Casey Benson and Corona del Sol have the tools to make another run to the state title game.
1. Corona del Sol (Tempe)
2012-13 record: 29-4
Head coach: Sam Duane Jr.
The Aztecs are the two-time defending Division I champions, have the state’s best player in Oregon recruit Casey Benson and added transfer Dane Kuiper, who averaged 17.4 points as sophomore for Wasilla (Alaska) and mostly likely Arizona State big man Connor MacDougall, who awaits a decision from the AIA on his eligibility after playing part of his junior year at Westwind Prep before leaving the school. There are also eight other players who were on last year’s varsity roster.
2. Pinnacle (Phoenix)
2012-13 record: 26-7
Head coach: Charles Wilde
The Pioneers won 16 straight before falling in the Division I title game to the Aztecs, so there’s been nine months of being so close to winning a state title weighing on their minds. It will be hard to replace Drew Bender, but senior guard Dorian Pickens, the highest-rated player in Arizona who hasn’t committed yet, is ready to take an even bigger role with Trey Ingram ready to become the second option.
3. Sunnyslope (Phoenix)
2012-13 record: 28-4
Head coach: Ray Portela
The Vikings lost in the Division II state semifinals as the No. 1 seed with a senior-laden team, but return the state’s top-rated big man in 6-foot-9 Michael Humphrey, a Stanford recruit, and four of the top five scorers from last year’s squad.
4. Desert Mountain (Scottsdale)
2012-13 record: 25-6
Head coach: Kurt Keener
While transfers usually rule Arizona, the most intriguing import just might be the Wolves’ new coach Kurt Keener, who left Detroit Country Day after 35 years where he amassed a 678-180 record that included nine state championships and two Naismith Prep Players of the Year in NBA stars Chris Webber and Shane Battier. Desert Mountain, which lost in the D-II state semifinals, returns Rolando Rhymes and Mark Andrews to give Keener plenty to work with from the start.
2012-13 record: 24-8
Head coach: Jay Caserio
The Tigers lost in the state quarterfinals as the 11th seed, but chances are they will have a much better seed to work with in 2013-14. Six-foot-8 Truman Moore (10.2 points, 7.3 rebounds) will be a tough matchup on the block while Spencer Nicolds provides a good look from the outside.
Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothills News staff writer, is an 18-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-272-2449.