When Phil Bendik of West Torrance High School took an outlet pass from Tim Stowe and sank a last-second layup to defeat Rolling Hills in early December, he may have provided a gripping introduction to this winter's drama in the Bay League.
West's 80-79 opening victory in the Pacific Shores Tournament had a clearly theatrical ending. But it was also a showcase for teams that may be poised to upstage powerhouse Palos Verdes when league play begins tonight in the South Bay.
"It's like we're coming up into another season," said West Coach Dan McGee. "That win against Rolling Hills seems so long ago. Both teams are probably a little different now."
They may be a little different, but both have the tools to contend for the league title with Palos Verdes, which reached the Southern Section-3-A semifinals last year. Here's a look how the Bay League and some other league races shape up going into tonight's opening games:
- Palos Verdes (8-5)--Palos Verdes returns three starters from last year's semifinal CIF team, so Co-Coach John Mihaljevich's Sea Kings are experienced. But they're coming off the Las Vegas Prep Holiday Classic in which they fell to Las Vegas Western in the consolation quarterfinals.
The Sea Kings have dangerous three-point shooters in point guard John Mika and 6-4 forward Mike Matteoni. Returning starter Jeff Whitley is also a high-scoring threat. Guard Matt Ralph and center Scott Ruston round out the all-senior starting five.
- West Torrance (11-3)--McGee is worried about maintaining momentum into into league play.
"We're playing our best basketball right now," said McGee, whose team has won nine straight. "We're right where we wanted to be. I just hope we can keep it going."
One reason is 6-2 forward Tim Stowe, averaging 21 points per game. Bendik is averaging 17.7 points, and 6-foot guard Denny Hocking, who broke a school record Tuesday night with a 14-assist performance against Mira Costa, is averaging 11.8 points and 7 assists.
West, with four returning starters, could be a dark horse to win the Bay League. The Warriors have shot 60% compared to 39% for opponents and have outscored opponents by a 73-61 margin.
- Rolling Hills (10-4)--"Anybody can beat anybody on a certain night," Rolling Hills Coach Cliff Warren said, despite the fact that the Titans have no returning starters from last year's team that lost in the Southern Section final. "So I think we have a little shot at 'em, an outside chance."
Rolling Hills lacks size, so Warren's outside chance will depend a lot on the three-point gunnery of guards Mark Tesar (a junior) and Steve Clover (a sophomore). But the Titans have an intelligent team and get solid inside play from Hilltop Tournament MVP John Hardy and forwards Charlie Abbott and Stu Talley.
"We're playing unselfishly with the ball right now," Warren said. "If we play more intelligent defense and rebound better, we could have a shot at it."
- North Torrance (4-7)--The Saxons return three starters from the squad that went 7-16 last year: forward Albert Hanneman and guards Roger Yamanaka and Kikuo Nishi.
But Coach Jim Nielsen, who spent the last five years coaching at Mira Costa, has been getting scoring punch from newcomers to the starting lineup: 6-2 forward Dean Taylor and 6-3 center Steve Tessiro. And the Saxons compensate for lack of height with an athletic bench, featuring 6-foot guards Ronald Mataali and Anthony Anetema. Both starred on North's football team last fall.
- South Torrance (5-8)--The Spartans were winless in league play last year, but first-year Coach Doug Mitchell hopes to turn that around with three returning starters.
Six-foot-6 center Kevin Root leads the core of returnees, which also features forward Steve Van Dyke and point guard Pat Lindsey. South has help on the frontline from Steve Fernandez and in the back court from Larry Modena.
- Torrance (3-10)--Forward Brian Sabunas is the sole returning starter for the Tartars, and he's a dangerous shooter from behind the three-point stripe. Unfortunately, he's about the only consistent offensive threat in Torrance's lineup.
Coach Carl Strong's Tartars knocked off San Pedro in the first round of the Pacific Shores Tournament but after a second-round loss to Carson it's been all downhill for Torrance. They suffered through a tough preseason and are coming into league play off back-to-back losses to Lakewood and Redondo.
- Morningside (8-6)--Morningside, in the words of rival Coach Rick Sabosky of El Segundo, has "tradition and talent." They've won the Pioneer three years in a row, and Monarch co-Coach Carl Franklin says his team has the tools to do it again.
"We're more intense this year, even though we lack experience," Franklin said. "We're better all-around and we're prepared for league."
Heading the Morningside attack is forward Kevin Lilley, named to the Malibu-Palisades Classic all-tournament team. He's flanked on the front line by center Jeff Crowe and forwards Eddie Scott and Marvin Franklin (MVP of the St. Monica Tournament). Senior guard Dwayne Lucas, voted to the Tournament of Champions all-tourney team, controls Morningside's back court.
He should get help from 6-2 guard Kenny Jones, who should be ready for the league opener after fracturing his foot while playing free safety for Morningside's football team.
- El Segundo (5-7)--The Eagles hope to make the playoffs for their third consecutive year but got off to a bad start, losing four games without football players Heath Jones (6-5 center) and Dave Lubs (6-foot point guard) and injured star forward Shawn Foster.
