By Nicholas Williams
In the past couple of years, Arizona has seen many more talented basketball players make the switch from their high schools to the prep basketball circuit.
The prep basketball league in Arizona that was formed in recent years is called the Grind Session.
The Grind Session for men’s basketball is made up of 20 teams, most being from Arizona and California, but not all.
The number one team during the 2020-2021 season in the Grind Session was AZ Compass, who only lost two games during the regular season, and competed at the Geico Nationals, where they lost in the Semi-finals.
AZ Compass has three nationally ranked players:Ty Ty Washington, Daron Holmes, who are both in the top 50 in the class of 2021. They also have Sadraque Nganga, who is ranked 17th in the class of 2022.
Prep basketball allows high school athletes to continue going to their high schools for education, but can simultaneously play for a “prep school”.
Trey Phillips, a 6-foot-7 junior at Brophy, just finished his first season playing for EDUPrize. EDUPrize is a prep school that competes in the Grind Session, and finished 31-19 during the season.
“For me, the decision was about my development as a basketball player. At Brophy, I was the tallest player, making me the center, whereas when I am at a prep school, I play the small forward, which is the position I would play at the next level anyway,” Phillips said.
Phillips went on to talk about how another motive for him playing prep is the amount of really good competition he will face, which will prepare him for his future experience when playing in college.
“We played against many of the top-level high school players in the country. In my first season, we played the two through thirty ranked high school basketball players,” Phillips said.
On top of the high-level competition, Phillips said the exposure from D1 coaches while playing prep basketball is much more present than on a regular high school team.
In the summer going into his junior year, Phillips was talking to 3 colleges, which were UC Santa Barbara, Rice and Air Force, but after his first season on the Grind Session, he is now in contact with over 20 schools.
Some notable schools he is now in contact with are University of Houston, Boise State and Fresno State.
Phillips highlighted how great of a job the prep basketball circuit prepares kids for both collegiate basketball, as well as professional.
“Every aspect of the Grind Session prepares you for basketball ahead of just high school. The competition, the amount of games and the recovery. We played games on NBA courts, and there is a shot clock, which Arizona High School basketball doesn’t have,” Phillips said.
Although the appeal for playing at a prep school has been growing for the past couple of years, the fear of losing a season due to COVID-19 made it even more appealing to high school athletes around the country.
Another athlete who made the switch to play prep basketball is Ally Stedman, a Pepperdine Women’s Basketball commit and a senior at Pinnacle High school.
“I decided to go prep my last year of high school because I felt it was the best way to prepare me for college next year. I love playing prep. It was, by far, my favorite season of basketball. I loved my teammates, coaches, as well as being able to play great competition every game,” Stedman said.
Stedman played for Phoenix Prep, where they finished their season with an astounding 40-3 record as well as winning the Grind Session Women’s Championship.
This year, they played teams from seven different states, had four Grind Session all stars and nine college commits.
“I wanted to play the best girls in the state and compete with them everyday in practice in order to get a better feel for what it will be like in college because we had more than 10 D-1 level girls on our team as well as the teams we faced,” Stedman said.
Orlando Gonzalez, who is a junior at Saint Mary’s High school, also made the switch to a prep school this year. He played for the men’s team for Phoenix Prep, the same team as Ally Stedman.
Gonzalez, just like both Phillips and Stedman, made his decision to play for a prep school because of the competition, the preparation, and the exposure to college coaches.
Gonzalez shed some light on why it is easier to get noticed by college coaches when playing for a prep school.
“Playing against high-level athletes will help colleges decide if you can really play at the college level. If you can prove that you can play against these high school players, then you will 100% get noticed by college coaches,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez also shared his opinion on why we have seen so many kids make the switch in the last couple of years.
“I think many more Arizona players have made the switch to prep schools because more players are starting to realize that if you want to play at the college level and on, Prep level will help you get there, as well as thrive once you’re there,” Gonzalez said.