Aztecs receive basketball engagement from top 150 prospects in Phoenix

The state of San Diego has received an oral pledge from Elijah Saunders, a six-foot, 230-pound senior from Sunnyslope High in Phoenix.

Not the soccer team.

The basketball team.

“You won’t find many high school kids with bodies like his,” said Ray Portela, Sunnyslope basketball coach. “He looks like an NFL tight end.”

Saunders is the first commit in which the Aztecs hope after all that it will be a three-player haul out of the 2022 prep class. Koren Johnson, a Seattle security guard who plays at Wasatch Academy in Utah this season, and Miles Byrd, a 6-7 wing from Stockton whose father is an assistant coach at Pacific, both visited last month and are standing briefly before making decisions.

Of the three, Saunders had the most power conference offers, narrowing its last five to SDSU, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech. There was also interest from Boston College, St. John’s, DePaul, New Mexico, Nevada, and the UNLV.

He made official visits to SDSU, Notre Dame and Miami before canceling his remaining two, briefing Aztec coaches on Thursday evening and announcing the decision on Friday afternoon. He is expected to sign a letter of intent in November.

He called the “family atmosphere” at SDSU, the commitment in defense and the freedom of attack that players under coach Brian Dutcher often enjoy.

“My dad and I, when I started digging into play styles a few weeks ago, we saw Matt Mitchell’s game against BYU last year,” Saunders said of the senior striker’s 35-point performance, 26 in the second half to trigger a furious comeback. “He was gone. They kept feeding him the ball. They played freely and gave it to the hot hand. I was like, ‘Wow, they really let their players go.’ “

Saunders is a top 150 candidate from the major recruiting services who plays for the AAU power Compton Magic on the perimeter, able to defend multiple positions, adept at handling the ball. Think JJ O’Brien with one Money sweater.

“When he first came to us, he was so big that we only used him as a post,” said Portela. “But I thought, ‘This guy is too valuable. He can move out on the perimeter. ‘ So we use it as a hybrid guardian. Sometimes he comes from ball umbrellas, sometimes he sets up the ball umbrellas and plays pick and pop because he shoots so well from a distance. When we need a bucket, we put it up.

“We kind of do everything with him. When our guards have trouble with faster defenders, we say, ‘You guys carry on. Elijah, bring it up. ‘”

Out of all his abilities, his perimeter accuracy could be the reason for more than 30 scholarship offers when the NCAA lifted their 15-month moratorium on personal recruiting and the coaches were able to see him in person. During his visit to SDSU, Saunders casually started taking corner 3s and made 14 straights.

With sandals.

Something else appealed to Dutcher and his staff, who increasingly placed character and work ethic in the foreground. In other words, you are recruiting gym rats.

“You won’t find a better kid,” said Portela, named State and National Coach of the Year last season after Sunnyslope lost 21-1 and won the Arizona 6A title. “He’s here at 6am every day to train. Great family, very respectful young man, plays hard, very coachable, a leader. Just a great kid, no need to worry. “

He will have company at the JAM Center, which is filled with Aztec players mornings and evenings for custom workouts.

“I think it’s important to be around people who are just as motivated as you are,” Saunders said. “One of my high school teammates is just like me and is always trying to hit the gym. That helps me on days when I’m tired. He’s there too. When you’re with people who want to work just as hard, you don’t want to let them down. “

To keep Aztec soccer coach Brady Hoke from getting any ideas, he has to go through Andrea Saunders first.

“The high school coach, my sophomore year, was trying to get me to play,” Saunders said. “But my mother, she hates soccer. She can’t even watch football. She hates all that hitting. I told her basketball was physical too, but she never allowed me to play. I would really like to play, but I feel like you have to stick to one sport these days. It’s hard to be a two-sport athlete when you’re trying to be really good at one of them. “

Schakel signs with Wizards

Former SDSU security guard Jordan Schakel signed an Appendix 10 contract with the NBA’s Washington Wizards that put him on the 20-man training camp list and could likely land him in their G League partner, the Capital City Go-Go. The contracts for Appendix 10 are not guaranteed, but teams have the option to sign players to a more secure two-way deal ahead of the season.

It is Schakel’s third NBA club. He played two summer shows with the Golden State Warriors and then moved to the Sacramento Kings for the Las Vegas Summer League.

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