San Diego High School High School Basketball Preview : Early Experimenting to Be Put to Test Under League Play Pressure

High school basketball coaches like to experiment with new lineups and new players playing new positions during the first few weeks of the season. For most, league play has not yet started, and though it is nice to win those early games, they don't mean as much as league victories.

By the time the winter holiday tournaments start, things begin to fall into place and the good teams excel. The tournaments help to sort things out.

It's no different in San Diego County where coaches either have found the right combination or will have to make do with the players they have.

After big victories in holiday tournaments, Torrey Pines and Lincoln are two schools that have found the right formula. Other previous dark-horses--Madison, Kearny and Patrick Henry--proved that they could play with the best.

Grossmont League and Metro Conference teams began league play before the holiday break, but every Grossmont team has at least 12 league games remaining, and Metro teams have only played two league games.

The rest of the county's teams begin league play today or Wednesday.

Here's a look at the county's best teams as ranked in The Times' Top 10:

1. Torrey Pines (14-0)--Seemingly, the Falcons have everything a team needs to be successful: height, outside shooting, a ballhandler and a scorer. Kevin Flanagan, 6-feet 9-inches, and Neal Pollard, 7-0, average 28 points and 17 rebounds a game between them. Guard Tom Underwood has averaged 6.9 assists, 4.3 steals as well as 13.2 points a game.

But Courtie Miller, a 6-6 junior forward, is the player who sets Torrey Pines apart. Miller plays both inside and out, averaging 19.2 points mostly on drives from the wing. But he also averages 8.9 rebounds a game and blocks 3.4 shots.

Torrey Pines won both tournaments it entered, the Lt. James Mitchell and the Baron/Optimist. Torrey Pines beat El Camino in the final of the Mitchell and in a semifinal of the Optimist. It defeated Kearny in the final of the Optimist.

"We've got the reputation we want to have," Coach John Farrell said. "But we've still got a way to go to playing as well as we can. We can play the power game, but we want to get more pressure and play a more upbeat game at times."

A measure of how good Torrey Pines is will come on Jan. 16, when the Falcons play host to New Jersey's Camden High, one the country's best teams.

2. Lincoln (11-1)--A lot of coaches wonder which team would win if Lincoln and Torrey Pines ever met. Lincoln does not have Torrey Pines' size, but the Hornets' quickness and full-court pressure make them an equally imposing opponent.

"It's so tough to say who would win," El Camino Coach Ray Johnson said. "I don't know if Torrey Pines could get the ball up the court against Lincoln because they're so quick. But once they did, it would be a great game."

But the schools are in separate divisions and do not play each other.

The Hornets are averaging 82.7 points per game. A chunk of that comes from 6-6 post players Aaron Wilhite (15.3) and Roger Johnson (14.9). But Lincoln gets most of its points from the guys who get out on the fast break, guard Carl Gaines (21.4) and small forward Joe Temple (11.0). Bernard Dickerson is just a part-time starter, but he is averaging 10.2 points.

El Toro, one of the top teams in Orange County, is the only team to beat Lincoln. The Chargers had to go to overtime to win, 73-69, in the final of the San Clemente tournament.

3. Santana (10-1)--The Sultans have rolled to a 4-0 record in the Grossmont League with a balanced, half-court attack. Tim Barry is the team leader, averaging 17 points. Forward Joe Church averages 16 points and center Stu Back (6-6), an exchange student from Norway, averages 15. But Coach John Bobof said the team has had problems getting the ball inside to those two.

Santana beat Patrick Henry, 58-52, in the semifinals of its tournament. Santana lost to Lincoln in the final, 68-65, after making only 17 of 30 free throws.

4. Poway (9-2)--The Titans, who won section 3-A championships in 1984, '85 and '86, appear headed for a resurgence this season after finishing last in the Palomar League a year ago. Poway has lost only to Lincoln and Madison, but in a second meeting, defeated Madison in the Mt. Carmel Invitational semifinals on its way to the championship.

