Prep Cage Outlook : Amat and Muir Touted at Finest Teams in Valley
If the top three high schools in the preseason boys basketball rankings for the San Gabriel Valley appear familiar, there is good reason.
The same three--Bishop Amat, Muir and Diamond Bar--were ranked 1-2-3 heading into the football season.
Muir has had the most prosperous basketball tradition of the three, having won the CIF 4-A Division title in 1985, and Diamond Bar was the only valley team to reach the semifinals in 4-A last season.
But both may have to take a back seat to Bishop Amat, which until recently has been known mostly for its successful football teams. The Lancers stamped themselves as a legitimate basketball power with a strong summer league season, which included a second-place finish in the Bosco Tech Summer Hoop Spectacular.
Bishop Amat, Muir and Diamond Bar may be ahead of the rest of the teams in the valley. But there are others that enter the season with high hopes, including Glendora, Nogales, Bosco Tech, Damien, Pasadena, Edgewood and Blair.
Here’s a look at the top teams:
THE TOP 10 1--Bishop Amat (Angelus League; 5-A Division)--It took only one season for Coach Alex Acosta to transform the Lancers from an also-ran to a playoff contender.
With four starters returning from a team that was 17-10 in Acosta’s first season, the Lancers have the personnel to emerge as one of the elite teams in the CIF Southern Section.
“I’ve seen these kids play and I know that if they play hard they’re as good as any team in the state,” Acosta said.
The four, who all averaged in double figures in scoring last year, are center Geoff Lear (6-8), guards Stephon Pace (6-0) and twins Terry and Clarence Lamb (both 6-0). Pace, an all-valley defensive back in football, averaged 15 points last season, and Lear, who has signed a letter of intent to attend Pepperdine next season, averaged 16 points and 8 rebounds.
Acosta has been impressed with the development of Pace, the team’s top scorer during summer league play. “He turned himself into a tremendous basketball player during the summer,” Acosta said. “He developed a great jump shot. He’s a big-time basketball player now.”
The Lancers also figure to start either Mike Conness (6-5) or Pablo Patino (6-6) at forward. Both were top reserves last year. Bishop Amat also has depth at guard with Paul Davis (6-0) and Loren Cannon (6-0).
“We’re going to try to utilize our quickness,” Acosta said. “We practice the fast break and pressure defense and think we can use that to our advantage.”
Acosta said his team is hoping to challenge defending state champion Mater Dei for the Angelus League title.
“I think it’s realistic,” he said. “We’d like to win the league, but it’s so tough. Right now I would pick Mater Dei but I think we’ll be right in it.”
2--Muir (Pacific League; 4-A--Considering their recent success, it is easy to understand why the Mustangs are ranked high again in preseason polls.
Two years ago the Mustangs were 29-3 and won the Southern Section 4-A title, and last year Muir was 20-4 and won the Pacific League for the second straight season.
But with only one starter returning, Coach Mike O’Connor says it is too early to judge his team.
“I just don’t know if we’re worthy of that high ranking,” he said. “I think we can be a very good team but we have to play to our potential.”
If the Mustangs approach their potential, Muir opponents had better watch out.
Muir’s only returning starter is 6-8 senior forward Wayne Womack, regarded as one of the top players in the valley. Womack, who signed a letter of intent with Arizona, averaged 12 points and 9 rebounds last year. “He’s stronger and he handles the ball better than last year,” O’Connor said.
Besides Womack, the Mustangs do not have a lot of experience. But, as usual, there is ample front-line talent including 6-8 forward Daryl Scott, 6-4 forward Gary Fowler and 6-5 center Anthony Allen. Muir’s back court has point guard Anthony Wilson (6-0), Enoch Mack (6-3) and Shawn Dandy (5-11).
3--Diamond Bar (Sierra League; 4-A)--After struggling through most of their first four years of competition, the Brahmas emerged as one of the elite teams in the valley last year.
They won their first league title, reached the 4-A semifinals and finished with a 26-3 record--by far their best ever.
With highly regarded 6-8 forward Brian Hendrick among three starters returning, there is a chance that Diamond Bar will stay among the best for at least another season.
Coach Bill Murray said the presence of Hendrick, who averaged 19.2 points and 12 rebounds and made the CIF 4-A team last year, makes a huge difference.
