Video: Preseason Top 25 girls basketball rankings
High expectations for new-look roster at New Hope Academy.
It's surprising that other coaches haven't broken into Sam Caldwell's house, trying to find that magic wand he waves that turns high school basketball programs into national powers. After all, some great coaches have been chasing national rankings for decades and maybe tasted the Top 10 once or twice, while Caldwell should be paying rent because he's taken up space there for so long.
And it's not like he always just builds on the success of some other coach – at New Hope Academy (Landover Hills, Md.)
he literally started from nothing three years ago with the school's first-ever team, and wound up claiming the top spot in the final national Top 25 last season.
And despite sending five players off to Division I colleges – three at the Power 5 level – Caldwell will be in the mix for another national title this year, in part due to returning starters
(just a junior) and Delicia Pinnick
. Four other players are back from last year's team, plus a horde of talented newcomers, led by 6-foot-3 junior Maria Gakdeng
So how does Caldwell keep a roster full of potential college stars all pointing in the same direction?
"It's constant communication," Caldwell said. "People don't understand how important that is."
Each player is reminded over and over that even though she could be a star somewhere else, she has to battle for minutes at New Hope.
"It's always competitive at practice," Caldwell said. "We need 10 players who are capable of starting to compete for a national title, but only five can actually start."
And there's no guarantee that the starter tonight will be on the floor for the opening tip the next time out.
Caldwell puts it this way: "You can be the best player on a team that does nothing, or play a role on a team that has chance to win it all."
And those who have bought into that line of thinking may in fact win it all – again.
It's not often that a three-loss team winds up at the top of the Xcellent 25, but New Hope's incredibly difficult schedule and collection of quality wins earned the three-year-old school the top spot. This year, a revamped roster is still chock full of Power 5 talent and the schedule is just as strong, so we've decided to leave well enough alone.
There's little mercy at the national level, and a loss to just a good team, coupled with a weaker schedule, can result in banishment from the Top 25 – which is what happened to Hamilton Heights last year. This year, the schedule is tougher, meaning there's more margin for error, and the talent is unquestionably elite.
Bishop McNamara is just as talented this year as last – maybe even more so – but the West Catholic Athletic Conference is down this year, so expect the record to be even better. The schedule, however, is good but not great, so any stumbles could be costly.
The reason undefeated Westlake was only No. 22 at the end of last season was a weak schedule, which has been upgraded to include trips to Florida, Virginia and Las Vegas. And it doesn't hurt to have multiple Power 5 players on the roster.
As always, Southern California girls basketball is like a WWE cage match – you have to be both strong and lucky survive. Right now, the defending Open Division champs get the nod, and trips to the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona and West Coast Jamboree in Northern California will be out-of-area tests. The biggest challenges, though, may come closer to home.
Last year, the young Tampa Bay Tech team lost to three unranked Florida teams, none of which won any of the nine state titles – and thus found no home in the Top 25. But a much stronger schedule, a year's experience and lots of talent should make Florida's best much more consistent.
Do we always underestimate Centennial? That could be our mistake, as it doesn't seem to matter who graduates or who's on the schedule – all Karen Weitz's team does is win and win and win. Expect more of the same this year, and along that line, we once again probably have the Las Vegas power too low to start.
Talent, talent, talent – DeSoto is flat loaded with tall young players who are marked for collegiate excellence. But "young" is a key word, and the guards aren't quite up to the same standard, so there are question marks. But having the best players does make winning a lot easier.
Arkansas always seems to be one of the strongest states in the middle of the country, and this year is no exception. We'll go with Northside in the top ten to start, but don't be surprised if another Arkansas team bulls its way into the Top 25 by season's end.
If Christ the King wins 24 games this year – and the New York power has won 55 in the past two seasons – then Bob Mackey will record the 500th win of his impressive career. And even if some transfers don't get cleared, there's still plenty of Division I talent on the roster to make that 24-win season a strong possibility.
There are many who will tell you Hopkins is the most talented team in the country, led by top recruit Paige Bueckers
, but a combination of state travel restrictions and staid scheduling makes it hard to start Hopkins much higher. Though unbeaten seasons are always difficult to achieve, it's quite possible a team with one or two losses could wind up finishing the season ranked higher than an unbeaten Hopkins.
Germantown Academy may not have the elite talent of other programs in the Top 25, but there are multiple mid-major players on the roster who play together and maximize their abilities. The key to holding on to this ranking, or even rising, will be performance at the Naples Holiday Shootout in Florida over the Christmas break.
Ohio teams don't travel much, but Mount Notre Dame has five difficult out-of-state games on the schedule (including No. 1 New Hope Academy), and of course must battle through the stiff competition in Ohio's large-school postseason. The talented roster, though, should be able to rise to the challenge.
When a roster starts with Angel Reese
– a prime preseason candidate for MaxPreps National Player of the Year – it's always a good thing. But when you toss in several more Division I candidates and combine that talent with a strong schedule, what you get is a preseason No. 14 ranking.
South Shore brings everyone back from a very strong team that would have finished the season in the Top 25 but for an upset in overtime in New York's postseason. The schedule isn't that daunting, compared to some others, but the talent is definitely there.
Africentric has games with No. 1 New Hope, No. 2 Hamilton Heights and No. 19 Edison. Those heavyweights, though, are pretty much only the tough opponents, so really it's a three-game season. Win them all and a high ranking is pretty much guaranteed.
As with Sierra Canyon, Mater Dei's most difficult task will be dealing with the horde of very good (but not great) Southern California teams on its schedule. And then, of course, Mater Dei must take care of business at the Iolani Classic in Hawaii and the West Coast Jamboree in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Twelve losses and ranked in preseason? The consensus is that Archbishop Wood is primed to improve and will more than hold its own at the Nike TOC in Arizona. Note as well that Wood has joined the 21st century, ditching the grind-it-out style of yore for an up-tempo system that can keep the scoreboard operator struggling to keep up.
Edison, like too many teams, is limited by state travel rules, but has tons of talent – which means it should roll through a shaky schedule. If that happens, don't be surprised if Edison winds up back in the Top 10 at season's end.
Garfield stumbled down the stretch last year, but a trip to the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona will give the Seattle power a chance to redeem itself – and justify this preseason ranking.
Ryle won every Kentucky playoff game by double digits last year and has plenty of talent returning. The schedule isn't great, so doing well at the CresCom Bank Holiday Invitational in South Carolina is crucial.
Princess Anne always seems to have great talent, and almost always is content to play a local schedule. Both are true this year, so expect a glittering record and questions about just how good the team really is.
Illinois, like Texas and California, always has lots of good teams, but sometimes doesn't have any great ones. Benet is the best in the Land of Lincoln this year, with a deep roster, but it's a long way from this preseason ranking to an Illinois state title.
Like Illinois, Indiana is always strong but teams don't travel much, so it's hard to get a good read on where they stand nationally. Northwestern won the 3A title last year (4A is the highest) and has all the key pieces back – but it's never easy in the Hoosier State.
Cherry Creek won the 5A title last year and beat Grandview by two in the title game – which is why Cherry Creek is here and Grandview is not. It doesn't hurt, of course, that almost everyone is back, but a trip to Texas will be a significant test.