Northwest Valley Conference
North Valley League
COACH: Marc Paez, 1st season
LAST SEASON: 21-3; 1st in league, 10-0
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Paez is in an enviable position. His toughest job as a first-year coach might be finding enough playing time for his many standout players. Included in the probable starting lineup are two players who signed Division I letters of intent earlier this month: shooting guard Eddie Hill (Washington State) and center Trenton Cornelius (Washington). Hill, a good perimeter shooter, averaged 12.6 points last season as a part-time starter, and Cornelius (6-7) stands as tall as anyone in the area. Andre Chevalier, expected to be a catalyst at point guard, is ineligible pending a review of grades. Pat McCook, a 6-3 junior guard, has been a pleasant surprise in summer-league play and will be a heavy contributor. The summer-league progress of sophomore Brandon Martin, the junior varsity MVP last season, has made him a starter at forward. Bobby McRae, a starter at forward, has recovered from a broken hand suffered in the off-season and needs to provide inside strength. Kenny Collins, a junior transfer from league rival Taft, will spell Hill, Chevalier and McCook at guard.
OUTLOOK: Cleveland spent the majority of the 1988-89 season ranked No. 2 in the state but was ousted by Fairfax in the 4-A Division quarterfinals last season. It was the Cavaliers’ first loss at home all season and snapped an 18-game win streak. Cleveland will again receive most of its early challenges from its preconference tournament schedule and should sweep league opponents for the second consecutive season.
COACH: Bob Johnson, 12th season
LAST SEASON: 13-9; Tied for 3rd in league, 5-5
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Granada Hills lost plenty of size when forwards Alvin Brown and Joey Rosas graduated but pure speed might compensate. The Highlanders, in fact, might be the only team in the league that can run with Cleveland. Jermoine Brantley, a 5-11 guard who averaged 10.6 points last year, is a three-year starter at point guard and can shoot from the perimeter or drive to the basket. Last season, Brantley was better known by the first name of Jamal. Aaron Lattimore, a 6-4 starting swingman who also can play effectively inside or outside, showed flashes of brilliance last season but needs to be more consistent. Osiris Nalls (6-0) has been the biggest eye-opener thus far. “He’s probably the most improved player we have,” Johnson said. Adrian Sellers, a 6-3 junior, was excelled last season on the junior varsity and should make an immediate impact. William Moringlane, a starter on the highly successful football team, will return for his third season on the varsity. Johnson says that Bryan Martin, quarterback on the football team, could be an impact player at swingman, but it is uncertain if he will play.
OUTLOOK: Johnson says that, essentially, it is Brantley’s team. And whether he goes by Jermoine or Jamal, he is the key. “It may seem kind of strange for a 54-year-old coach to just give control of a team to a 17-year-old kid, but Jamal is the guy,” Johnson said. Granada Hills has the speed, but Johnson isn’t sure that’s enough, especially after the Highlanders struggled to beat Poly, 66-60, in their opener Monday. “After that game, we’re bottom of the barrel,” he said in reference to the league picture. “We were awful. I don’t know what we’re going to be like or how good we’ll be.”
COACH: Jim Woodard, 9th season
LAST SEASON: 16-6; 2nd in league, 6-4
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Taft has front-line height in seniors Jason Deyoe (6-8) and Devin Martin (6-7), but a weakness at this juncture is at guard. Replacing All-City selection Dedan Thomas was difficult enough, but then Taft absorbed a big blow when projected starter Kenny Collins transferred to Cleveland and Brandon Bryce, another guard, moved to Northern California. So the Toreadors’ point guard will be Casey Sheahan, a 6-0 sophomore. “He’ll be all right,” Woodard said. “It’s just an experience thing. He’ll get better as the season moves along.” Cornell Hill, a 6-1 junior, will play at off-guard and is easily the quickest player on the team, Woodard said. Eric Dafney, the half brother of former Fremont High and current UCLA player Darrin Dafney, also will contribute. Dafney is an exciting offensive player, but he has a weakness or two. “Defense is a rumor right now,” Woodard said. “He can’t guard his lunch.” James Yoakum, a 6-1 senior, also figures into Woodard’s playing equation.
