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Mater Dei may have earned No. 1 ranking

12/31/2013, 12:25pm PST
By John Maffei

Crusaders (11-2), who won American Division title, began tournament play at No. 6.


Mater Dei Catholic's Johnathan Dutra goes up for a shot as La Costa Canyon's Brady Twombly defends in the American Division championship game of the Under Armour Holiday Classic.

It's a little easier in football.

Teams play once a week and scores are readily available.

Trying to rank the Top 10 teams in basketball can be a real crap shoot.

Before the holiday tournament season, a 13-man panel had St. Augustine, La Costa Canyon, Hoover, Torrey Pines and San Marcos in the county's top five.

All are good teams, all will be in the Top 10 when the new poll is released Monday.

But the No. 1 team might be Mater Dei Catholic, which was ranked No. 6 before tournament play began.

The Crusaders are 11-2 and coming off a 69-67 overtime win over La Costa Canyon in the championship game of the American Division of the Under Armour Holiday Classic at Torrey Pines.

And if you think it was a fluke, guess again.

While Mater Dei has beaten up some inferior opponents - like most teams in the Top 10 - the Crusaders have wins over San Marcos, Hoover and LCC. Their losses are to West Hills Chaminade, which is 11-1, and San Juan Capistrano Serra, which is 8-4.

"We started the season ranked No. 9, and my guys were upset," said Mater Dei coach Kenny Caesar. "I told them there wasn't anything we could do but play well and prove we're better than that.

"You have to earn your ranking. You have to earn a No. 1 ranking. "We've beaten San Marcos and La Costa Canyon. And the LCC game was great for high school basketball in San Diego ... two great teams, playing an overtime game in a packed gym.

"We fight that South Bay-North County thing, but I think we have proved we belong."

Sweetwater, another South Bay team, has also shown it belongs.

The Red Devils are 11-0. And while they've played some weak teams, they also have a win over Hoover and shocked El Camino. And they have an outstanding player in Spencer Mattox, who is averaging better than 20 points a game.

Voters may reserve judgment until Saturday when Sweetwater hosts Poway. But Mater Dei has proven its point.

Here are some other notes from the tournament:

  • The majority of the top players had already signed with colleges, but recruiters stormed to Torrey Pines High to see 7-foot-1 junior Georgios Papagiannis of Westtown (Pa.) and to La Costa Canyon to see Temecula Valley junior Justin Simon. Papagiannis is being touted as a one-and-done college guy and an NBA lottery pick by his coach Seth Berger. Papagiannis has wide shoulders, carries about 250 pounds on his frame, runs the floor, has a nice shooting touch and jumps well. Is he a lottery pick? Maybe in two years.
  • San Diego State's Steve Fisher, USC's Andy Enfield and Tony Bland and UCLA's Steve Alford were in attendance to see Simon, a 6-foot-5 athletic type Fisher loves. Simon plays hard, has a great vertical leap, is a decent shooter and has a wingspan of close to 100 inches. He averaged 20 college recruiters for all four of his games in San Diego.
  • About a dozen coaches stuck around LCC to watch Malik Marquetti of Long Beach Millikan. A 6-6 jumping jack. He's one of the top senior players not committed to a college.
  • Some of the best young players in the world were in the tournament. Henry Giles of High Point (N.C.) Wesleyan Christian is a member of the USA U-17 National Team. Devearl Ramsey of Chatsworth Sierra Canyon and Ivan Rabb of Oakland Bishop O'Dowd are on the USA U-17 National Team. Sophomore Brandon Cyrus of Torrey Pines is on the U-17 Canadian National Team. Connor Stuart of Ludowici (Ga.) Faith Baptist is a member of U-17 UK National Team.
  • Westview point guard Marcus Graves had a huge tournament, averaging 17 points in four games while rebounding like a monster and dishing out assists. He has coaches and recruiters talking.
  • Montebello Cantwell-Sacred Heart had a pair of talented 6-10 players in Serbians Balsa Dragovic and Gligorije Rakopcevic. Both are juniors.
  • UCLA fans can rejoice. L.A. Loyola's 7-foot center Thomas Welsh has signed with the Bruins ... and he's a player. He may not be an immediate impact guy, but he will be a really good player. Welsh also has a 6-10 sophomore brother on the Loyola team.
  • Loyola's Khalil Bedart-Ghani is listed at 6-3, but the Lions run backdoor lobs to him and the kid jumps out of the gym. He has committed to Yale. Loyola's Max Hazzard, a 6-foot junior guard, is the grandson of former UCLA and NBA great Walt Hazzard. Hazzard was the National Division's MVP.
  • Trey Kell of St. Augustine, a San Diego State signee, was as good as any player in the tournament.
  • Sierra Canyon freshman Cody Riley is a 6-8 manchild.
  • Bakersfield, which beat Mission Hills in the Southern California Football Regionals, has two football players on its basketball roster. The Drillers, however, aren't a threat to go deep into postseason play.
  • Two former San Diego-area coaches had teams in the tournament. Tye Nichols, who was at Vista, is the coach at Sierra Canyon. Kyle Armstrong, who coached at Poway, is the head man at Temecula Valley.

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