“He’s a great player--the kind you get once in a lifetime,” Murray said of Hendrick, who has signed a letter of intent to attend UC Berkeley. “He intimidates a lot of people. His arms are long and he’s good at blocking shots.”
Diamond Bar’s other starters returning are 6-4 guard Joey Madott, an excellent shooter, and 6-0 point guard Mike Schumacher, the floor leader. Both are seniors.
The Brahmas also figure to start seniors Chris Sams (6-2) at forward and Chico Young (6-1) at guard. “We’re basically a senior team,” Murray said. “We’re not as big as last year but have different types of players. We’ll play a little more pressure defense and run more than last year.”
4--Glendora (Baseline League; 4-A)--Coach Mike LeDuc has consistently produced outstanding teams at Damien and Glendora and thinks his latest might be the best.
“I think this team could and should be the best I’ve had in nine years of coaching varsity,” he said.
Considering that last year’s team finished with a 19-8 record and won the league title, that’s saying a mouthful.
Leading the way is forward Tracy Murray, a 6-7 junior who averaged 24 points and 10 rebounds last season in earning all-valley and league most valuable player honors.
“He is a lot better than he was last year,” LeDuc said. “I’m not sure if his numbers will be any higher because we will have a more balanced team. He’s much quicker, defends better and rebounds better than last year.”
He is also a brilliant three-point shooter, making 12 in one game during the summer league. The Tartans are not shy about taking three-point shots. “We’re going to shoot as many three-pointers as two-pointers and I don’t think there are a lot of teams that can say that,” LeDuc said.
Glendora has a strong supporting cast that includes senior guards Kurt Bonds (6-0), Brad Huntington (6-1) and Matt Hansen (6-0) and junior center Alan Thompson (6-5). The Tartans also have a solid front-line reserve in 6-7 center Mattias Grewe, an exchange student from West Germany.
5--Nogales (Sierra League; 4-A)--Coach Mike Southworth has a good feeling about this year’s team but doesn’t want to sound overly optimistic.
“Paper is great but you can only put down your lineup on it,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of teams that look good on paper and don’t do anything.”
With four starters returning from a team that was 18-9 and reached the second round of the 4-A playoffs, Southworth certainly has reason for optimism.
The Nobles have adequate size and outstanding strength and leaping ability on the returning front line of seniors Boo Moore (6-5), Selwyn Johnson (6-3) and Marvin Whitlock (6-4).
Moore, an all-league player, averaged 11.7 points and 11.4 rebounds last year. Whitlock, also an all-leaguer, averaged 13.3 points and 11.6 rebounds. “We don’t have a Wayne Womack, but our front line all weighs about 210,” Southworth said.
The other starters will be point guard John Owens (5-7), a slick passer who averaged 8.9 assists, and guard Corey Rogers (6-3), a junior with a shooting touch.
Nogales also figures to have excellent depth with five junior reserves including forwards Emmanuel Gaisie (6-1) and Major Whitlock (6-1), Marvin’s brother. “I think we can play 10 and we usually play only seven or eight,” Southworth said.
6--Bosco Tech (Del Rey League; 5-A)--The Techmen could be an anomaly. Coach Jorge Calienes thinks his team could have a worse record than last year, when they were 21-6, but go further in the playoffs, where they were eliminated in the first round.
That is because the Techmen will have mostly first-time starters and Calienes thinks his team will be much stronger by the playoffs.
“If we develop in certain areas, we can go far when it comes to the playoffs,” he said.
There is only one starter from last year but he is a good one, 6-7 forward Carlos Carrillo, a senior who averaged 15.1 points and 10 rebounds.
Calienes said Carrillo, who has signed a letter of intent to attend the University of San Diego, has improved dramatically: “He passes better, dribbles better and shoots better.”
Bosco Tech’s other starters will be junior forward Chris Serafin (6-2), senior center Wayne Perry (6-4) and junior guards Steve Delgado (5-6) and Javier Ramirez (5-9). Calienes said the guards “are as quick as any we’ve had and we’ve had some pretty quick guards.”
But Calienes said the team’s strong reserves may help the Techmen most. The top reserves are juniors Mike Kurnik (6-8) at center and Will Fernandez (6-2) and Paul Hernandez (6-2) at forward and senior guard German Pinon (6-0).
“This team is more versatile than any other I’ve had,” Calienes said. “We have depth and there are a lot of different lineups I can go with (depending on the situation).”