OUTLOOK: The Toreadors need to grow up fast in tournament play. If they do, Taft might be capable of threatening Cleveland and Granada Hills. However, Deyoe is the lone returning varsity player, averaging 10.0 points and 7.9 rebounds. “Right now, I’d say our strength is rebounding,” Woodard said. “Our weakness is experience.”
COACH: Yutaka Shimizu, 8th season
LAST SEASON: 13-9; Tied for 3rd in league, 5-5
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Kennedy lost its best player, Randy Brown, a Times All-Valley selection, to graduation. His likely replacement is an All-City player too. Garret Anderson, a 6-3 senior, was an All-City baseball player last season and one of the best athletes in school. Anderson averaged 14.0 points as a junior and will need to boost his output for the Golden Cougars to make a run at Cleveland, Taft and Granada Hills. Junior Athesis Harris (6-4), a starter last season, would have started at center but is academically ineligible. “We weren’t big with him,” Shimizu said. “Now, we’re definitely not big.” Beyond Anderson, Kennedy is also inexperienced. Three sophomores of similar size will see extensive playing time. Kenjuan Casey (6-1), Ronnie Gipson (6-1) and Bobby Winn (6-0) have made the team as 10th-graders. Dion Ross, a 6-1 senior, also will play.
OUTLOOK: Each year, Kennedy seems outmanned by at least one team in the league, yet Shimizu manages to make the most of what he has, recording upsets along the way. This season, however, with his team lacking size and experience, Shimizu may be hard-pressed to work his magic again. “We have some players, some senior players, who’ve never played before,” Shimizu said. “We’re just going to experiment with the offensive and defensive combinations and hope that (when conference play begins), we’ve solved some problems.”
West Valley League
El Camino Real
COACH: Mike McNulty, 8th season
LAST SEASON: 11-9; 1st in league, 6-4
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Even though the Conquistadores have just two varsity players back--neither is a starter--the team is nonetheless expected to contend for the league title. Last season, sporadic play at the guard position hurt the Conquistadores’ chances of winning the 3-A Division title; they advanced to the semifinal round before falling to eventual-champion Fremont. This season, the guard tandem of Stephen Lipscomb (5-9) and Todd Orlando (5-10) gives El Camino Real a solid 1-2 punch with ballhandling and outside scoring. Allen Chenen (6-3), who saw some action last season at forward, returns and must provide scoring punch inside. Bertram Mitchell (6-3) is the other returning letterman and is also a key offensive focal point. Scott Huse, a forward, will see extensive court time after playing last season for the junior varsity, which won the West Valley title. Lamont Johnson, a 5-9 senior, will be part of McNulty’s rotation.
OUTLOOK: El Camino Real is not especially tall, nor is there any player who appears able to take command of a game as last year’s 3-A Player of the Year, Brent Lofton, often did. “We’re awful small for a varsity team,” McNulty said. And yet, if Lipscomb and Orlando play as well as expected, the team should give San Fernando a run for the league championship.
COACH: Dick Crowell, 9th season
LAST SEASON: 9-13; 3rd in league, 3-7
PLAYERS TO WATCH: San Fernando has the most experience in the league, which could translate to trouble for the rest of the league. The best news for the Tigers is that Russell Baldwin, ineligible last season, is back and ready to make everyone aware of just what they were missing. “He’s very, very good offensively,” Crowell said. Baldwin (6-4) has scored 27, 24 and 32 points in San Fernando’s past three scrimmages. And bad news for the football team has meant a boon for Crowell. San Fernando’s first-round playoff loss means that quarterback Michael Wynn (6-3) and defensive lineman Lance Whitaker (6-7) are already out for the team. Both played extensively last season. Marco Renteria, a good perimeter shooter and a starter last season, also returns. Errol Garnett, a 6-3 senior, was one of the Tigers’ top reserves last season. Gerald Harris and Gabe Vidana, both juniors, also will contribute.
