Hillcrest Prep: Arizona’s Finest Prep Program

Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.

By David Cordova

In the state of Arizona, the game of basketball is thriving and is on the move on all levels. In the pros, you have the Phoenix Suns of the NBA and the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA, then on the college level, you have successful college programs such as the Arizona Wildcats, the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Grand Canyon Antelopes.

On the high school side, there is one program that’s shining on the national scene that is bringing plenty of attention to the state.

Hillside Prep is its name and specializing in developing the best of the best prospects is its game. Throughout the last couple of years, the program has been gaining plenty of notoriety throughout the nation because of past players such as Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns) and most recently, Kyree Walker.

Donovan “Puff” Johnson looks for a screen at the Battle in the Apple Classic on December 14th in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

During the Battle in the Apple Classic on December 14th at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the Bruins had a big-time battle with national powerhouse, Brewster Academy, to whom they lost to by two, 78-76.

Throughout the game, the squad had plenty of talented players on their roster, including seniors such as 6-foot-7 point guard Dalen Terry (Arizona commit), 6-foot-8 shooting guard Donovan “Puff” Johnson (UNC commit) and 6-foot-5 shooting guard Dayten Holman and underclassmen such as 6-foot-10 junior forward Michael Foster, Jr., 6-foot-8 junior forward Keon Edwards, 6-foot-4 sophomore shooting guard Devontes “Tez” Cobbs, 6-foot-10 sophomore forward Sadraque Nganga, 6-foot-1 point guard Chianti Clay and 6-foot-7 freshman forward Issac Hymes.

When asked about playing at Hillcrest, Terry replied, “It’s a good experience, we play across the country, we play in a lot of events just like this [Battle in the Apple], we just want to play at the highest level, there’s nothing bigger than this.”

Michael Foster, Jr. and Sadraque Nganga talk to each other during the Battle in the Apple Classic. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

When asked why they chose to come here, both players had their own individual answers. 

“I think [what] made me come here was they have good coaches, and they’re helping me get to college,” said Nganga.

“It was good for me to come here, because I played at a public high school before, and [now] I’m playing at a prep school in my own city, it put me on the map, basically,” said Terry.

Dalen Terry looks to pass the ball to a teammate during the Battle in the Apple Classic. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

When playing at a major prep school like Hillcrest, the travel is everything to a young student-athlete and along with the training, is a prelude to what they will see when they get to play on the college level. This season, aside from Battle in the Apple, the Bruins played in the Hoophall West Classic in Arizona, the Chick-Fil-A Classic in South Carolina, the John Wall Invitational in Raleigh, North Carolina, the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Massachusetts and also the St. James Invitational in Maryland.

“First of all, it’s a lot different, I was used to playing in-state all the time, but now I’m used to it, because I play AAU. It’s like AAU all year, basically,” said Terry about playing across the country with his high school team. “I know [that] if I want to be a pro, then this is what I have to do.”

On playing in New York City, Terry replied, “It’s the Mecca [of basketball]. I look at the crowd, and I see everybody like, ‘Yeahhh,’ like I always seen that when I was a kid. And Barclays too? It’s a treat to play in front of celebrities, and I know that I’m going to come back and play here.”

Michael Foster, Jr. shoots a fadeaway jumper over the hands of a Brewster Academy defender during the Battle in the Apple Classic. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

Sadraque said, “It’s fun, it’s my first time playing here, and I like it.”

Former NBA star Mike Bibby coached the team for a short period of time before stepping down in the fall and was replaced by current head coach, Nick Weaver.

On what they learned from the former pro, Terry replied, “Pro tricks, how to get open, how the shoot the ball a lot. Like being a point guard, he went the same route I went, so he’d always just give me advice and stuff like that.”

Ngnage said, “Thank you for Mike Bibby. When I moved here, I was lazy, I didn’t want to run. He said, ‘Son, you’re good. Everybody knows you’re good, but you have to run. You’re going to be open every time. So I say, thank you for him helping me with my game.”

Sadraque Nganga and Devontes “Tez” Cobbs look downcourt during the Battle in the Apple Classic. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

Under the new coach, Nick Weaver, Hillcrest has gone 30-5 on the season and looks to be one of the candidates for the upcoming GEICO Nationals Tournament, which will be taking place during the week of April 2-4 at Christ the King High School in the Middle Village section of Queens, New York.

When asked if he would like to come back to New York to play at GEICO Nationals, Terry replied, “Yeah, I definitely want to come back and play there. That’s what my goal is, and I want to come back to New York and play in Dyckman and stuff like that. I like seeing the crowd and everything like that.”

As the program continues to flourish and more NBA-caliber players come out of there, Hillcrest Prep will continue to be one of the best on the high school scene on the West Coast and throughout the country.

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