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HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL PREVIEW : La Canada Still Team to Beat in Rio Hondo

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Last season was almost too easy.

The La Canada boys’ basketball team followed its improbable 25-3 record in 1987-88 with an identical mark in 1988-89. The Spartans, under Coach Tom Hofman, breezed unbeaten through the Rio Hondo League to run their two-year league record to 20-0.

“This year, it’s going to be a lot more work,” Hofman said. “I think we can be as good as last year’s team by the end of the season.

“But you don’t really know until your team starts playing.”

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Answers for coaches and fans will be forthcoming this week when Glendale-area teams open their seasons in nonleague games and tournaments.

Every coach, of course, calls his team a contender.

But Hofman, for one, has good reason to be optimistic.

Despite losing two-time All-Southern Section center Chad Givens and All-Southern Section forward Chris Jones, the Spartans still have talent.

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Louis Mieto, a 6-foot-7 center, is the team’s only senior--a pivotal player both in position and potential impact.

Mieto will be surrounded by 6-4 guard Jeff Lord, 6-4 swingman Sean Whiting and 6-0 point guard Jason Berns.

“I don’t know if we’re a 25-win team this year,” said Hofman, whose team will open against Saugus in the Saugus tournament. “The experience factor is going to play a major role in how well we do.

“But I think we’ll be right there.”

So will Crescenta Valley.

The Falcons, under 12th-year coach John Goffredo, were 17-8 overall and 6-4 in the Pacific League, losing in the second round of the playoffs.

Senior Paul Matijasevic, a 6-7 center who averaged 10 points and 12 rebounds, is expected to lead Crescenta Valley, which opens play on Friday against Montebello in the Saugus tournament.

Bruce Jacobson, a senior forward, also returns, but the key for the Falcons might be Lamar Breeding, a 5-8 senior guard who came up from the junior varsity for the final three games last season and led the team in scoring.

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With All-Southern Section guard John Hillman and forward Bill Worden returning, Hoover might also have a shot at a playoff berth.

Hillman averaged 25 points a game and Worden 16 last season as the Tornadoes finished 9-14, 3-7 in Pacific League play.

Coach Kirt Kohlmeier, in his 10th season, will try to blend guard Robert Calvo, forward Mike Evans and center Ed Allison with his high-scoring duo.

Hoover begins its season Friday against Marshall in the Hoover-Burbank tournament.

Glendale should improve last season’s 8-14 finish and 3-7 record in the Pacific League despite a relatively inexperienced team.

Senior guards Brent Overfelt and Brian Porter were only part-time starters, but they join 6-6 junior Jason Harper as Dynamiter veterans.

“I think we shoot real well,” said third-year Coach Bob Davidson, whose team opens against Royal on Friday in the Simi Valley tournament. “But to be effective we have to improve our inside game.

“Defensively, we’re a lot better than we were last year. We’re quicker and more tenacious.”

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Loyola is favored to again win the Del Rey League, but St. Francis should contend for a playoff spot.

The Knights lost all-league guard Tom Freeman from a team that went 14-10 and 4-4 in league play. Dominick Mumolo, a 6-2 senior in his third season with the varsity, is the team’s most experienced player.

The Knights, under third-year Coach John Jordan, open their season on Friday against Burroughs in the Hoover-Burbank tournament.

Eagle Rock will be missing Michael Epps’ 26-points-a-game average, but Coach Bill Whiting said his team has several threats from three-point range.

“Top to bottom, this may be the best team we’ve had here since the 1982-83 season,” said Whiting, who has led the Eagles to the City Section playoffs four times in the last five seasons. “If we can do anything this year, it’s shoot. We can spread it around.”

Senior guards John Padilla and Ruben Del Los Reyes and senior forward Josh Mann lead the Eagles, who finished 13-11 overall and 8-5 in Northern Conference play.

Eagle Rock opens play on Friday against Burbank in the Hoover-Burbank tournament.

Franklin was 14-10 overall, 8-6 in Northern Conference play and narrowly missed a postseason berth after losing a league playoff game to Eagle Rock.

The loss is still fresh in the mind of second-year Coach Robin Cardona, whose team will have to overcome a lack of depth.

Senior Juwan Smith, an All-Northern Conference center who averaged 20 points a game, leads a Franklin team that also includes all-league guard Alphonso Pule. The Panthers will be bolstered by the addition of Brad Mills, who was ineligible last season, and Jose Molina, a good outside shooter up from the junior varsity.

Franklin opened play on Wednesday against Garfield but results of that game were not available at press time.

Marshall, defending champion of the Northeast League, figures to again be a playoff contender. The Barristers, under Coach Henfred Brard, are led by all-league guard Hank Hou, who averaged 16 points a game. Marshall opens its season next Wednesday against Eagle Rock.

Kent Purser, a senior guard who averaged 19 points a game, will be the key player for a Verdugo Hills team looking for respectability.

Pater Noster has four returning players from a team that finished 2-17 overall and 1-11 in Santa Fe League play.

Second-year Coach Michael Smith does not harbor illusions about his team’s chances of knocking off Daniel Murphy or defending league champ Cathedral, but doesn’t rule out a run at third place.

Senior guards Ramy Tardos and Jerome Jaramillo lead Pater Noster, which opens play next Friday against Gladstone High.

Flintridge Prep is hoping many of the players that helped the Rebels win the school’s first Southern Section title in football this season can do the same thing on the basketball court.

Last season, the Rebels were 15-12 overall, 8-2 in Prep League play, losing in the semifinals of both the Southern Section and state playoffs.

Coach Alex Rivera, in his 12th season at Flintridge Prep, has All-Southern Section guard David Swayne and all-league guard Greg Grossman back, along with center Chris Bisgaard and forwards Shaun Kunasaki and Chaka Miller.

“This is one of the best all-around teams I’ve had here,” said Rivera, whose team begins its season on Friday against Brentwood. “When you have everybody back and you were in the semis in state, your expectations are high.”

Hopes are also high at Ribet Academy, the co-champion of the Heritage League last season.

First-year Coach Mike Miller, who led Cathedral to consecutive league championships the last two seasons, says this year’s Ribet Academy team is better than the Fighting Frog team that made it all the way to the Southern Section semifinals in 1988-89.

Ribet has two returning all-league players in senior guard Keith Henderson and forward Chris Maxwell, but Miller said the pair will have to battle for playing time with 6-5 freshman forward Andre English and 6-3 freshmen guard Jason Sanders.

Ribet also will benefit from the addition of 6-2 Jaiquin Moore and 5-8 Jamal Duncan, both junior transfers from Inglewood.

“We want to win the CIF and I think we will. . . ,” Moore said. “I’m going to be extremely disappointed if we don’t play for the CIF title.”


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