Gilbert Christian readies for Christian Cup
The Gilbert Christian boys basketball team has won games by 60, 41 and 36 points this season and is the favorite to win a third title in four years.
Such is the life for a dominant private-school program in Division III, but the Knights won’t be there long. Gilbert Christian will move up to Division II next season and is playing in a pair of high-profile tournaments this month as it continues to seek out tough competition.
The first is the Christian Cup, which takes place Thursday through Saturday at Gilbert Christian. Local schools Valley Christian and Northwest Christian are in the field, as are Eads (Tenn.) Briarcrest Christian, Solana Beach (Calif.) Santa Fe Christian, Lynden (Wash.) Christian, Las Cruces (N.M.) Mesilla Valley Christian and Huntington Beach (Calif.) Brethren Christian.
Lynden Christian won a state championship last season, while Briarcrest and Mesilla Valley were both state runners-up.
Later this month, Gilbert Christian will play in the VisitMesa.com Basketball Challenge, which features many of Arizona’s top teams as well as elite out-of-state programs.
“Our players want to continue to get better in practice and in game situations,” Gilbert Christian coach Jerome Joseph said. “The only way to get better is to play against top competition. Most of our guys play on high-competition AAU teams in the summer. They see that speed of the game and the talent level, so they’ll be ready.”
Valley Christian will play Brethren Christian on Thursday at 5 p.m. Brethren Christian is led by 7-foot-5 center Mamadou Ndiaye, who has committed to UC-Irvine. Gilbert Christian will play Mesilla Valley Christian at 6:30 p.m on Thursday in its first round matchup. The Knights could play Brethren Christian on Friday, depending on the first day’s results.
Briarcrest Christian boasts 6-foot-8 senior Austin Nichols, a five-star power forward who chose Memphis over Duke, Vanderbilt and others. Gilbert Christian could play Briarcrest in the tournament championship game on Saturday at 6 p.m. if both teams advance that far. Joseph said game-planning to slow down Ndiaye or Nichols would be a fun challenge.
“We would definitely look forward to it and the players would look forward to (playing them),” Joseph said.
The Knights have started 4-0 this season, with a recent five-point win over Valley Christian the only close game. Returning starters Sam Jones (20.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.3 steals), Roberto Reyes (17.5 points, 5.8 assists, 2.0 steals) and Dylan Bliss (11.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.0 steals) have played well, and the team is also getting big contributions from Hamilton transfer Keaton Ranger (14.8 points) and freshman wing Cameron Satterwhite (6.3 points).
Joseph said the team’s depth will be key moving forward.
“I feel really good about it right now,” he said. “We’re smaller compared to last year’s team, but we’re much more athletic. We only played five or six last year all year. It’s good as a coach playing seven, eight, nine guys.”