Woodbridge High School Coach Bill Shannon started to explain why his basketball team was the favorite to win the Pacific Coast League title this season when he paused and asked who Trabuco Hills Coach Rainer Wulf had picked.
Wulf had predicted Woodbridge would win the league for the third time in the last four years.
"Oh, then Trabuco is by far the favorite," Shannon said. "But then again, if I could predict stuff, I would be in Las Vegas and not coaching here."
Nice try, coach, but your Warriors are the team to beat this season after finishing second to Trabuco Hills last season.
Just ask the league's other coaches.
"Woodbridge is a head above everyone," Wulf said. "The biggest difference between Woodbridge and us is that they have experience in the front line and we don't, and we have an experienced backcourt and they don't."
Orange Coach Don Burnette said, "Woodbridge is loaded. They have guys who won't play for them that would probably start for me."
From Costa Mesa Coach Dean Cooper: "Trabuco Hills can light it up from three-point range and that will make them tough, but Woodbridge is going to be the toughest with all its people back. They have an outstanding program."
Woodbridge returns six players, including starters Joe Cohen, Romalis Taylor and Bryant McLemore from a team that finished 9-13 overall and 7-3 in the league. Cohen, a 6-3 senior, averaged 16 points a game and Taylor and McLemore, 6-3 juniors, averaged eight and six points, respectively.
And what about the seven players lost to graduation?
No problem. Shannon just promoted seven players from last season's junior varsity team that won the league championship.
That's how it's done at tradition-rich schools. The Warriors have a 27-3 league record in the league the last three years. They won the league title in 1987 and '88. They were the state 2-A champions in 1987 and runner-up the next year.
"We're shooting for our fifth year in a row in the playoffs," Shannon said.
Trabuco Hills lost leading scorer Rick Swanwick to graduation, but guards Randy Kriech and Tim Manning return from last season's team that reached the state 3-A final.
The Mustangs, 25-7 overall and 9-1 in the league last season, also picked up Beau Hossler, a 6-2 swingman who transferred from Laguna Hills.
"There's not a better backcourt in Orange County," Wulf said. "Those three are all seasoned players.
"At times we could have five guards on the floor. People say we will have matchup problems, but so will other teams because of our speed and quickness."
Wulf said there's no pressure to repeat as league champions. Everyone is too busy watching the school's football team try to win its second consecutive Division VIII football championship.
"No one expected us to do what we did last year," Wulf said. "I told them they had a shot to win a league championship again. But with our football team winning, a lot of fans think if you just predict it, it will happen."
Here's what's happening in the league:
COSTA MESA--Cooper hopes one returning starter and two transfers will make his second season as coach easier than his first.
But he doesn't expect any miracles.
Leading scorer Tim Nguyen (22 points) graduated and only one starter, guard Bret Dieball, is back from last season's 4-17 team. Costa Mesa finished fifth in the league at 2-8.
Dieball, a 5-10 senior, started the second half of the season and averaged 12 points a game.
Cooper said transfers Xavier Hana, a 6-2 forward, and Ryan McEvoy, a 6-0 guard, will give the Mustangs the depth and quickness they lacked last season. Hana transferred from Valencia and McEvoy moved from New Jersey.
With a short lineup, the Mustangs will run a fast-break offense. But they need rebounds to run, and Cooper has switched from a man-to-man to a matchup zone defense in hopes of cutting taller teams down to size.
LAGUNA BEACH--Leading scorers John Trevino (16 points) and Dain Blanton (15) return from last season's 10-13 team, but Coach Ed Bowen promises the Artists will spread the scoring around this year.
"Last season, we built everything around Blanton and Trevino," Bowen said. "This year, everyone can pop it in. We'll be 10 times stronger off the bench. Last season, we had only five or six (key) players."
And the player who will be spreading the ball around for the Artists will be 5-11 point guard Josh Borell, one of eight varsity players up from last season's junior varsity team. Borell averaged 10 points a game last season.
LAGUNA HILLS--The Hawks, who have never won a league title, have a new coach who knows all about championships. Dave Brown replaces Joe Reid after leading Fountain Valley to seven Sunset League titles in his 20 years at the school.
But don't expect too much from Brown and the Hawks right away. They lost 10 players, including the top two scorers, from last season's 16-9 team. Chris Sheff, a four-year starter who averaged 18.7 points, has graduated and Hossler transferred to Trabuco Hills.
Brown will build around Pat Nelson, a 6-4 forward and the only returning starter, and reserves Al Saldana and Todd Peterson.
ORANGE--The Panthers find themselves in a similar situation as Costa Mesa--only one returning starter from a 4-18 team and a second-year coach trying to replace 12 players who have graduated.
Carlos Duran, a 5-10 point guard, returns for the Panthers, who finished last in the league at 1-9. Duran, a junior, averaged seven points and three assists a game.
"We'll do what we did last year," Burnette said. "We'll play a little better defense and take care of the ball on the press, which Carlos does really well."
TRABUCO HILLS--The Mustangs lost Swanwick, but don't be surprised if Kriech, Manning and transfer Hossler pick up the scoring slack.
Swanwick, a 6-10 center who averaged 20.3 points last season, is now a redshirt at UC Irvine.
But with Kriech (13.7 points), Manning (10.2) and Hossler (14), Wulf has leadership and three-point shooting threats in the backcourt.
Wulf will have to do without Manning and Jim Farbaniec, a 6-4 center, for the first five games. Both are playing for the Mustangs' football team.
In the meantime, Khoa Tran, a 5-9 transfer from Westminster, will fill in for Manning and Brian Sawa, a 6-2 senior, will replace Farbaniec.
WOODBRIDGE--Shannon always schedules a tough nonleague schedule and this year is no exception with games against Estancia, Centennial, Corona del Mar, Mission Viejo and a trip to Las Vegas for a holiday tournament.
"It's a brutal schedule," he said. "We played a tough preseason last year and it really paid off for us in the league."
Shannon said the Warriors have more experience and depth than any team he has coached.
"Even when we won state and were runner-up, we didn't have people from top to bottom who could contribute," he said.
HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL PREVIEW '89 PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE
1988 Overall, League Records in Parentheses
SCHOOL '89-'90 COMMENT Costa Mesa (4-17, 2-8) One returning starter, but two key transfers Laguna Beach (10-13, 4-6) Top two scorers return Laguna Hills (16-9, 7-3) Dave Brown replaces Joe Reid as coach Orange (4-18, 1-9) Climb out of cellar is a steep one Trabuco Hills (25-7, 9-1) Strong backcourt will be key to title defense Woodbridge (9-13, 7-3) Three returning starters give Warriors the edge
Tuesday: Sea View League