Ty Nichols, a 6-1 point guard, is the only holdover from Neville Saner's championship teams, but he's getting a lot of help from returning players Dave Delaney and Adam Jones. Two starters from last season, Jason Jones and Paul Roberts, are coming off the bench, which means Poway has more depth. John Culbertson, a 6-6 transfer from Houston, has given the Titans stability on the front line.

5. Kearny (9-2)--Coach Bill Peterson said three players have helped Kearny to its best start in seven years. Randy Robinson, John Williamson and Chris Ortiz, have been equally important in their own roles.

Robinson, 6-6, leads the team in scoring with a 17.4 average, but his other job is to keep the team loose.

Williamson, 6-7, 250 pounds, is a three-year starter who is the team leader. "He tries so hard, he leads by example," Peterson said. Williamson is averaging 10.8 points.

Peterson, who calls Ortiz "the guts of the team," said he is the guy they go to when the game is on the line.

Kearny finished second in the Baron/Optimist tournament, losing in the final to Torrey Pines, 71-62. Its other defeat was to an Arizona school in a tournament at Phoenix.

6. Madison (11-2)--The Warhawks won the Unlimited Division of the Kiwanis tournament two weeks ago to take their place among the county's elite.

"In the preseason, nobody talked much about us," Coach Jim Thompson said. "But I think we're deserving of some attention because of our record." They're also deserving because of returning all-City Eastern League forward Robby Robinson and 6-5 forward Andre Mitchell, the team's leading scorer.

Four other players with varsity experience have also returned to give Thompson a solid nucleus. The best of that group is Jeff Harper, a long-range shooter who played well in the Kiwanis tournament. Harper was visiting his father in Ohio when Madison lost to Poway in the semifinals of the Mt. Carmel tournament.

7. Morse (8-5)--The defending 3-A champion Tigers have only two players back from last season but there is still plenty of talent. Marcus Combs, a 6-5 forward, and Willie Davis, a 6-2 guard, both started last season and are the heart of Ron Davis' team. Three of Morse's defeats came in a tournament in Los Angeles early in the season.

Darrell Lewis, Curtis Jones and Mark Lawrence round out the starting five, but overall Morse may lack the experience necessary to win a second straight title.

8. El Camino (7-3)--Lee Cobb, the only junior on The Times' all-county team last season, figured to be enough to make El Camino a good team. But Coach Ray Johnson got a bonus when forward Scott Oatsvall, who had played at El Camino as a sophomore, transferred from Nashville before the season started.

Cobb averages 24 points and Oatsvall 21. Both have averaged 12 rebounds a game.

El Camino has two threats to hit the three-pointer, Steve Carr and David Hill. But they have been sporadic. Carr and Hill combined to make seven in a 79-76 loss to Torrey Pines. But they missed seven in a two-point loss to Morse.

Johnson said El Camino's only weakness has been at finding a playmaker, but part-time starter Todd Swanson may be the answer there, Johnson said.

9. Patrick Henry (7-4)--Patriot Coach Fritz Ziegenfuss is spending most of his time trying to get his talented team to play more consistently.

Terrence Hamilton, a 6-5 junior forward, and Collis Hunt, a 6-0 senior point guard, are returnees who provided plenty of scoring last season. Brad Samuel, Greg Edwards and John Spence, the other three starters, also return, but they didn't play much last season.

10. Valhalla (5-4)--The Norsemen's record is deceiving because two of their defeats were away from home against one of the best teams in Louisiana and a top team from Texas. Valhalla is 3-0 in the Grossmont League and played well in the Kiwanis tournament.

Two underclassmen have been the leaders. Rafid Kiti, a 6-5 junior guard, has averaged 17.7 points. His season high is 36 against Bloomington, Ind., in the Kiwanis tournament. Tony Clark, a 6-6 1/2 sophomore, has averaged 13.2 points.

Other teams to watch: La Jolla, University, Mt. Carmel, Escondido and Monte Vista.

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