When it comes to boys high school basketball for the 1989-90 season, everything appears to be coming up roses.
That is, the City of Roses--Pasadena.
Cross-town rivals Muir and Pasadena appear to have the top teams in the San Gabriel Valley.
Both have been powers in the valley over the years, but with a surplus of outstanding players returning, Muir seems to be slightly ahead of Pasadena.
As for the overall outlook for valley teams, the forecast may be a little down. It may be difficult for a team to duplicate the success of Glendora, which reached the championship game of the state CIF Division II playoffs last season.
But that doesn't mean that the valley doesn't have top-notch teams again.
In addition to Muir and Pasadena, traditional powers Bishop Amat and Glendora figure to rank among the best. Others in the top echelon of valley teams include West Covina, Pomona, Damien, Diamond Bar, Nogales and Azusa.
Here's a look at the top 10:
1--Muir (Pacific League; 4-A Division)--What a difference a year could make in the fortunes of the Mustang basketball team.
Last season, with an inexperienced team and a first-year coach, the Mustangs struggled to a 10-13 record.
But there were positive signs. The Mustangs showed improvement as the season went along, finishing with a 5-5 record and third place in the Pacific League and reaching the second round of the 4-A Division playoffs.
With four starters returning and added confidence from an impressive summer league season, the prospects appear considerably better for Muir.
The Mustangs are still young, with only two seniors in their starting lineup, but the experience is there.
The leader is forward LaDay Smith, a 6-6 1/2 senior who averaged 16 points last season and has signed a national letter of intent to attend UC Berkeley. "He's a versatile athlete," Coach Craig Noyes said. "He can play anywhere from forward to the point (guard)."
The other starters returning for Muir are juniors Phillip Turner (6-2) at guard, Erid Scott (6-7) at center and Darren Greene (6-6) at forward. Senior Andre Akins (6-3) is also expected to start at guard.
Muir, which will also bring a good forward off the bench in senior Jermaine Davis (6-5), has as much size as any team in the valley and versatility will also be a plus.
"Everybody's interchangeable in our lineup," Noyes said. "With our size we can cause problems and create mismatches for the other team."
2--Pasadena (Pacific League; 5-A)--After years of struggle, there was a renaissance in the Bulldog basketball program last season, and Coach Bill Duwe says it wasn't a fluke.
While the Bulldogs return only one starter from a squad that went 24-3 and reached the 5-AA Division semifinals, the coach said the talent is nearly equal to last season.
"If I didn't have last year's team staring me in the face, I'd say this is the best team I've had in the last five or six years," Duwe said.
It will be led by senior guard Don Mitchell (6-2 1/2, who averaged 14 points and was named to the All-CIF Division I second team last season. "I think he's probably as good an all-around player, offensively and defensively, as there is in the San Gabriel Valley," Duwe says.
Two other key figures are guard Raymond Maberry, a 5-10 junior, and center Todd Lewis, a 6-7 senior who Duwe said is the best inside player the team has had in recent years. Pasadena's twin-post offense also features junior Kenric Marshall (6-3) at center and senior guards Shan Newby and Rey Luna.
Except for the team's inexperience, Duwe said the Bulldogs will be similar to last season.
"We can score and that's one of our big strengths," he said. "We just have to play good defense, and that's something I've always stressed."
3--Bishop Amat (Angelus League; 4-A)--Over the last two seasons under Coach Alex Acosta, the Lancers have been one of the top teams in the valley (43-14 record).
They finished at 16-10 and advanced to the 4-A Division quarterfinals last season, and with two starters returning and five seniors in the starting lineup, Bishop Amat expects to rank among the top teams again.
The Lancer fortunes will revolve around forward Jason Green, a 6-4 senior who averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds last season in earning second team All-CIF Division II honors. He is also a major-college recruit as a tight end in football.
"Jason Green's a real big-time player," Acosta said. "When you have a player like Jason, it just picks up the level of everyone else."
