Boys prep basketball: It could be a Storm season
Cleveland?s Jalen Munn, right, shown last season against Los Lunas, is one of the leaders on a Storm team that is thought to be the best in the large school division heading into 2018-19. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)
If you hadn’t noticed, things are going well for the boys athletic programs at Cleveland High School right now.
And on the heels of championships in soccer and cross country and a state finals appearance in football, the Storm’s boys basketball team takes center stage with a squad that is considered by many to be the early favorite to win a Class 5A title next March.
“We’ve got guys who know how to win in the Pit, and coming so close in the championship game was tough,” Cleveland coach Sean Jimenez said. He added, “This is going to be the best team I’ve had at Cleveland.”
Cleveland, beaten by Atrisco Heritage in the 6A final nine months ago, has two college signees in 6-foot-4 wing Jalen Munn (N.M. Highlands) and 6-foot point guard Aamer Muhammad (Lubbock Christian).
“Cleveland is the best team to start the season,” Volcano Vista coach Greg Brown said.
The newly worked District 1-5A now features the last three big-school state champs: Atrisco Heritage, Volcano Vista and Rio Rancho, plus the team favored this season.
Atrisco Heritage is the new kid on the block.
“I feel like, and our kids feel like, we left the toughest basketball district just to enter the newest toughest basketball district,” said Adrian Ortega, Atrisco Heritage’s coach.
The Jaguars have a potent 1-2 combination in sizzling guard Joziah Ramos (a scorer who is running the point) and defensive specialist DeMarcus Sutphen.
“We’ve built a very strong program,” Ortega said. “Hopefully when February and March comes around, we’ll be good.”
Brown’s Hawks have great buzz after winning a school-record 20 games last season and return senior forward Jalontae Gray and senior forward Cesar Madrid.
“We have good size, good experience, and a lot of interchangeable pieces,” Brown said. “I think we should be in the top echelon.”
Jimenez knows his Storm will be tested in league play, including by rival Rio Rancho (with Air Force signee and guard David Patterson) and Cibola.
“Top to bottom, toughest district in the state,” he said.
The new District 2 includes La Cueva, Eldorado, West Mesa, Piedra Vista and Farmington. The Eagles, paced by forward Kameron Valencia and guard Tyler Quintana, would seem to be the preseason favorite.
“I think those two are two of the top guys in the state,” Eldorado coach Roy Sanchez said. ”(But) the other guys have to develop a little bit.”
District 5-5A ought to provide plenty of top-notch basketball. Manzano won 15 games for new coach Dominick Romero last season, and is plenty athletic with some length. Sandia believes it will be in the mix as well. Santa Fe High 6-6 sophomore guard Fedonta “J.B.” White already has a scholarship offer from the University of New Mexico, and the Demons expect to challenge. Capital, Rio Grande and a very small Albuquerque High squad round out that district.
There are 27 schools in the new Class 5A, so more teams will be fighting for those 16 playoff bids than in previous years.
“Games at the beginning of the season will be more important now, because 11 teams aren’t making state,” Rio Rancho coach Wally Salata said.
Clovis and Hobbs are district partners again in basketball, although the Wildcats are in an Albuquerque-centric district in football. Roswell is another member of that hoops district.
CLASS 4A: Hope Christian and Los Lunas both believe they’ll be playing deep into the season. The Huskies, last year’s 4A state champ but now in the state’s second-largest division, gave themselves a brutal nondistrict schedule filled with bigger schools as usual.
“There are some great challenges for us,” longtime Huskies coach Jim Murphy said.
Hope’s new district includes Valley, Highland, Bernalillo, Albuquerque Academy and Del Norte.
Bernalillo returns some terrific guards, led by shooter Reyes Herrera; as it leaves the largest classification, Valley has no starters returning and will have virtually a new team for coach Joe Coleman.
Los Lunas and coach Travis Julian return four starters, including All-State guard Zanen Zeller.
“I think 4A in general could be as tough as 5A was last year,” Julian said. “I believe (my) group could be there on the last day of the year.”
Belen was the 5A state champ last March, and the Eagles also are part of this reworked 4A division. But the Eagles graduated all their starters who worked to upset Espanola Valley in the final.
“People are counting them out,” Belen coach Andrew Dunnell said. “But it’s fun. I have a group of seniors who are determined to keep this going and build on what we did last year.”
OTHER CLASSES: Albuquerque’s Mission Achievement & Success is embarking on its first full varsity season in Class 2A, although part of its schedule will be played in the Albuquerque Charter School League. ... Native American Community Academy’s team, which is in the same district as MAS, is different in this way: Valerie Phipps is the only woman to be coaching a varsity boys team in the metro area and one of the very few women to be coaching a boys sport anywhere in the state. ... Menaul was in the Class 2A state championship game last season, although the Panthers are moving on without their sensational big man, 6-9 Michael Ou. ... Evangel Christian and Oak Grove Classical Academy are co-oping in boys basketball.
? There are a pair of Division I signees in the 5A ranks: Rio Rancho’s Patterson and Mayfield’s Jorell Saterfield, a 6-6 shooting guard who moved in from Seattle and has signed with Southern Mississippi. Saterfield put up 50 points Friday night against Hobbs.
? Coaching changes of note include Jake Herrin, moving from Valencia to Albuquerque Academy; Jaden Isler, who leaves a powerhouse Elida girls program to take over the boys at his alma mater, Clovis; and Shelby Reeves, the new coach at Hobbs, which is also his alma mater.
? With only five classes instead of six, each of the five are noticeably larger. Class 5A has 27 schools. The other sizes are 30 for Class 4A, 26 for Class 3A, 37 for Class 2A and 35 for Class 1A.
? Cottonwood Classicial Prep will play home games at LBJ Middle School, as the Coyotes do not have a home gym.
? A large portion of the metro area will play season openers this week, with La Cueva at Volcano Vista the featured game locally Monday night.