OUTLOOK: The addition of Baldwin makes the Tigers an instant contender for the league title. Height, comparatively speaking, isn’t a problem. “The whole Valley is small, there aren’t any big teams,” Crowell said. “So I like our chances against ECR, Chatsworth and Canoga.” Any weaknesses? “Quickness,” Crowell said. “We may have trouble with a Cleveland or Granada because of their speed.”
COACH: Jeff Davis, 1st season
LAST SEASON: 2-18; 4th in league, 0-10
PLAYERS TO WATCH: After a dismal season, things are looking brighter for the Hunters, Perhaps at least in morale and enthusiasm. “We have a lot of quickness, a lot of speed and a lot of enthusiasm,” said Davis, a longtime assistant at El Camino Real. “We don’t have a lot of height.” Davis might have a lot of shooters, though. Marcus Reed (5-9) has been on a streak in recent scrimmages, scoring 57 points against Van Nuys last week. Reed is a transfer from league rival El Camino Real. Jason Harper (6-0), a projected starter at swingman, can also put up points. Shawn Lewis (6-4), a transfer from Chicago, is the starter at center. Lindsay Dunbar, a transfer from talent-rich Fremont, is the backup point guard. Wendell Simpson (5-6), another guard, has a vertical leap of 42 inches, Davis says. Alvin Edington, the City 100-meter C champion, also will see plenty of playing time. Damon Smith, a 6-1 transfer from Oakland, is critical to the equation. “He’s our best rebounder, a very good athlete and the key to this team,” said Davis.
OUTLOOK: It might take some time for the individuals to meld, Davis said, because so many are transfers, but if they do, he is optimistic. “If we do what we do well, we’ll be OK,” Davis said. “But we have to set the tempo, we have to push the ball.”
COACH: Gary Shair, 26th season
LAST SEASON: 12-9; 2nd in league, 5-5
PLAYERS TO WATCH: The most experienced coach in the Valley has seen better days. It was bad enough knowing that he had no returning starters from last year, then Shair lost six players to academic eligibility. Shair then hit the recruiting trail, combing the Chatsworth hallways and P. E. classes. It will be a long season. “We’re hurting,” he said. “We have nothing coming back.” Two sophomores, Eric Isaac and Chris Dunbar, are projected starters at guard. Delvon Hardaway and Rayna Stewart, two starters from the football team, are late arrivals but should be impact players. Eric Berg, Robert Hall, Eric Daniels and Darrel Porter also will play, Shair said.
OUTLOOK: With Canoga Park making improvement in several areas, Chatsworth may spend most of the season looking up at the rest of the league. “We’ve always had at least one guy back,” Shair said. “We’re as down as we have ever been.”
Valley Pac-8 Conference
East Valley League
COACH: Howard Levine, 4th season
LAST SEASON: 17-4; 1st in league, 9-1
PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Lancers lacki a big man but that shouldn’t stop them from winning another league title. Leading the way are returners Setro Terzian (6.0 points, 5.8 rebounds), a 6-2 third-year starter who played a role in Grant’s trip to the Sports Arena two seasons ago, and 6-0 Keith Weinstein (6.7 points), Grant’s sixth man last season. Both are shooters, especially Terzian, whose three-point bombs in early scrimmages have made Levine smile. Weinstein has recovered from an off-season knee injury. “Weinstein can light it up,” Levine said. The point guard is JoJo Halberstad, a 5-10 senior who returns from last season. In the front court, Levine will play 6-2 post player Billy May, yet another returner. There are high hopes for 6-2 junior forward Rene Delahoya, the league MVP on the B team last season. Also down low, look for 6-4 bookends Sean McMahon and Brunell Mori. “We go about eight deep,” Levine said. “We’ve got some people who can play.”
