PHOENIX – Josh Christopher was still in high school when he jumped into the game of college trash talking. As Utah was about to play Arizona State in men’s basketball, Utes freshman Hunter Mecum started talking smack with Christopher, his former Mayfair High teammate.
Christopher, a consensus five-star recruit, was visiting Tempe that weekend in January, and he bragged to Mecum when the Sun Devils won 83-64.
That reminded Mecum of what playing with Christopher was like.
“He’s the most competitive, the most annoying person to play against,” Mecum said. “You love to have him as a teammate but you hate to see him on the other side of the court.”
Mecum looks forward to reuniting with Christopher on the hardwood, this time as Pac-12 rivals. Christopher, 18, recently announced his commitment to ASU, becoming the highest-rated recruit in Sun Devil history, according to 247 Sports.
Christopher, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, brings a lot to ASU skillswise. A four-year varsity player for Mayfair, in Lakewood, California, he averaged 23.6 points per game along with eight rebounds, according to Max Preps.
His high school teammates believe Christopher also brings a leadership element “vocally and by example,” as Mayfair senior Michael Ofoegbu Jr. put it. In interviews with Cronkite News, they spoke of Christopher’s maturity.
“He’s an incredible leader,” Mecum said. “Josh is better than most, well, anybody I’ve ever played with, and he commands respect in practice and in games.”
They still marvel at Christopher’s feats during the 2019 postseason.
In round two of the CIF Southern Section Basketball Playoffs, Division 2AA Tournament, against the higher-seeded Villa Park Spartans, Mayfair had the ball underneath the opponent’s basket with .9 seconds left in the first half, the score tied 32-32.
The inbounds pass went to Christopher, a junior at the time, who threw up a fadeaway catch-and-shoot jumper with a hand in his face at the buzzer. Splash.
Christopher darted to the locker room.
“In the locker room he was being very vocal and telling us, ‘We got this, let’s do this, let’s go finish them’,” Josh Calvin, a senior on that Mayfair team, recalled. “He’s definitely vocal. He’s a funny guy too, but once practices or games started he wouldn’t mess around.”
Mayfair won 74-66 behind a 41-point, 13-rebound, five-assist performance from Christopher.
He certainly wasn’t messing around.
“He had a killer mentality going into each game, knowing he was going to do what’s necessary for the team to win,” Ofoegbu Jr. said.
Mayfair entered the tournament as an 11-seed, Mecum recalled. But the Monsoons upset team after team en route to the championship game against Rancho Cucamonga. Behind Christopher’s 24-points, 14-rebound performance, Mayfair won the CIF Southern Section Division 2AA championship, the third in program history.
“He really just gave us an ‘us against the world’ mentality,” Mecum said. “His motivation and belief in us was contagious. When he said something, we thought we could do it because all year we had been down. We’d had crazy comebacks, so when Josh said we can do it, we all believed it.”
Christopher’s former teammates praised his intensity in practice, saying he never acted like a star player who took his role in big games for granted.
“He definitely took a leadership role (in practice),” Calvin said. “When he goes up against you on defense, he’s not going to take it easy on you. He’ll push you and that’s what I liked about playing with him.”
Perhaps that maturity comes from four years of varsity experience. As a freshman, he was already one of the team’s best players. As a sophomore, he emerged as Mayfair’s go-to option.
Early on, he learned from an upperclassmen-heavy team, including his brother, Caleb, who is two years older and entering his second season as a point guard for ASU.
“I think he learned a lot from his older brother’s path,” Mecum said. “I think throughout his experiences, he just learned how to, you know, deal with being a team leader and being the best player.”
Christopher now has the chance to display his leadership and talent at the next level. If his Sun Devil teammates feel about him as the Monsoons do, then it could be a fun season for Christopher in Tempe.
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