Jamari Phillips guided Modesto Christian to the CIF State Open Division final a year ago, earning Cal-Hi Sports State Sophomore of the Year honors. On Wednesday, news broke of Phillips' transfer to AZ Compass Prep in Chandler, Arizona. (Samantha Schmidt)

MC basketball star transfers to Arizona prep school: 'We'll be rooting for him'

James Burns

On a night when Modesto Christian looked very much like the reigning CIF State Northern California champion, there was one glaring omission.

The Crusaders routed Ripon Christian on Wednesday evening to reach the semifinal round of the 22nd annual Holiday Hoop Classic, 82-39, but they did so while the world outside Anderson Gymnasium buzzed with news of a key departure.

Highly touted junior Jamari Phillips (left), formerly of Modesto Christian, has transferred to AZ Compass Prep in Chandler, Arizona. Phillips helped the Crusaders win a Northern California championship last season. (Samantha Schmidt)

Four-star prospect Jamari Phillips, a signature piece in Modesto Christian’s run to the CIF State Open Division final a year ago and Cal-Hi Sports’ State Sophomore of the Year, is transferring to AZ Compass Prep in Chandler, Arizona. The news comes days after Phillips’ commitment to the University of Arizona on Dec. 19.

“That’s the day and age in high school sports. There are prep schools poaching and offering families stuff other schools can’t match,” Modesto Christian coach Brice Fantazia said. “I’m happy for Jamari; he’s going to one of the best prep schools in the country. … All we can do is wish him the best. We’ll be rooting for him.”

AZ Compass Prep confirmed Phillips’ transfer with a splashy social media campaign on Twitter. The school posted a highlight video and graphic on Wednesday about eight hours before the Crusaders tipped off against the Knights.

Fantazia wasn’t shocked by the news, just the timing of it all.

Phillips didn’t travel with the team to Salem, Oregon, a week ago for the Capital City Classic because of a foot injury, but rejoined the team in practice on Friday ahead of the Holiday Hoop Classic, a significant checkpoint in the Crusaders’ season. Phillips, a dead-eye shooter, led Modesto Christian to its fourth Holiday Hoop Classic title last December, earning tournament MVP honors along the way.

Fantazia said Phillips’ parents notified him of the transfer on Saturday.

Phillips averaged 23 points per game as a sophomore, guiding Modesto Christian to a CIF State Northern California championship. The Crusaders edged Campolindo in the NorCal final, 56-53, and then pushed national power Centennial in the state Open Division final. Phillips netted 20 points in a 59-50 loss to Centennial.

With Phillips and San Diego State-bound guard BJ Davis returning, Modesto Christian looked to be a heavy favorite to retain its NorCal crown and make a run at an Open Division state title.

While Fantazia will have to find a way to fill Phillips’ scoring punch and defensive presence, he has been encouraged with his team’s maturation without the star. Phillips hasn’t played since a 98-72 loss to Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) on Nov. 26. Since then, Modesto Christian has won six of its last eight games, including Wednesday’s runaway victory in front of a home crowd.

Davis has emerged as a leader on the floor, while young talent, like freshman Rashod Cotton, have begun to carve out their niche. Cotton led all Crusaders in scoring on Wednesday with 18 points.

“I think our team has done a good job of handling it,” Fantazia said. “The guys feel like they’re losing a brother. We won a Northern California championship together, so they do feel a bond.”

“Give the kids credit,” he later added. “They’re sticking together. BJ’s leadership has been outstanding, and our young guys are buying in. It’s going to pay dividends in the future. Tonight was the start.”

FrontRowPreps.com reporter Samantha Schmidt contributed to this report.