A guide to who to go see during the Arizona high school basketball playoffs that begin Tuesday:
Nico Mannion, Phoenix Pinnacle, G, Sr.
It’s easy to spot the kid with the red hair and big hops. The University of Arizona fan base can’t wait to get this guy in its program after watching a lot of lows this season. Mannion does it all, and will carry his team when it needs big shots. Pinnacle is at home Thursday for its first-round 6A game against Mesa Mountain View and the state’s all-time winningest coach, Gary Ernst (900-plus wins).
Jaelen House, Phoenix Shadow Mountain, G, Sr.
He will find a way into Bobby Hurley’s rotation at Arizona State next season. First, he’s on a mission to finish his high school career 4-for-4 in state titles. Who can forget the second half for the ages he had in last year’s 4A final against Tucson Salpointe Catholic? Non-stop motor, high energy guy who knows how to win. Shadow Mountain opens the 4A tourney as the No. 1 seed at home Tuesday against Phoenix Moon Valley, a team it faced in the semifinals each of the last two years.
B.J. Burries, Globe, G, Sr.
He doesn’t have a Division I offer, but it’s a blast watching this kid fill it up on the 2A level. The state’s all-time leading score plays Thursday at 6 p.m. at Yavapai College in Prescott against an opponent to be determined (2A still has to do its play-in games). Burries is averaging 39 points a game and has 1,015 points, hitting 88 percent of his free throws. He has 3,315 points in his four-year varsity career, averaging 29.3 points. It will be 14 days since his last game when he finished the regular season with 58 points in a 108-77 win over rival San Carlos.
Khalid Price, Phoenix Mountain Pointe, G, Sr.
This dazzling point guard who can fill it up beyond the 3-point arc was named the 6A Central Region Player of the Year. Without him, the Pride would be lost. He’s the catalyst who makes the press go. He also is one of the better defensive point guards in the state. Mountain Pointe is the 5 seed and opens Thursday night at home against No. 12 Mesa and Zach Hobbs.
Jalen Williams, Gilbert Perry, G, Sr.
There are two really good players in the state named Jalen Williams. One is at Shadow Mountain. The other is at Perry, where he has been scoring more than 25 points a game. He has unlimited shooting range and will finish around the basket. Put him in a one-on-one situation, he usually wins those battles on offense. Perry is the 4 seed in 6A and opens Thursday at home against No. 13 Mesa Skyline, which is making history every time it plays another game.
D’Maurian Williams, Avondale Westview, G, Sr.
This 6-foot-4 combo guard is coming off scoring 22 points in a hard-fought, 71-68 win over Mesa Westwood in a 6A play-in game. Williams should be in full beast-mode on Thursday when the No. 11 Knights take on No. 6 Chandler Hamilton in the 6A first round. He has had seven games of scoring 30 or more points this season.
TyTy Washington, Laveen Cesar Chavez, G, So.
This kid has been everything to the No. 7 Champions, who will play host to No. 10 Chandler Basha on Thursday in the 6A first-round. Basha won state two years ago. Washington had to carry Chavez the first half of the season, while a couple of key bigs were ineligible. A loaded team with Washington leading the way makes this a fun team to watch. The pace will be full throttle, but it comes against a team that will try to make it a half-court grind.
Josh Baker, Tempe McClintock, G, Sr.
His overall game has gotten so much better since last season and he was pretty good last year. He was recently named the 5A Northeast Region Player of the Year, scoring at all three levels. Baker will lead the No. 4 Chargers at home Wednesday against No. 13 Peoria Centennial.
DaRon Holmes, Goodyear Millennium, F, So.
Another three-level scorer who runs the floor as well as anybody and can take over the game. He’s already got some big colleges recruiting him and he’s yet to tap his full potential. Still growing at 6-foot-8, Holmes could end up being one of the state’s all-time greats. He is one of three sophomores leading this No. 6 team in 5A playoffs that begin Wednesday at home against No. 11 Scottsdale Desert Mountain.
Emmanuel Taban, Glendale Apollo, F, Sr.
Averaging 18 points and six rebounds on the No. 2 seed in 5A, he’ll lead the Hawks in the first round Wednesday at home against a resilient South Mountain team, led by Isaiah Freeny. The pace should be fast and furious.
Jackson Ruai, Tucson Amphitheater, G, Sr.
Silky smooth, he impacts the game on offense and defense with his quickness, smooth moves and long arms. The ceiling is high for this kid, who could be a high major college player. He will lead the No. 8 Panthers at home Tuesday in the 4A first-round game against Goodyear Estrella Foothills, which will try to unleash its high-scoring senior forward Shaun Wahlstrom.
Otis Frazier III, Buckeye, G, Sr.
The 6-5 senior has been in big games since last season, so he’ll know when to pick his spots to take over and carry this talented bunch deep into the 4A tournament. Watch for Frazier to dominate at every level in Tuesday’s first-round game at home against No. 14 El Mirage Dysart.
Evan Nelson, Tucson Salpointe Catholic, G, Jr.
Nelson can pick apart a press by himself with his ball-handling. Watch out for him from the arc, because he’ll light it up. A pump fake and he’s at the rim scoring. No wonder he’s got so many colleges in on him. A complete point guard. Salpointe is the 4 seed and opens Tuesday at home against Tucson Palo Verde.
Majok Deng, Salpointe, F, Sr.
Deng is a beast on the boards and he can score from the arc and around the rim. He’s been the catalyst since his freshman year and hopes to get to a third consecutive 4A final. The last two, the Lancers lost to Shadow Mountain. But he put the Lancers on his back against Shadow last season when they hand the Matadors in a 20-point hole in the second half, before losing.
Ethan Spry, Scottsdale Christian, F, Sr.
He is hoping to finish his high school career the way it began — with a state championship. He helped the Eagles capture state his freshman year. Now, he’s got the Eagles to the No. 1 seed in the 2A tournament, which opens Friday at Yavapai College at 7:30 p.m. Springy around the basket, he can take over the game in the post. Senior point guard Reed Myers is now playing his best since the torn ACL caused him to miss his junior year. That only makes Spry more effective.
Jerry Iliya, Surprise Paradise Honors, G, Jr.
There are several electrifying players on this loaded team, but Iliya separates himself with his speed and incredible hops. At the 3A level, it really jumps out. With 6-foot-10 Matur Dhal capable of spreading the court and sophomore point guard Jalen Scott setting the table, watch for Iliya to take over Saturday night at 6:30 when the No. 3 team takes on the Window Rock-Catalina winner at Surprise Valley Vista.
To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at [email protected] or 602-316-8827. Follow him at twitter.com/azc_obert.