OUTLOOK: The question is not will Grant win the East Valley League. The question is will the Lancers beat rival North Hollywood in their only conference showdown Jan. 17 at Grant? Levine hesitates to say whether Grant will have the firepower to do so. In the meantime, he says that “we have some shooters who want to play hard.” The weakness? “Size in the middle,” Levine said. Still, Grant should have a banner season once again.
COACH: Jay Werner, 2nd season
LAST SEASON: 11-11; Tied for 2nd in league, 5-5
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Three players return from a solid team. The problem is, the Parrots lost six players, including all five starters. But Werner said that what they lack in on-court experience, they make up for in quickness and speed. Running the point is 5-11 Jason Wilson, a senior. Werner also likes three-year varsity forward Marvin Perkins (6-1). Rounding out the starting five are 5-11 senior shooting guard Art Granado, 6-2 senior center Victor Rios and 5-10 junior swingman Marco Torres. The team lost firepower with the graduation of Scott Cooper (19.1 points) and Scott Bruner (15.1). But a good showing in a six-point loss Monday to Granada Hills, which is ranked third in The Times’ preseason Valley poll, gives the Parrots reason for hope.
OUTLOOK: The team’s fortunes rest with the defense, Werner said. Poly employs a man-to-man defense and this season’s team is better suited for that style than last season’s. “We’ll play better later on,” Werner said. Which, he hopes, will come in the playoffs.
COACH: Alan Bennett, 1st season
LAST SEASON: 9-12; Tied for 2nd in league, 5-5
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Bennett is calling his first season a “rebuilding year to build continuity.” He has some seniors in his backcourt to help him: Jason Gudvi, a 6-1 shooting guard, and Link Polk, a 5-10 point guard. Other seniors who will play include 6-0 guard Mark Bird, a ballhandler and shooter, and 6-2 forward Chris Curry. The remainder of the squad is composed of juniors. A big front line includes 6-4 forward Kevin Horton, who “doesn’t have much experience but is a pretty good player,” according to Bennett. Joining Horton is 6-5 junior Ignaccio Esteeva and 6-4 junior Noah Kirshbaum. Bennett said that his regular rotation may run nine deep, but he would like to play all 12 players in any given game. “My philosophy is if a kid plays hard in practice, he should be given a chance to play,” he said.
OUTLOOK: Birmingham has the size to challenge for a playoff berth. But Bennett downplays such talk. “They’re really new to me and we’re really behind,” he said. “We just put in our zone offense and zone defense the other day.” The coach adopts a wait-and-see attitude: “If we are successful, we won’t know until January. We’re all new.”
COACH: Larry Link, 1st season
LAST SEASON: 3-13; 4th in league, 1-9
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Link, in his first season at Sylmar after coaching at Hamilton, thinks the biggest problem with the Spartans might have nothing to do with basketball. “The tradition at Sylmar is that basketball seems to be a brief transition from football to track season,” he said. He’s out to change that--with the help of 6-1 returning senior swingman Keith Bright and possibly 6-4 big man London Woodfin, a football player who has been slowed by a tender knee. “We don’t have a lot of shooters,” Link said. One player who could be a surprise package is 6-2 senior forward Donovan Walker, who has above-average quickness. Link also said that 6-2 junior Jason Miles is “capable of being very good.” At point guard, 5-11 senior Chad Gillis is listed as the starter. But what Link likes most are his hard-working seniors: guard Jason Burd, guard David Salazar and forward Wes Hebner.
OUTLOOK: The talk from Link is cautious: “We have nice kids. Many are just learning the game.” The problem, though, said Link, is as much mental as physical. “There has to be a tradition for winning,” he said, “and they don’t know what it takes yet. They don’t know how to win yet. It’s an attitude. But we’re gonna teach them.”
