OK, so some things never change in the Empire League.
Tom Danley still is coaching basketball at Katella High School.
But, whereas Danley--Katella’s coach since the school opened in 1966--may be the picture of stability, some other things have changed.
First, the league is back to six teams, losing Pacifica and Kennedy to the Garden Grove League at the start of the school year.
Then, there are three new coaches making their league debut: Kevin Loftus at Cypress, Wayne Carlson at El Dorado and Chris Bell at Esperanza.
And, finally, Katella doesn’t appear to have a dominating big man, in the mold of Bob Erbst, who graduated in 1986, or last season’s Richard Lucas.
So what does it all mean? Will Loara, which won just one league game last season, catapult to the top of the standings? Will Katella miss its first playoff appearance in 22 years?
Though Katella once again graduated its all-everything player, the Danley factor can never be ignored. Any coach who has taken his team to the playoffs every season for more than two decades, obviously knows how to win. And Danley actually thinks he has better balance than last season.
So, if the Knights fail to repeat an undefeated league season, they figure to at least challenge for the Empire title again.
Like last season, Los Alamitos is the favorite to win the league. But this time, unlike last season, the Griffins may actually win it.
Los Alamitos finished behind league champion Katella, tied for second place with Kennedy. But Kennedy won the coin flip, and the Griffins went into the playoffs as the league’s third-place team, where they were eliminated in the first round. This season, most league coaches think the Griffins are the team to beat. The strength of Los Alamitos is its overall program; the Griffins’ junior varsity won the league last season.
Here’s a closer look at the Empire League, with last season’s record in parentheses:
Key personnel: Bond Weaver (6-5, forward), Greg Bedford (5-10, guard).
Top newcomers: Mike Flowers (6-5, forward), Joe Pinkston (6-7, center), Scott Kawammura (6-1, guard).
Outlook--Loftus has the league’s height advantage, with three players (Weaver, Pinkston and Flowers) standing 6-foot-5 or taller. Loftus, who came from La Quinta but knows the league from his days as an assistant at Los Alamitos, is worried about a weak bench and hopes he can get through a tough nonleague schedule, which includes Santa Ana, Marina, Westminster, Long Beach Millikan and Long Beach Poly--without injuries. One starter, 6-foot 3-inch forward Ed Rock, already is out with a knee injury, but Loftus hopes he’ll return by league play.
EL DORADO--(8-14, 4-10)
Key personnel--Mike Brooks, (5-11, guard), Charlie Stevens (6-4, forward), Chris Facione (6-3, forward), Mike Renuad (5-10, guard).
Top newcomers--Matt Luke (6-3, forward), Mike Bradach (6-0, guard), Travis Dowdell (5-11, guard).
Outlook--Though Carlson is optimistic, his team has a tough road ahead. Carlson, who coached varsity at Alta Loma High School, has only been working with his team since the middle of October, when he was hired. He thinks the team has good shooting, quickness and a strong defense, but El Dorado graduated guard Eric Glade, who averaged almost nine assists per game. The Golden Hawks’ biggest disadvantage is lack of height, and Carlson is concerned about their rebounding ability.
Key personnel--Mike Kent (6-7, center), Rob Nay (6-2, forward), Matt Werner (6-4, forward).
Top newcomers--Gary Brushwyler (6-1, guard), Scott Lox (6-0, guard), Mark Morris (6-3, forward), Marc Santoro (5-11, guard), Roger Weems (6-0, guard).
Outlook--Esperanza is the league’s sleeper team, according to Los Alamitos Coach Steve Brooks. Though the team’s last league championship was 1982, Bell expects to have a contender. Bell, who takes over from Kurt Kersten, coached Esperanza’s junior varsity team last season to a 12-2 record and has four of his JV players on varsity (Weems, a junior, jumps to varsity from the sophomore team). Of the three returning varsity players, two can concentrate exclusively on basketball--Kent, a tight end, and Werner, a lineman, finished their football season last Saturday.
Key personnel--Ian Donnelly (6-5, forward), Jerry Babe (6-3, guard/forward)
Top newcomers--Darral McGinnis (6-4, forward), David Scott (6-5 forward).
Outlook--In 1985-86, Erbst averaged 21.5 points a game and went on to USC. Last season, Lucas averaged 16.8 points and 13.8 rebounds and is at the University of Oregon. Katella’s only returning starter is Donnelly, who saw limited time last season. But Danley has high hopes for both Donnelly and Babe, a senior transfer from Illinois, calling both “blue-chip university material.” Danley is still sizing up the team’s depth, with football players Jeff Yourstone (quarterback) and Bubba Clester (wide receiver) ready to play.
Key personnel--Ara Amerkhanian (6-3, center), Ted Buchanan (6-3, guard), Paul Plettinck (6-3, guard), Koichi Matsukubo (5-6, guard).
Top newcomers--Kenny Cross (6-2, forward), Bob Patanella (5-9, guard), Jim Delehoy (6-0, guard).
Outlook--Coach Tom Meylor calls his group “possibly the best team Loara has had in 10 years.” Though the Saxons have won just three games in two seasons, Meylor says his team could be fighting for the third playoff spot. The mere fact that Meylor returns as coach to a team that has made four coaching changes in three years is an advantage. Height is the main problem for the team that went 7-3 in Loara’s summer league.
LOS ALAMITOS--(18-7, 11-3)
Key personnel--Brett Pagett (6-0, guard), Doug Davidson (6-2, guard), Rob Lester (6-5, forward).
Top newcomers--Dre Lamoureux (6-9, center), Tony Ware (6-4, forward), Greg Reyes (6-3, forward), Brian Parkinson (5-8, guard).
Outlook--Brooks is trying to forget how the Griffins ended last season, losing in overtime in the first round of the playoffs. But Los Alamitos should get another chance at postseason play. Although the Griffins lost Ryan Blossey and center Moe Warner, the team’s top scorer and rebounder, most Empire League coaches think Los Alamitos will contend for the championship. The team should get quick experience with a tough nonleague schedule that includes Mater Dei, Ocean View and Fullerton. Of the returning starters, three-year starting guard Pagett has already signed with UC Irvine. Second-year starter Lester just had arthroscopic surgery and will miss the season’s first five weeks.