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Boys basketball hits the floor running on Monday

November 22, 2010 by Les Willsey, AZPreps365

Last year  East Valley schools raised one championship trophy in boys basketball. Tucson managed one. They're back at it beginning Monday as invitationals for the most part and a smattering of power-point games kick off the 2010-2011 season.

Here's a look at some teams and players to watch from the East Valley and southern Arizona for the coming campaign:

5A-I: The state title was captured last year by North High. This year look for some of the teams on the fringe of last year's title game to give the top spot a run. St. Mary's, Mountain View, Mountain Pointe, Mesa High and Basha are the most highly thought of. Four of the five were region champs last year. Corona del Sol might well be in the mix as well.

5A-II: Last year's title went to Boulder Creek, which outlasted Chaparral in the final. Marcos de Niza, led by T.J. Burke, might be able to return to the final four or better. Ironwood Ridge lost lots of talent, but has more back. Some of it may have to wait until football concludes.

4A-I: McClintock is the defending champ. The Chargers have a marquee returner in Cam Forte, a good place to start.

4A-II: An all-Tucson final last year with Santa Rita outlasting Amphitheater. Amphi has the early edge with two top returning players in Tim Derksen and Lester Medford.

3A: It will be interesting to see how Estrella Foothills fares in the post-Corey Hawkins era. Estrella Foothills still has lots of talent, just minus the huge star-power.

2A: Scottsdale Christian and Westwind Prep were the dominating forces last year. Might happen again, especially on the Westwind Prep end.

1A: Gilbert Christian won last year, routing all four of its state opponents. A repeat isn't out of the question.

Players to watch in the East Valley:

Mesa High guard Jahii Carson - Carson signed to play at Arizona State just more than a week ago. He averaged 23 points a game last year and is an all-around singular talent. Arcadia guard Larry Lewis -  The 6-2 junior lit up the scoreboard at a 22.7 clip last year. He an score from just about anywhere and isn't afraid to give the ball up for a better shot. Gave a verbal commitment to USC earlier this year. Marcos de Niza forward T.J. Burke - The 6-8 senior has a game that works inside and out. He averaged 14.8 points a game, 10 rebounds last year for the Padres helping them reach the 5A-I semifinals. Signed recently with UC-Riverside. Tempe HIgh guard Jordan Baker - The Buffaloes shooting guard averaged 20 points and four assists last year. He has signed a letter of intent to play at Pepperdine. Basha forward Torren Jones - A pretty decent freshman year in 2009-2010, Jones averaged 14 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Top returning scorer and rebounder for the Bears. Higley forward Dimitri Jones - The 6-4 senior averaged 18 points and 6.5 rebounds last year for the Knights, scored a school record 40 points in a game last year. The 4A-II high jump champ last year as well.  Mountain View forward Jaron Sweeney - The 6-4 senior is always moving and gets a lot of his points that way. Averaged 12 points and 7 rebounds a game last year. Should be the leader and steady force the Toros always seem to possess. McClintock forward Cameron Forte - The 6-5 senior is versatile and difficult to match up against. He averged 22 points a game and 8 rebounds helping the Chargers to the 4A-I title. Mountain Pointe guard Steve Knox: - The 5-10 senior averaged eight points a game and eight assists for the 5A-I East Valley Region champs. Play-making skills are top-notch and make the Pride click. Desert Vista guard/forward Danny Powell - The 6-5 junior transferred from Mesa to Desert Vista and brings two years of varsity experience to the Thunder. Averaged 12.5 points and 5 rebounds last season.

Players to watch in Southern Arizona

Amphitheater forward-guard Tim Derksen - The 6-4 junior helped the Panthers reach the 4A-I title game a year ago. He averaged 17.3 points a game. Tucson High guard Shakir Smith -  The 6-2 senior was part of a 1-2 punch with Badgers teammate Sama Taku that guided team to 5A-I state tournament. Smith has exceptional quickness. Safford guard Brandon McEuen - The 6-2 senior averaged 21 points a game, nearly nine rebounds and three assists for Bulldogs, who reached the 3A semis  a year ago. Rincon forward Billy Morrison: - The 6-5 senior averaged nearly 17 points a game and 11 rebounds for the Rangers. Amphitheater guard Lester Medford - Playing the point for the Panthers, the 6-0 senior averaged 16 points a game and five assists last year. A double-digit scorer each year so far in his varsity career. Buena guard Devonte Malcolm - The 6-foot senior averaged 13 points a game and five rebounds a game. Colts lost to eventual state runner-up Cesar Chavez in the first round of the 5A-I tournament. Gila Ridge guard Josh Grover -  The Hawks 6-0 senior averaged 13 points a game helping his team to a ??-? record in the Gila Valley Region.

Most teams opening play this week do so in invitationals, which do not count in the power-point rankings. Tournaments of interest this week are the Salpointe Tipoff Classic, hosted by Salpointe and Chandler high schools (Nov. 22-27); the Fear the Hop Invitational hosted by Mesa High (Nov. 23-24 and 27), the Arrrowhead Classic, hosted by Cactus and Ironwood high schools and the Paradise Valley Invitational, hosted by Paradise Valley.