But since Foster returned, he has averaged 22 points per game. Jones is averaging 12 rebounds and Lubs 5 assists. Guard Jeremy Argo and forward Paul Zecchini have been contributing on offense.
Sabosky says the Eagles' unselfishness is one reason they could battle Morningside for the Pioneer title.
"In football, most players are just happy to do their jobs, unless they're William (The Refrigerator) Perry," Sabosky said. "But in basketball, guys always want to shoot-shoot-shoot and dribble behind the back, and that's what makes coaching basketball delicate.
"That's why it's nice to have guys like Jones and Lubs and Zecchini to do the dirty work. The little things that don't show up in the box score--like taking a charge, getting run over to get the ball back, diving and scrounging on the floor for loose balls."
- Leuzinger (6-3)--First-year Coach Phil Sherman took over an Olympian squad that went 1-19 last year. This year Leuzinger is off to an eye-opening 6-3 start.
Returning starter Roger Thomas and transfer guard Ben Stokes give the Olympians quickness at the guard spot, and Leuzinger has height in the front court, which is anchored by 6-6 center Albert Kiialuhuea and forward Reggie Hamilton. Forward Keith Pullen rounds out the starting five.
- Redondo (6-7)--Redondo returns three starters and brings up a talented core of players who won the Pioneer League junior varsity title last year. Third-year Coach Steve Shaw has height in his starting five (his front court and one of his guards are over 6-3).
Junior Mike Houck (an all-El Segundo Kiwanis Tournament selection) controls Redondo's offense with back-court skills. He's joined at guard 5-11 Jaysen Surber, a streak shooter with three-point range who was a first-team all-Pioneer League selection last year.
Aaron Haynes is the returning starter at forward, but he's slow coming back from double arthroscopic knee surgery that he underwent during the summer. He's flanked on the front line by last year's J. V. stars, 6-3 forward Tom Doyle and 6-4 center Dave Felix.
- Miraleste (3-7)--Todd Mirsky's Marauders have a young team in a season that will be their last due to Miraleste's closure by the Peninsula Unified School Board. So for the Marauders, the future is now.
But one young player who has a bright future (although likely at another Peninsula school) is 6-5, 230-pound freshman Sean Goodwin. Sophomore swingman David Terrell, 6-3, is another talented youngster, and he was voted to the all-tournament team of Miraleste's Hilltop Classic.
Senior John Woodward, junior forward Scott Klein and center John Caple make up Miraleste's tall front court. Senior guard Scott Snyder and junior Mike Booth join Terrell in the back court.
- Inglewood (7-6)--Vince Combs' Sentinels are riding a three-game winning streak, and they'll need the momentum in the tough Ocean League. Beverly Hills (14-1), with an upset over defending state champion Mater Dei, is favored, but they'll need to fight back Santa Monica, Inglewood and Hawthorne.
"If we play together with more intensity and execution, we may have something to say about it," Combs said.
Inglewood is led by 6-5 forward Harold Miner, an all-tournament pick at the Tournament of Champions, who is averaging 24 points and 11 rebounds per game. Penetrating 6-1 point guard Bobby Sears helms the Monarchs' offense.
"Miner does everything so quietly you don't realize he's on the court until you look up and see he has 25 points," Combs said. "He can rebound, steal, make a basket or an assist--whatever it takes to win. He's undoubtedly one of the top juniors in the nation."
- Hawthorne (6-5)--Coach Richard Wells has an inexperienced team that has a height disadvantage in the Ocean League. But it's dangerous on the fast break and boasts several deluxe outside shooters.
Hawthorne has 6-4 forwards Tony Scott, a part-time starter on last year's Cougar team that made the Southern Section playoffs, and Randy Lavender, a tremendous leaper.
- Mira Costa (3-7)--The inexperienced Mustangs, 4-18 last year, will take their knocks this year in league play, although first-year Coach Bruce Colin has a quick, aggressive and intelligent squad.
The Mustangs' strength lies mostly in their front court. Five-11 forward Ryan Campbell is Mira Costa's main scoring threat, and he's joined by returnees Keith Scoggins (6-1) and Don Lucero (6-2) at forward and Dave Ellis (6-3) at center.
- St. Bernard (11-3)--The Vikings enjoyed a successful preseason but will have their hands full when they take on Mater Dei and Bishop Amat in the Angelus League. Regardless, Coach Jim McClune says "it's very balanced this year and everybody's got a shot at knocking each other off."
St. Bernard, which returns four starters, has quickness and a deep bench. The Vikings use up to 10 players in most games.
Their depth paid off when 6-10 center Ed Stokes went down with an injury in the Pacific Shores Tournament. Nonetheless, St. Bernard boasted three players on the all-tournament team--most valuable player Eric Nelson, who is averaging 17 points per game, guard Keith Brown and Stokes' replacement, 6-6 Damon Woodruff.
- Bishop Montgomery (6-7)--Coach Steve Carroll takes a small but quick Bishop Montgomery team into Angelus League play.
