Column: Top matchups and players to watch on basketball championship weekend

Centennial High guard Jared McCain greets teammates during introductions before a game.
(Nick Koza)

It’s going on 70 minutes after a Corona Centennial High basketball playoff victory. Fans were told to go home and escorted out by security. Doors were locked. And yet there’s loud music in the gym with basketballs bouncing as custodians clean up. All-American guard Jared McCain is going through his routine, working on his shot.

“People ask, ‘Does he do this all the time?’ Yes,” coach Josh Giles said.

When your best player is also your hardest worker, it helps explain how Centennial will be bidding for its third consecutive Southern Section Open Division championship at 8 p.m. Saturday against Bellflower St. John Bosco at Honda Center.

The Duke-bound McCain just won’t let anyone outwork him. “His after-game routine has gotten contagious,” Giles said. “It’s awesome. Our administration is great about it. They let the boys do it.”


Now freshmen players are joining McCain, and junior guard Eric Freeny is trying to beat him to scheduled practices.

“Eric and Jared battle for first guy here,” Giles said.

It’s a big weekend for basketball championships in the Southern Section and City Section. There will be lots of outstanding boys’ and girls’ teams and athletes to watch. Let’s take a look at the star power.

  • Elzie Harrington, Bellflower St. John Bosco: The sophomore guard has come through with big games in the playoffs to help the Braves reach the Open Division final, along with contributions from sophomore Kade Bonam, junior Jack Turner and freshman Brandon McCoy.
  • Brannon Martinsen, Santa Ana Mater Dei: The 6-foot-8 freshman has a young Monarchs team playing for the Division 1 championship against Etiwanda. He can shoot threes and doesn’t shy away from embracing pressure situations.
  • Carson Brown, Las Flores Tesoro: There’s no mistaking the impact of the 6-3 Brown, whose scoring skills have Tesoro playing Orange Lutheran for the 2A championship.
  • Tyrone Riley, Downey St. Pius X-St. Matthias: A 6-6 junior, Riley had a 53-point performance against Ventura Buena in the 3AA semifinals.
  • Jason Crowe Jr., Lynwood: The state’s all-time scoring leader for a freshman, Crowe is averaging 36.2 points in trying to lead his team to the 5AA championship.
  • Ben Eisendrath, North Hollywood Oakwood: A 17-year-old senior, Eisendrath is averaging 17 points and seven assists while trying to lead Oakwood to a 3A title, which would be the first since Mitchell Butler led the Owls in 1988.
  • Darius Carr, Fairfax: A midseason transfer who previously played at Playa del Rey St. Bernard, Carr has been creating excitement with his dunks in leading the Lions to the City Section Open Division final.
  • Keyon Kensie Jr., Taft: Formerly with Simi Valley Donda Academy, Kensie returned to Taft to average close to 25 points for the Open Division finalists.
  • Juju Watkins, Chatsworth Sierra Canyon: The nation’s best girls’ player from the class of 2023 is averaging 28 points, 14 rebounds and 3.7 assists for the 29-0 Trailblazers.
  • Kennedy Smith, Etiwanda: If anyone can challenge Sierra Canyon, it’s Etiwanda and Smith, whose scoring and rebounding make her one of the best from the class of 2024.
  • Morgan Mack, Newhall Hart: Only a sophomore, she scored 30 points in the semifinals to lift Hart into the 2AA championship game.
  • Ashley Chea, Flintridge Prep: An outstanding point guard, Chea has Flintridge Prep playing for a 3AA championship.
  • Mariah Blake, Westchester: A still growing 5-10 junior, Blake has a distinctive jumping skill that gives her an unstoppable midrange jump shot for a 28-1 Comets team playing in the City Open Division final.