Bishop Amat also has returning starter J. D. Romero (6-5) on its front line along with forward Keith Parker (6-3), and the guards are Marty Avalos (5-10) and Jeff Martin (6-2). The Lancers will play four sophomores, including 6-8 center David Ng and 6-2 guard Randy Edwards.
It will not be Acosta's tallest team, but the Lancers will pose problems with their quickness.
"We have five guys who have the ability to (play well) together, and we have a guy we can go to when we really need a basket," Acosta said.
4--Glendora (Baseline League; 4-AA)--It is the start of a new era at Glendora, where for the first time in four seasons the Tartans will have to adjust to life without 6-8 forward Tracy Murray.
Without a doubt, Murray left an indelible mark on Glendora. Murray, the state Player of the Year who is a freshman at UCLA, completed his high school career with the most points in state history at 3,053 and the highest single-season scoring average at 44.3.
Not to mention what he meant to the success of the Tartans, who were 30-3 and reached the state Division II final--best season in the school's history.
That would appear to leave a sizable void for Glendora. But the Tartans return seven of their top nine players and added players from an undefeated freshman team and a league champion junior varsity squad.
"We have a lot of people back and I think having the exposure from last year and finding out what it takes to succeed is really a tremendous benefit," Coach Mike LeDuc said. "We had the experience of having to play in a lot of do-or-die situations, and that can only help us."
Glendora returns three starters, including forward J. J. O'Laughlin, a 6-3 1/2 senior who averaged 10 points and five rebounds last season and is also a major-college quarterback prospect. The others are forward Corey Smith (6-2) and guard Chris Walker (5-10).
In addition, the Tartans return swing man Randy Rubio (6-1), point guard Chad Gharring (6-1) and center Jay Zuhlke (6-5) and have prospects in freshman Adam Jacobsen at guard and sophomores Tracy Thompson at forward and Scott Jacobsen--Adam's cousin--at guard.
5--West Covina (Sierra League; 5-A)--In their first season after the merging of Edgewood and West Covina high schools, the Bulldogs finished with a respectable 13-11 record and reached the 5-A playoffs.
With three starters returning, including heavily recruited point guard Clyde Jordan, West Covina is aiming for higher ground. The Bulldogs are regarded as the team to beat for the Sierra League title.
The focus will be on Jordan, a 6-6 senior who averaged 16 points and nine rebounds last season and has been recruited by many NCAA Division I schools and has visited Oregon, Pepperdine and Cal State Fullerton.
"He can do everything for us," Coach Ed Coyle said. "He can take the ball inside and rebound and he can shoot from the outside."
The Bulldogs have another outstanding player in senior forward Sherrod Belton (6-4), who averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds last season.
"He's the hardest working player I've ever coached," Coyle says. "If you had 12 Sherrod Belton's on your team, you'd never lose a game."
West Covina has a physical player returning at center in 6-5, 220-pound senior Damien Tate. The Bulldogs will also start junior Mark Whitney (6-4) at forward and senior Paul Ceballos (6-0) at guard, both solid shooters.
6--Pomona (Montview League; 3-A)--First-year Coach Ed Taylor can be excused if he is caught looking ahead to next season.
That's because nine of the team's 12 players are either juniors or sophomores, which should help the Red Devils develop into a division power down the line.
"We look forward to two real solid years," said Taylor, who is returning to coach Pomona after a 15-year absence. "We also have a freshman team that could help us in the future."
In the meantime, Pomona still has the talent to be pretty successful in the interim. The Red Devils, who finished 16-10 and reached the playoffs last season, will be led by junior center Johnny McWilliams (6-6 1/2) who ranked among the valley leaders last season, averaging 24.2 points and 12.2 rebounds.
"You have players who are underdeveloped in high school, but Johnny is developed," Taylor said. "He has a great shooting touch and is very strong inside."
Pomona is also expected to start sophomore Dedrique Taylor (6-2) and junior Darius McJimpson (6-1) at guard and junior forward Ed Comeaux (6-3). Taylor, a floor leader, is the coach's son. The only senior in the starting lineup is forward Milton Hempstead (6-1), and two top reserves are junior guards John Smith and Anthony Jones.