Center Andrew Zimmerman is the biggest Knight at 6-7, and he is flanked in the front court by Mike Wright, all-tournament at the Hilltop Classic, and Brian White. Point guard Niu Sale, who starred at tailback in football, guides the offense with guard Tom Aloia on the wing.
Senior guard Mike Campbell and 6-3 sophomore Joe Magyar are scoring threats.
Camino Real League
- Serra (6-6)--Senior swingman James Moses, at 6-7, is tough to stop. He scored a high of 58 points in a game this season, but Serra will have to battle St. Monica for the Camino Real League title.
Six-foot-five forward Gerry Boagni and Reggie Morehead flank Moses on Serra's front line. And Coach George McDaniel has fine guards in three-point threat Deon Figures, who starred at flanker on the Cavaliers' football team, and point guard Alex Mendenhall.
- Chadwick (3-8)--Chadwick School returned from San Francisco and the Chet Carlisle Classic after Christmas and faced Rolling Hills. The result was much like the rest of Chadwick's preseason--a loss.
But the Dolphins could be a factor in the Prep League. Last year Coach Tom Maier's team lost seven preseason games but roared back in league play to a 17-8 overall record, its ninth consecutive Prep League championship and a berth in the Southern Section-1-A semifinals.
Charlton Jackson, a 6-1 senior guard, is the only starter from last year's team. But Chadwick has a tall front line, with senior swingman Mike Faller looking inside the paint for 6-4 forward James Haines and 6-4, 200-pound sophomore center Larry Williams.
- Mary Star (5-5)--Mary Star's slow preseason start may keep it from having a postseason. As a free-lance team, the Stars could have a tough time gaining a playoff invitation without winning most of their remaining games. And that could be a tough order since Mary Star finishes against Orange Lutheran.
Nonetheless, Coaches Charles Johnson and John Bobich skippered Mary Star to the runner-up spot in the Miraleste Hilltop Classic, and the Stars boast a looming presence in the paint in 6-7 center John Glavan.
- Carson (10-2)--The Colts carry over two lettermen but they are good. Forwards Rodney Bowen and Stephen Smith, both 6-3, bear most of Carson's scoring and rebounding loads.
The Colts' quick start bears testimony to Bowen's and Smith's effectiveness. Carson took third place in both the Canyon (Anaheim) Christmas Tournament and the Pacific Shores Tournament, losing only to Palos Verdes and Lynwood. But Coach Richard Masson says the Colts will need more defense if they're to challenge Manual Arts for the Marine title.
Carson has fine players in 6-5 Damon Estell and 6-2 junior Greg Lindsey. But junior point guard Odis Smith, whom Masson was counting on for floor leadership, has played only four minutes due to a broken ankle.
- Banning (6-5)--The Pilots have a small and slow team, with no starter above 6-3. The tallest is senior forward Terry Newman, who is Banning's main scoring threat.
Lack of height could be a problem in the Marine League, where most teams will dwarf the Pilots. First-year Coach Gary Cain will try to use Banning's depth and defense to offset the size and speed problems.
- San Pedro (3-5)--Pirate Coach Jack Kordich was left with an empty feeling last year when his five starters graduated from his Marine League champion team. And he felt even more empty when forwards Deon Lewis, Joey Hay and John Wells (San Pedro's biggest inside threat) went down to injuries.
But the Pirates have had time to heal. And they're strong at guard with fine perimeter shooters in Kevin Thompson and Chris Davenport.
- Gardena (2-5)--First-year Coach Bill Hughes' team could pose a problem for some Marine League contenders. The Mohicans are inexperienced, and four of their starting five are juniors.
But the Mohicans also have more height than any other Marine League team than Manual Arts, if you don't count junior guard Chris Thompson. Returning starter Curtis Green, at 6-4, anchors the front line for Gardena, where he's joined by 6-5 Leslie Higgins and 6-6 Richard Nelson.
- Westchester (12-1)--In what could be the toughest prep basketball league in the state, Westchester will meet its most formidable competition of the year. And although the Comets won 12 straight games while mowing through the fields of the Tournament of Champions and Las Vegas Prep Holiday Classic, they folded to Manual Arts, 65-59, Wednesday night.
"If we don't play better than this we're going to get beat a lot," said Westchester Coach Ed Azzam. "If we have an off night in this league we're going to get beat--there are too many good teams."
Azzam was referring to powerhouse Crenshaw, which remains unbeaten and which Azzam says has "up to 10 Division I college prospects."
But Westchester has the talent to stack up against the Central League teams. The Comets have one of the best point guards in California in junior Sam Crawford (16 points, 9.3 assists per game). And 6-7, 210-pound Zan Mason (20.1 points, 8 rebounds per game) is one of the top junior prospects in America. Six-6 senior swingman Michael Brown is averaging 12.6 points and 7.8 rebounds, and the Comets have a flashy 6-6 forward in Renaud Gordon.
"We have as good a chance as anyone to win the league," Azzam said. "If someone would have told me we'd be 12-1 at the start of the season I'd have been happy as a lark. But the most important part of the season is coming right up."