We will address five pressing questions about the boys and girls basketball scene every week throughout the 2009-10 season.
1. Will there ever be another hip-hop role model like Allen Iverson?
We don't foresee anyone in the near future. Going back a bit, Magic and Bird basically saved the NBA. MJ ushered in the era of baggy shorts, shaved heads and diamond earrings. But there has never been a trend-setter quite like A.I. Go to high school, college and pro gyms all across the country and his influence is everywhere -- the cornrows, headphone-blastin' players preparing for the big game, P.A. systems blasting hip-hop music baby boomers don't understand and, of course, all the high school players with tatted-up bodies.
2. Will noticeable amounts of girls players begin to skip high school ball?
We don't think so. There have been some isolated cases, most recently one involving 6-foot 2011 prospect Karina Alofaituli of Thousand Oaks (Thousand Oaks, Calif.). She reportedly will not play this winter and instead will focus on individual training. The two main reasons we don't see it happening: There are not many, if any, club-related tournaments during the winter, and girls players tend to develop meaningful relationships and seem to enjoy the camaraderie of their high school teammates much more than boys. The one other girl to come to mind who took a similar step to Alofaituli while in high school is current University of Texas guard Erika Arriaran. She went the home-school route as a sophomore but eventually returned to her high school team at Norco (Norco, Calif.).
3. Who will win the Westchester Tip-Off Classic?
Westchester, the defending CIF Division I state champion and preseason No. 6 in the ESPN RISE FAB 50, is likely to meet FAB 50 No. 22 Taft (Woodland Hills, Calif.) in Saturday's title game. This could be Taft's most talented team in the tenure of coach Derrick Taylor, and that's saying something considering some of the teams he's coached in the past decade. What will hurt Taft is the absence of big man Kevin Johnson, who will reportedly sit out his junior season, and having so many other talented players. Taylor has a dozen high-level players, but they will take time to jell. Westchester already has built-in chemistry from last season's title run and a summer in which the team went undefeated. Westchester will pull this one out, but it won't be the only meeting between the teams this season.
4. What is the game to watch at the Marshall County Hoopfest?
FAB 50 No. 1 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) versus No. 11 Christ School (Arden, N.C.) on Friday night. The 14th annual event at Marshall County High School (Benton, Ky.) will feature plenty of top local schools plus FAB 50 No. 3 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) taking on No. 37 Callaway (Jackson, Miss.) on Saturday night. That will be a good game, but Findlay Prep-Christ School has a chance to be great. Findlay Prep came out of the gate strong, averaging 123.3 points in its first four victories, and is getting solid contributions from just about every player on the roster. Christ School could present some intriguing matchups. Junior center Marshall Plumlee will battle with Findlay Prep's Tristan Thompson and Godwin Okonji underneath, while 6-6 Tony Kimbro Jr. could have a national coming-out party after starting his career at Louisville Manual. Kimbro or Plumlee will have to step up for Christ School to have a chance at an upset.
5. Will the Ayala (Chino Hills, Calif.) girls team make a serious playoff run?
Yes. The Lady Bulldogs were able to advance to last season's CIF Division I state tournament despite the absence of UCLA-bound forward Rhema Gardner, who missed the last third of the season with a torn ACL. Ayala got some sensational performances from 5-8 guard Ariel Marsh in Gardner's absence and finished with a 22-9 record. Gardner should be ready to go in December, but it could take Marsh a little while longer to warm up: She tore her ACL this past June. Ayala might suffer losses to teams it should beat during December holiday tournaments, but it should be ready to make some noise come February and March.