Fairfax High is not only one of the strongest basketball teams in Los Angeles, the Colonials are also a national powerhouse. Street & Smith's magazine has Harvey Kitani's club at No. 19 in its pre-season poll.
Fairfax, which has won a league championship five years in a row, has a good chance of making it six. Although the Valley 4-A League is one of the toughest in the City, Fairfax has the horses to hurdle over Taft, Cleveland and Kennedy.
"Experience is the most important thing here," Kitani said. "While our league is pretty competitive, I feel we have the most experienced, if not the best, group of kids."
Those kids are led by everybody's All-American, Sean Higgins. Signed by UCLA, the 6-9 senior forward was the 3-A player of the year as a sophomore and has gotten better.
Higgins averaged 26 points a game last season and was named a third-team All-American by Parade magazine.
Two years ago the Colonials were City 3-A champions. Last season they were co-titlists (with Cleveland) of the Valley 4-A League but lost to Carson in the quarterfinals of the playoffs.
Higgins shares the front court with Chris Mills and J. D. Green. Mills, a 6-7 junior forward, averaged 18.5 points last year and was the leading rebounder with 12.6 a game. In a couple of pre-league wins, he was the leading scorer with 33 and 43 points.
Green, a 6-5 senior, can play guard or forward. He signed with Southern Methodist University.
Eric McDaniels (5-11 senior) is the point guard, while Dave Henderson (6-2 senior) will man the off-guard position.
The first two players off the bench will be Cardell Walker, a 6-6 senior forward, and Andre Durity, a 6-2 junior guard.
The Warriors made it to the finals of the 3-A playoffs last season, losing to Marshall, but it will be a struggle just to win the tough Pac-6 League this year.
"I don't have the team I had last year," Coach Jim Nakabara said. "We're not very deep, and although we are right up there with Venice and Jefferson, we still need a lot of work."
While four of the starters are set, it's the point-guard spot that concerns Nakabara. Craig Howard (5-8 senior) or Miko Garcia (5-10 junior) have been vying for the job.
"Garcia's a hustler, and he might be able to handle it back there," Nakabara said.
While University will be pressing and running more than last year, Nakabara still expects that his front three will have to put big points on the board.
Starting at center is 6-6 junior Greg Spector, who was on the junior varsity last year. The forwards are Chuck Hegeman, a 6-3 junior, and senior Paul Richardson, who just finished the football season.
"Hegeman has improved his game, and he's one of the better inside men I have," Nakabara said. "He's also a good rebounder."
Senior Robert Haynes (6-0) is the off-guard. He was a starter last year.
Uni's top bench player is Jason Hoffman, a 6-0 senior guard.
Coach Bob Withers thinks University is the team to beat in the Pac-6. And where does his team fit in?
"If we're to avoid the cellar, we'll have to work awfully hard. Our rebounding limitations will eventually catch up to us."
The Sheiks were just 4-15 a year ago, and the chance of bettering that record seems slim.
"We've had some eligibility problems," Withers said. "We're trying to develop the kids, but our weakness is how will we be on defense and rebounding? Can we stop anybody? We have very good shooters, though, something we didn't have last season."
The starting five is set.
The guards are Ed Kirkorian, a 5-10 senior who averaged eight points and four assists for the junior varsity last year, and Patrick Rivers, a 6-0 senior transfer from Cleveland.
At one forward is Roger Montgomery, a 6-3 junior, and at the other spot is Corey Spight (6-3 senior) who averaged eight points and four rebounds last season as a reserve. J.C. Farrow, a 6-6 senior, is the center.
Top reserves are Jeff Holmes (6-1 junior) and Jin Park, a 5-10 junior guard who averaged six points and four assists on the junior varsity.
Coach Bill Louie's team shared the Pac-6 title with University and Jefferson but lost in the first round of the playoffs.
"I hope it's going to be better (than last season) but really don't know," Louie said. "On paper, we're better than last year, but everyone else has improved, too."
The Gondoliers lost three starters from a year ago, including top-scorer Victor McCain. But they return their second leading scorer, 6-4 forward-guard Oliver Lang, a senior, who will have to carry a young, inexperienced Venice squad.
Dean Matsubayashi, a 5-8 junior guard, started some games last year. Lucio Chaidez, 6-5, is a letterman and will play center or forward.
Other possible starters are Chris Cook, a 6-5 junior forward; Chuck Campbell, 6-6 senior center, and Elgin Leslie, a 6-4 forward.
Coach Dave Uyeshima is realistic about his chances in the Valley 4-A League.
"Fairfax should take it. They're just loaded," he said. "Cleveland and Taft are right behind them. We're probably bringing up the rear."
Hamilton's problems are typical for a not-so-good basketball team: not tall and not fast.
"Plus, we're young," Uyeshima said. "We have only one senior starter."
He's 5-10 guard Paul Ragland, who played jayvee ball last year. The only letterman is Marquel Jones, a 5-10 junior who will start again at guard.
The other starters are junior forwards Steve Green (6-3) and Troy Cherry (6-2) and Steve Ropham, a 6-3 sophomore center.
Bench strength is provided by Sean Madison (6-0 senior guard) and seniors Jay Singleton and Mario Bundy.
There are two Westside teams in the 4-A Central League, and some think Westchester has a better chance than Palisades of winning what many feel is one of the toughest leagues in the country.
Playing Crenshaw, Fremont, Dorsey and Washington, Palisades Coach Jerry Marvin figures the best philosophy is to just go out and have fun. The Times, however, ranked Palisades No. 7 in the City in pre-season.
"I'm even going to run an old offense of mine that I haven't used in years," said Marvin, coach of the Dolphins since the school opened in 1961. "It's too complicated, so I'm not going to explain it, but we are having fun with it.
"This is the most inexperienced team I've ever had. We're starting over. It's a different team."
Palisades returns just one starter from last year's team, which finished 14-7 overall but just 4-6 in league. Jeff Bronner, a 6-3 forward, started last year at point guard, but the senior was switched to forward in midseason.
The Dolphins will go with two centers: 6-9 junior Paul Garrett and 6-0 senior Darryl Henderson. Marvin's other forward is 5-9 senior Kenny Woods, "the fastest player I've ever had." James Dudley (5-8 junior) is the point guard.
The Comets finished third in the Central League last year with a 5-5 mark (16-8 overall). They beat Taft in the first round of the playoffs, then lost to San Pedro.
Of course, Westchester (ranked No. 4 in the City by The Times as the season began) has a tough league schedule, but Coach Ed Azzam thinks his team will be a contender.
"Depending on how we improve, we have a shot," he said. "If we play well and improve, I think we can compete for the league championship. I know we will next year and the year after."
Azzam describes this team as "extremely young and very talented."
The starting lineup consists of two juniors, two sophomores and a senior. The guards are Sam Crawford, a 5-9 sophomore who started most games last year and averaged six assists, and David Hollaway, a 6-2 junior who scored six points a game off the bench.
At one forward is Jemal Ross, a 6-7 senior. Joining him on the front line are Michael Brown, a 6-6 junior who averaged six points a game last season, and Zan Mason, a 6-7 sophomore transfer from Verbum Dei.
Top reserves are Michael Cooks, Booker Waugh, Floyd Webb and Tony Duncan.
In a scrimmage against Reseda, "we didn't show much discipline or patience," Azzam said. "As we play together, we'll get it. But we'll beat some teams just because of the fact that we're good."