7--Damien (Baseline League; 4-A)--What does the presence of Kelvin Woods mean to the Spartans?
“Without him we’re just an average team,” says Coach Howard Davis. “With him we can be a very good team. He’s essential to any success we’ll have.”
Woods, a 6-6 senior forward who has signed a letter of intent with the University of San Diego, averaged 21.5 points and 10.8 rebounds as a junior. “As big as those numbers were, I expect him to be even better this year,” Davis said. “He has added to his skills tremendously in every area.”
The Spartans, who were 18-8 last year and made the playoffs, have two other big inside players: 6-5 center Charlie Lough, a 225-pound bruiser who starred at linebacker for the football team, and 6-6 sophomore forward Dan Svedas.
Damien is also strong at guard with junior Mike Hardesty (6-0) and senior Carlton Kearney (5-10) as probable starters. Two other guards are sophomores Kevin Morrison (6-0) and Leonard Plick (5-6).
“We’re going to be a lot deeper than we were last year,” Davis said. “Last year we played seven players at the most and this year we’re 10 deep. I think that’s going to fit our style of play better. We like to pressure on defense and fast break but to do that you need the numbers.”
8--Edgewood (Valle Vista League; 2-A)--The Trojans were impressive in Ed Coyle’s debut as coach last year, posting an 18-8 record and reaching the second round of the 2-A playoffs.
But with three starters returning, Coyle thinks his team will be even better this season.
“We’re not the best (in 2-A), but I’m sure we’re in the top six or seven,” he said. “I don’t think we’re as deep as last year but I think we’re better. I have four players who played quite a lot.”
The leader should be senior forward John Moses (6-6), a second-team All-CIF selection who averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds. Edgewood also returns back-court starters Tonefu Brown (6-1), an excellent shooter, and Munir Mahmud (5-9), the floor leader.
The Trojans have a big inside player in 6-6, 293-pound Rod Tate, who played considerably last year. Two others who will play a lot are guards Clyde Jordan, a 6-2 sophomore, and Nate Thurbee, a 6-1 junior.
“We’re going to play a lot of pressure defense, so we’ll have to stay out of foul trouble,” Coyle said. “On offense, we’ll run the court as much as possible.”
9--Pasadena (Pacific League; 4-A)--Times have been lean for the Bulldogs in recent years (7-15 last season), but there are signs that a change is in the works.
The Bulldogs, impressive in summer league play, may have their deepest team in recent years. “This team can go 10 deep and I anticipate playing nine to 10 people because of our quickness,” Coach Bill Duwe said.
Pasadena does not have a lot of size, although it does have a promising junior at forward in Chris Hensen (6-5). “It’s not so much his size as it is his long arms that make him seem like he’s 6-8 or 6-9,” Duwe said.
The Bulldogs do not have a shortage of quality guards. The best are seniors Keivin Boone (6-1) and Julius Coleman (5-7) and junior Idris Jones (6-2). Boone averaged 11.5 points last year and Coleman, a superb long-range shooter, made 48% of his three-point attempts in summer play.
Pasadena also has excellent quickness and depth on its front line that includes seniors Damon DeJohnette (6-2) and Nate Thompson (6-0), sophomore Don Mitchell (6-1) and junior Rufus Williams (6-2).
“All-around I think this may be the best shooting team we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Duwe said. “We don’t have the one great scorer but everyone can shoot well.”
10--Blair (Rio Hondo League; 2-A)--It has been a dream come true for first-year Coach Tim Guy of the Vikings.
Guy, coach of Cathedral the last two years, is returning to his alma mater where he was an assistant coach for six years.
The coach has the talent to give the dream a happy ending.
Blair has two all-league starters returning from a team that was 20-6 and reached the second round of the playoffs: center Tony Smith (6-5), who averaged 13.2 points and 9.5 rebounds, and point guard Aaron Peron (6-1), who averaged 8.4 points and is an excellent floor leader.
Another standout should be 6-2 junior forward Derek Cooper, an excellent offensive player who averaged 29.5 points for the junior varsity last year. The Vikings also figure to start juniors Terrance Reed (6-2) at forward and Ron McCrary (6-2) at guard.
Guy served as an assistant for three years under Coach Jim Hennacy, who resigned after last season. So the Vikings may not look much different than they did under Hennacy.