The inaugural Norcal Ultimate Challenge (hosted by Simply Basketball and Moreau Catholic) was successfully held this past Saturday at Chabot College Hosted by Kandid Consulting & Simply Basketball. 12 of Northern California’s top high school programs competed under the same roof for bragging rights and an early season victory. A whole assessment of the day proved to us that no matter the “rank” of these programs, the games will always be tightly contested because we all shoot on the same hoop. While we are still weeks away from the start of the regular season, it's amazing that NorCal came out to represent and showcase its talents early into the 2023-24 season. 

Ej Campbell and his Mountain House squad started the day off with a narrow victory over Athenian. The unsigned senior Ej proved the old saying of lefty’s make everything in basketball look better. With his smooth scoring and long arms he was able to score 17 points to defeat a good Athenian team. Shemar Jones, a highly  touted college prospect, played as well for the first time in front of many eyes since moving back from Prep School, having a solid performance in limited time. Athenian put up a great effort against Mountain House, with Evan Lukas scoring 13pts in the loss, and newcomer Surya Devasenapathy put up 22pts and 4rebs to help his team attempt a comeback.

The next game we got to see Clayton Valley, a team led by its backcourt of Elijah Perryman and James Moore. Elijah gave us his usual high scoring output as he scored 19 and hit clutch buckets in the fourth to hold off a gritty Lincoln (Stockton) team. However, what isn’t glorified in the stat books is James Moore’s impact on the other end. The athletic 6ft point guard came up with 2 huge defensive rebounds to seal the win for the Ugly Eagles. James’ quick twitch jumping is a trait that not too many guards have, and it proved to be important as the smallest player on the court was able to come up with the biggest ball.   Senior guard Quentin Thompson and Junior Anthony Moore combined for 9rebs and scored 22 of Lincoln’s 49 points.

In Game 3, Oakland Tech competed against in-city rival Bishop O’Dowd. Junior Josh Green opened up the scoring for Bishop O’Dowd, hitting 4-3’s and scoring 25pts in the game. Senior Leo Chapman chipped into O’Dowd offensive efforts as well, putting up 14pts and 6rebs. However, Junior guard Ardarius Grayson won M.O.P. of the game and stole the show against Bishop O’Dowd, scoring 29pts in all the ways a guard could. Saddiq Alarbesh put up an equally impressive effort for Oakland Tech, scoring 7-3’s in Oakland Tech’s 78-69 victory over Bishop O’Dowd.

In the fourth installment of the tournament, Laguna Creek of Sacramento took on the host team Moreau Catholic. Freshman guard Jay Virgil  with 23pts stole the show as he showcased his advanced shooting skill hitting off balanced three’s off of flare screens. Moreu showcased its abundance of young talent as they fought the Cardinal’s neck and neck, led by Dominic Walker with 12 pts they mounted a comeback that came up short.

The final two games featured some of Nor-Cal’s preseason favorites. Branson vs Vanden was the game of the night as D1 committed guards Jase Butler (Illinois) and Tyler Thompson (Montana) faced off, both throwing down thunderous two-hand dunks and showing the elite athleticism it takes to make the next level. The game was tight from the beginning with both teams trading blows. Vanden unsigned senior Ahsan Huff proved to be a force down low as he tallied a double-double, giving Branson trouble securing possessions. However the play of the game was from Branson senior guard Joaquin Aguillon as he threw down a one handed tomahawk on  a fast break waking the gym up and helping Branson build a lead that they narrowly hung on too. It also helps that Branson boasts a ESPN Top 75 Guard (2025) in Semetri Carr, who filled the roles of defense and rebounding to help Branson make the push. Jase Butler earning M.O.P with 17pts 8 Rebs 4ast.  

The nightcap featured Salesian and Archbishop Mitty, who were both preseason Nor-Cal favorites. Mitty kept it reasonable as they were led by Nathan Noronha, who scored a gritty 13pts. However, for the hits Mitty gave to Salesian, Salesian threw two back. Alvin Loving, the games M.O.P with 15pts 8rebs fought tooth and nail in the post to help secure the paint. However the unsung hero was unsigned senior Zander Jimenez, as he has proved to be an instant game changer this season. His numbers don’t pop in the box score, however his tenacity to pressure the main ball handler every second of a game has spread throughout his team. A  team that doesn’t boast that much size, they play bigger than what their driving permits say. The pride won’t “wow” you with breakaway dunks, but they play a brand of team basketball that can compete with anyone in the country.