7--Damien (Baseline League; 4-AA)--It was a difficult adjustment for the Spartans in their first season under Coach Mike Seaman a year ago and the result was a less-than-expected 11-13 record.
But with three starters returning and a noticeable change in attitude, Seaman is anticipating a much better result for the Spartans.
"You can just see it at practice," Seaman said. "They've accepted things better and put in the time to make it work."
The Spartans have an outside shooter in guard Kevin Morrison, a 6-1 senior who averaged 17 points and five rebounds last season, and underneath the basket there is 6-7 center Dan Svedas, who averaged 15 points and nine rebounds as a junior. "That's our basic inside and outside game," Seaman said.
Damien has a good passer in guard Leonard Plick, a 5-9 senior who averaged 8.5 assists last season.
The Spartans, who have 11 seniors on their 13-player roster, will also count on seniors Brian Wurtz and Mike Kelly--both 6-4 forwards--and guard Alvin Eustaquio (6-1).
"The guys have played together for years," Seaman said. "It's just a matter of adjusting to our system. If we play together we can beat anyone in our league."
8--Diamond Bar (Sierra League; 5-A)--The Brahmas have consistently been one of the top teams in the Sierra League, and that doesn't figure to change much this season.
The only question in Coach Bill Murray's mind is how fast the team can develop after posting a 13-11 season and reaching the playoffs last year.
"I think we have better talent than we had last year, but whether we can come together as well we don't know," Murray said.
Diamond Bar has a pair of strong inside players for its double-post alignment: Damien Hyams, a 6-3 junior who averaged 15 points last season, and Ken McDaniel, a 6-6 senior.
The Brahmas also expect to start junior point guard Tre Wheat (5-11) and seniors Mike Peterson (6-3) and Ryan Schatz (6-2) on the wings.
The team has two top reserves in juniors Oliver Chamberlain (6-4) at center and Chad Matz (5-11) at guard.
"Realistically, we're shooting for the playoffs," Murray said. "We want to be one of the top teams in our league, and I think we have the talent to do that."
9--Nogales (Sierra League; 5-AA)--With no starters returning from a team that was 19-8 and reached the 5-AA playoffs, Coach Mike Southworth will be nearly starting from scratch in many respects.
After all, the Nobles return only one player who saw noteworthy playing time last season, and six of their top 10 players are juniors.
Despite the losses, though, Nogales still has the personnel to have another strong campaign.
The most experienced returning varsity player is forward Matt Schuler (6-2), who averaged a modest six points and three rebounds last season. Other seniors are forwards Enos Taylor (6-1) and Larry McCarty (6-4) and guard Marcus Mitchell (5-9).
However, the Nobles will probably rely largely on juniors such as center Tally Christopher (6-4), forward Tyrone Edwards (6-3) and guards Caine Wilson (6-4) and Trevin Owens (6-1).
"I'm happy with these kids and it's just a tossup where we end up," Southworth said. "Realistically, we're a year away, but stranger things have happened. This group is the best I've had from a work ethic."
10--Azusa (Montview League; 3-A)--Coach Jerry Searcy realizes that he will have to take the good with the bad this season.
Azusa will have to adjust to life without 6-8 center Tony McGee, who graduated after averaging 25.4 points last season and earning All-CIF honors.
On the bright side, McGee is the only starter who graduated from a team that finished 15-9 and reached the 3-A playoffs. So the Aztecs expect to be competitive again.
The offensive leader should be 6-1 senior forward Lord Nobles, an all-league selection last season who averaged 19.1 points. Another good scorer is junior point guard Gerald Willis (5-10), a floor leader who averaged 13 points and 5.4 assists.
Two other starters returning are forward Brandon Noriega (6-3) and guard Larry Sierra (5-11), an outstanding wide receiver in football. The only newcomer in the starting lineup will be center Chris Campbell (6-3), an untested but talented junior.
"I wish we were bigger, but we're not," Searcy said. "But I can say that without a doubt it's the quickest team I've ever had and we have very good shooters in Lord Nobles and Gerald Willis."