopping and the athletic Chang. The key is going to be point guard play, where the junior Gatti must take the next step in a leadership and scoring role to complement Okhotin.