Time will tell if Jennah Isai was the last big-name girls basketball player to leave public schools for Valley-based national prep teams this summer — or only the latest.
But there is no doubt that the previous dominoes to fall led to her decision to transfer from Valley Vista to PHH Prep on June 12. First, stars from the Monsoon’s rivals Millennium, Gilbert Perry and Chandler Hamilton left.
Then Isai’s teammate and co-star on the 6A champions Marisa Davis announced she was transferring to Chandler-based Compass Prep on June 4, largely because of the sudden lack of competition on the high school circuit. Isai started looking into the other new program, PHH Prep — which is basketball-only and not attached to a school.
“Marissa leaving was probably the impetus. It made me think about trying something different,” Jennah Isai stated in an email interview. “Because of that I decided to attend a practice and really loved the atmosphere, the girls and the staff.”
Family ties made her situation a bit different. Her father, Ben, coaches the Monsoon’s boys team — including her brother, Aadem. Her mother, Shelley, is the Dysart Unified School District’s administrator for curriculum, instruction and assessment in grades 8-12.
Jennah will stay in the district for her education, but not on the Valley Vista campus.
“I won’t be taking classes at Valley, but I will via Dysart iSchool. I have taken some of Dysart’s online courses and they are great courses,” Isai stated. “In addition, I can take both Dual Enrollment and AP Classes through Dysart’s iSchool. Education is very important to my family and I wanted to go with a program I knew would still be rigorous and NCAA accredited.”
Ben Isai stated in an email that she had bought a transfer up when the prep talk started. Some of the girls she really respects were moving and she wanted to explore the option.
He and his son — entering his sophomore year — plan to stay at Valley Vista and build up the boys program.
“I believe that each child is different and needs different things. Jennah is at an age where friendships are very important to her. She is friends with many of the girls she will be playing with at Prep,” Ben Isai stated. “I can see where people might say well if its good enough for one why not both- but the truth is what is best for both can be different. Aadem has many deep friendships at Valley and has his eye on winning state.”
Like Davis, Isai said the toughest aspect of leaving Valley Vista after playing on its state title team.
“It was really hard to leave Coach Matakas. She is more than a coach she is a good family friend. However, I know that she wants the best for all of us,” Jennah Isai said. Even though she does not agree with my decision I know she always supports me as a person and player.”
Matakas declined to comment for this article.
Ben Isai said the family has known much of the PHH staff for years, going back to when girls coach Milee Karre coached at Grand Canyon University and director Ben Boyd was her coach for AZ Select in sixth grade.
“Basketball is a small world, and our paths often intersect multiple times,” he said. “I think Milee and Ben are trying to create a system where the girls will be exposed to what it is like to play and practice at the next level. This will be good for Jennah.”
Isai will graduate in 2022 and already has offers from Florida and LSU.
She believes the practices and games she goes through at PHH Prep will hone her skills for major NCAA Division I competition.
“I am looking forward to the training and practicing with the girls. Almost the entire team has Division I offers. They practice hard, but also all get along. There is competition during the drills, but we are all good off the court. This is the type of atmosphere where I will grow,” Jennah Isai stated.