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For Starters, Fullerton Seems to Have the Edge

Times Staff Writer

Fullerton High School is favored to win the Freeway League basketball championship this season. The reasoning is simple. The Indians are tall, strong and experienced.

Keyword above: Experienced.

Fullerton has two starters returning from a team that tied with Troy for second place in the league last season behind Buena Park.

That’s two more starters than La Habra or Troy has returning. One more than Sonora, Sunny Hills and Buena Park.

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Inexperience has obvious drawbacks. So does unfamiliarity.

While most coaches are fine-tuning their offenses during the preseason with players who have been in the program for seasons, Freeway League coaches may use the preseason to find out, “Who’s the blond kid?”

Sonora Coach Paul Bottiaux: “I’ll spend the time before league just getting acquainted with my players and their strengths and weaknesses. “

Bottiaux has five players on the Raider football team, which is still alive in the playoffs. He said he’s lucky when he gets eight players at practice. Asked who he thought had a good chance of starting on his team, he replied, “Everyone.”

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A lack of experience does give the league one interesting dimension.

The unknown quantity.

All teams will be depend on underclassman. Interestingly, a significant number of sophomore players are expected to play major roles.

Alan Lewis, a 6-foot 7-inch sophomore, should strengthen an already strong Fullerton front line. Sophomores Nelson Bergamo and Jaime Del Gadillo will challenge for starting guard positions at La Habra. Sunny Hills Coach Steve White raves about the future of sophomores David Chisum and Chris Drakos. Grayle Humphrey is expected to start at point guard for Sonora, where sophomores outnumber seniors on the varsity, four to three.

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Randy Forgette, Fullerton Coach: “The league is known as a football league. But in a season or two, these young kids are going to make an impact. I think we’ll be as well known for basketball as we are for football in a few years.”

While Forgette anxiously looks years ahead, Troy Coach Mike Williams nervously awaits the season at hand.

“I pretty much know what to expect from the Fullertons and the Buena Parks,” he said. “What scares me are the Sunny Hills, the La Habras and Sonoras. A kid can go from being 15 and awkward to 16 and great. At this age you never know when these kids’ hormones are going to kick in.”

Here is a closer look at the Freeway League.

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BUENA PARK: Returning Starters--Tony Toscano (6-7, F)

Top Newcomers--Mike Kotzin (6-8, C), Shawn Riley (6-2, F), Bret Glann (5-11, G), Shane Smith (6-3, F).

Outlook--The Coyotes will be significantly slower than last season’s league champion, largely because of the departure of guard Reggie Brown. Buena Park’s offensive strength will come from its front line, lead by returning starter Toscano and part-time player Kotzin. Toscano figures to improve significantly on last season’s 8-point average with the Coyotes tossing the ball inside every chance they get. Smith, a transfer from Millikan, also figures to make the Coyote front line formidable.

FULLERTON: Returning starters--Ralph Tallant (6-2, G/F), Chris Zerga (6-6, F).

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To Newcomers--Mike Perez (6-6, C), Mike Hetland (6-2, G), Greg Wilber (6-2, G), Kirk Lentz (6-1, G), Alan Lewis (6-7, C), Brian Massey (6-2, G/F), Ben Runnels (6-7, C)

Outlook--When informed coaches had named his team the league favorite for the second straight season, Forgette sighed, “Why did they do that to me?” The Indians were favored last season because of their size and experience, but finished tied for second. Tallant is an all-league performer. Tough on the perimeter, he’ll be asked to play inside a little more this season. Forgette says Zerga may be one of the most underrated players in the county. Sophomore Lewis will be the first front line player off the bench.

LA HABRA: Returning starters--none.

Top Newcomers--Tad Emrick (6-1, F), Tony Sciacca (6-1, F), Allan Newman (6-5, 190).

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Outlook--The Highlanders, out of necessity, will once again run and run and run. La Habra is the smallest team in the league. Probable starting guards Doug Dickson (point) and Warren Grutbo are 5-7 and 5-9 respectively. Coupled with starting forwards, Emrick and Sciacca, just 6-1, La Habra doesn’t figure to get a lot of second shots. Coach George Fairchild had the choice of running a ball control offense and deliberately working for a good shot, or just trying to outrun by physically superior teams. He chose the latter. “It’s what we did last season, we’ll stick by it.” The Highlanders ran their way to just two wins in league last season.

SONORA: Returning starters--Mike Euins (6-0, G).

Top Newcomers--Grayle Humphrey (5-11, G), Linc Clifford (6-2, F), Dan Deuel (6-0, G) Mike Peterson (6-4, C), Geoff Crow (6-5, C), Eric Johnson (5-11, G), Brent Cannon (6-3, F), David Morris (6-0, G).

Outlook--Euins, one of only three seniors, will be moved to shooting guard, and may be asked to play some forward. Another senior, Deuel, who will either be the starting point guard or first guard of the bench, has been missing practice because of a leg injury. “I’m hoping some of our seniors can show some leadership. As young as we are, we’re going to need it,” Bottiaux said.

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SUNNY HILLS:Returning starters--Phil Henderson (6-2, G).

Top newcomers--Bret Moore (6-3, F), Eric Carpenter (6-4, F), David Chisum (6-1, G), Scott Estes (6-4, C/F).

Outlook-- White says his team has no one outstanding player. “I think we have 10 people who can all contribute,” he said. “They just have to realize their roles on the team.” White said the Lancers had a “miserable summer,” and that practices thus far have centered on the fundamentals. Moore, Carpenter and and Estes will combine to give Sunny Hills one of the league’s smaller front lines. Chisum and Drako should both see a lot of time this season.

TROY:Returning starters--none.

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Top newcomers--Rob Burrer (6-4, F), Jeff Ferren (6-2, G), Mark Rudometkin (6-2, G), Mike Greer (6-2, G).

Outlook--Burrer transferred from Servite last season and, according to CIF rules had to sit out. “Rob was our equivalent of a redshirt,” Williams said. “He practiced with the team and took great stats at the games. As far as I’m concerned, he was first team all-league stat-taker, no question about it.” Burrer’s absence from the court at game time, last season, did nothing to tarnish his reputation. Most coaches agree he’s the most talented player in the league. “Yeah, he may very well be the best,” said Williams. “Unfortunately our league doesn’t have a one-on-one championship.”.

Tomorrow: Garden Grove League.


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