Another season of boys and girls basketball is upon us in Southern Arizona, with several quality programs ready to take to the hardwood.
We saw a remarkable year across the region in 2019, with Pusch Ridge Christian Academy and Catalina Foothills making deep runs in the 3A and 4A boys tournaments.
The Lions made it all the way to the state final, before falling to Valley Christian, while the Falcons fell to eventual runner-up, Deer Valley in 4A.
Both Mountain View and Marana qualified for the 5A boys play-in round, with the former beating Cienega, while the latter lost to Cholla. The Lions would go on to fall to top-seeded Gilbert High School in the first round of the 5A playoffs.
The girls side was no slouch either, with Immaculate Heart falling in the first round of the 1A playoff, while Pusch Ridge lost to Monument Valley in 3A, Ironwood Ridge beat Mountain View in the 5A play-in round before falling to Gilbert in the first round.
The Tigers of Marana qualified for the eighth seed in the 5A playoffs a year ago, before falling to Maricopa in the opening round.
Fast-forward several months, and all of those teams are back with a new crop of talent that’s mixed in with veteran leadership.
Without further ado, here are the players on local boys and girls teams that should stand out amongst the fray in the season ahead.
Cameron Cotton (Mountain View boys basketball)
Stats: 13.4 points per game
The wily guard is the younger brother of former Lion Drew Cotton, who is currently playing at New Mexico Highlands in the junior college level. Cameron did a solid job himself in his first full season at the varsity level in 2019, finishing second on the team in scoring, behind do-it-all guard Julian Molina. Cotton’s productivity should only increase as the year progresses, with coach Corey Duck running the show at Mountain View this season. Don’t be surprised if Cotton’s scoring output and assist numbers grow this year, with a full skill set of talents at his disposal at the guard position.
Annabella Muscoreil (Marana girls basketball)
Stats: 15.3 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game
Muscoreil is the top post player in the city, in my humble opinion, bullying opposing teams in the paint while having the ability to step back and hit jumpers as needed. The Marana senior should be a key component of what should be a state title contending team, with Tory Perez receiving a full complement of talented players this winter. Expect Muscoreil to average a double-double this season, guiding the Tigers to new heights, a year after taking the city by storm with her incredible talents.
Hayden Moser (Catalina Foothills boys basketball)
Stats: 12.5 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game, 2.1 assists per game
Moser has added size and strength to his impressive arsenal of skills this season, meaning the senior could be one of the best at the small/power forward position in the city this winter. Moser has an innate ability to put the ball through the basket from various regions of the court, with a sweet jump-shot and the ability to drive the ball to the rim as needed. Expect Moser’s productivity to be a harbinger of the Falcons’ season, with coach Doug D’Amore knowing full well how important it’ll be to get Moser involved in all aspects of the team’s offense this season.
Bella Hamel (Ironwood Ridge girls basketball senior)
Stats: 10.5 points per game
The Nighthawks have moved on from longtime coach Ken Leikem to Daron Cross this offseason, requiring someone with excellent touch and accuracy to guide what’s sure to be a high-flying offense. Hamel did just that at the guard position last year, averaging double figures as a junior. The Nighthawks will need Hamel to do more of the same this year, after losing leading scorer Caroline Finster to graduation. Expect Hamel to be up for the challenge, guiding the Nighthawks back to the playoffs once again come February.
Erik Cochran (Ironwood Ridge boys basketball)
Stats: 14.0 points per game
Cochran was pretty much the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for the Nighthawks last season, averaging 14.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game for a team that went 9-16. Expect Cochran to expand his offensive arsenal this year, as he looks to improve upon his three-point shooting, after making 7 of 26 shots (27 percent) in 2019. If Cochran can improve his shot from deep and clean up his free-throw average, which was 57 percent last year, then he’ll have a real shot at being an all-state selection in 2020. Expect the Nighthawks to go as far as Cochran and fellow seniors, Trey Cox, Benjamin Felix and Mason Goodman can take them this year.