CASA GRANDE — A high school basketball season almost never happened. But then it did, and Pinal County had plenty of individual talent on the hardwood.
The 2021 PinalCentral Boys Basketball All-County Team is headlined by Florence guard Malik Payton. He was the second-highest scorer in the state among Arizona Interscholastic Association schools and sixth overall at 25.3 points per game, according to MaxPreps.
His ball handling, athleticism and shooting made him one of the toughest players to guard in the state, and for that, he is the PinalCentral Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
Payton led his team to the 3A state quarterfinals and turned himself into a lights-out shooter who kept getting better as the season progressed. His 41 points against No. 1 Chandler Valley Christian on March 2 — hitting eight of 10 shots from beyond the arc — was a great example of his ability.
A terrific rebounder for his size (6 feet), Payton averaged 8.1 rebounds, and he also averaged 3.8 steals. His shooting numbers were outrageous, knocking down 58% from the field and 55% from 3-point range.
Dave Glasgow, who coaches rival Coolidge, had very high praise for Payton’s abilities after coaching against him twice this season.
“He has to be the best player ever out of Florence,” Glasgow said in an email to PinalCentral. “Malik is the best area opponent Coolidge has faced since Reggie Neal who played for Eloy (Santa Cruz Valley) and graduated in 1998.”
Neal was the Arizona Republic’s small school (1A-3A) Player of the Year in 1998.
On the all-county first team, Payton is joined by guards Justin Stovall of Maricopa, Kyree Jackson of American Leadership Academy-Ironwood, Devin Bradford of Vista Grande and forward Kameron Steward of Coolidge.
In its first year playing at the 6A level — the largest classification in Arizona — Maricopa struggled as a team. But one player who excelled was Stovall, a senior who averaged 15.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 3.2 steals on his way to being named the 6A Desert Southwest region Player of the Year.
The entire first team is full of seniors, and few had a bigger impact than Jackson, a lightning-quick point guard for ALA-Ironwood. As he went, the Warriors went, and they made their first state playoff appearance in school history as the No. 11 seed in the 3A bracket.
Jackson scored 18.3 points per game, showing great ability to break defenders down off the dribble. He also averaged 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists and scored 24 points in a first-round playoff loss to Florence.
Rounding out the first team guards is Bradford, one of the most athletic players in the county. At 6-foot-4 with a muscular build, he is also capable of playing forward. Bradford rocked the rim with high-flying dunks, and he averaged 18.3 points on 51% shooting while grabbing 6.8 rebounds per game for the Spartans.
The one true frontcourt player on the first team is Steward, a tenacious defender for the Bears. He can certainly score, averaging 12.8 points, but his biggest impact was on defense, where he averaged 7.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.
Steward helped lead Coolidge to the 3A state quarterfinals. He set a single-game school record with eight blocks against ALA-Ironwood on Jan. 19 and was named the 3A South Central region Defensive Player of the Year.
The all-county second team includes three senior guards — Isaac Lujan of Combs, Nick Harrison of Coolidge and Eddie Chapple of Florence, and junior guard Joel Becerra of San Tan Foothills. The one big man on the second team is junior Chris Long of Vista Grande.
Lujan was the heart and soul of the Coyotes, finishing an accomplished career with a senior season averaging 17.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists.
Becerra was one of the top scorers in 3A, averaging 18 points per game to go along with 6.5 boards and 2.7 steals for the Sabercats.
Harrison ended as the second-leading scorer in Coolidge history, even though he missed his entire junior season with a torn ACL. As a senior, he averaged 14.8 points, made 51 3-pointers and was the top free-throw shooter in the state among AIA schools, hitting 90.2%.
Chapple was an integral part of a Florence team that once again made the state playoffs. He fulfilled whatever role was needed — shooting, passing and defense. He averaged 11.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
The tallest player on the all-county team, the 6-foot-7 Long also played large this season. He showed improved post moves and touch around the basket, scoring 12.3 points per game. His defensive presence was also felt, as he averaged 9.1 rebounds (tied for seventh in 4A) and 2.5 blocks (fourth in 4A).
See below for the entire PinalCentral Boys Basketball All-County Team, including honorable mention selections.
2021 PinalCentral All-County Boys Basketball Team
Player of the Year: Malik Payton (SR, Florence)
G —Malik Payton (SR, Florence)
G — Justin Stovall (SR, Maricopa)
G — Kyree Jackson (SR, ALA-Ironwood)
G — Devin Bradford (SR, Vista Grande)
F — Kameron Steward (SR, Coolidge)
G — Isaac Lujan (SR, Combs)
G — Joel Becerra (JR, San Tan Foothills)
G — Nick Harrison (SR, Coolidge)
G — Eddie Chapple (SR, Florence)
F — Chris Long (JR, Vista Grande)
G — Anthony Flores (JR, Casa Grande)
G — Damon Newton (SR, Casa Grande)
F — Adam Blunt (SR, Casa Grande)
G — KiShon Butler (SR, Coolidge)
G — Mark Clegg Jr. (JR, Coolidge)
F — Brayden Gant (SO, Coolidge)
F — Travalle Beckwith (SR, Poston Butte)
G — Jesse Gray (JR, Poston Butte)
G — DeAngelo Roberts (SR, Poston Butte)
G — Anthony-Lamar Wilcox (SO, Maricopa)
F — Merhauti Xepera (JR, Maricopa)
G — Chris Farmer (JR, Florence)
G — Kaleb White (SR, Florence)
F — Moses Charles (JR, Vista Grande)
F — Corey Wood (SO, ALA-Ironwood)
C — Andy Allen (JR, ALA-Ironwood)
G — Alex Aikens (JR, Combs)
F — Levi Tuckfield (SR, Combs)
F — Gavin Johnson (SR, San Tan Foothills)
G — Brian Turner (SR, San Tan Foothills)