COACH: Steve Miller, 5th season
LAST SEASON: 15-5; 1st in league, 10-0
PLAYERS TO WATCH: It will be difficult to improve on a flawless league season, but the Huskies have the talent to match last year’s performance--and perhaps make a serious bid for the 3-A title. Leading the way, of course, will be 6-6 center Dana Jones (20.1 points, 13.8 rebounds), one of the City’s top players and who has signed with Pepperdine. Jones will be counted on to rebound, score, bring the ball up and block “millions of shots,” according to Miller. The supporting cast is strong: 6-2 sophomore point guard Robert Hill is very promising, while 5-8 backcourt mate Tommy Byrdsong (8.6 points, 4.5 assists) moves from point to off-guard, where he will thrive, according to Miller. Joining Jones in the front court is 6-3 junior forward Eric Jackson, the league MVP of the junior varsity last season. Swingman Duane Braxton (5.7 assists), a 5-8 sixth man last season, will get plenty of playing time. How deep are the Huskies? Harry Marks (14.5 points, 4.5 assists, 2.7 steals), a 6-3 junior forward who was first-team all-league last season, might not even start, according to Miller. Two more Huskies will see action, including 6-1 off-guard Ray Fisher and 6-7 sophomore Tim O’Malley, who is recovering from a back injury.
OUTLOOK: “Our depth is our strength,” Miller said. The coach remains cautiously optimistic while staring at a possible outstanding season. “It depends on how our chemistry comes together,” he said. And another thing to note: “This year people are coming after us,” Miller said. Still, the Huskies should easily distance themselves from the pack. A City title is possible.
COACH: Jeff Halpern, 2nd season
LAST SEASON: 9-11; 2nd in league, 7-3
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Last season was Halpern’s first losing season in 15 years of coaching, and he is determined to make sure it doesn’t happen again. How? By exploiting the quickness present on this season’s team. The team lacks height, and what little experience the team has comes from returning all-leaguer Mike Basowski (13.0 points), a 6-0 senior guard who is the team’s best outside shooter. Joining Basowski in the backcourt is 5-11 junior point guard James Chen from the junior varsity. Halpern expects big things from 6-2 sophomore forward Marquis Burns, who can handle the ball and play anywhere on the court. Forming the other end of Reseda’s marquee forward tandem is Marquis Wilborn, a 6-3 senior up from the junior varsity. Last season, Wilborn was called up for the playoffs and scored 14 points in a loss to Wilson. Also expected to start is senior Mike Hawkins, who was ineligible last season. Reseda, though, was hurt by the loss of second-team all-leaguer Mario Jordan and Cleveland transfer Antoine Taylor to grades.
OUTLOOK: Halpern said that he plans to use 10 players and run, run, run, making up for a weakness in rebounding. This is one of my best conditioned teams. I really pushed it this year. Hopefully, we’ll be fun to watch.” Reseda doesn’t figure to challenge North Hollywood, but is a candidate for a playoff berth.
COACH: Dennis King, 2nd season
LAST SEASON: 3-14; 3rd in league, 2-8
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Three starters from a team that finished a game out of the cellar last season. King, however, has reason to hope for more this year. The returnees are a big reason: 6-0 senior forward Kenyon Wright (11.6 points) “shoots pretty well,” according to King, and is joined in the frontcourt by junior Lodis Woodmore, a 6-2 forward. Joining that duo is senior Jesse Wallace (9.1 points, 7.4 rebounds), the quarterback of the football team and a swingman who is “not starting yet, but will soon,” according to King. The coach likes his guards, because he has a “team full of them.” At one position will be Maurice McIntosh, an all-league player with the junior varsity. Junior Ryan Bebe (5-8) will run the point. King likes his ballhandling abilities and his intelligence. Seeing time inside will be wide body Ronald Falls (6-1, 205). Football player Gerrit Maxwell is a 6-1 forward who plays good defense, according to King.
OUTLOOK: Monroe should improve on last season’s mark, but whether that will be good enough for a playoff berth is another matter. There is the problem of North Hollywood and Reseda. “At this point, I’d put us third,” King said. “We’re not too bad of a shooting team and our quickness is good. Our big problem is rebounding. We’ll do better. I just don’t know how much better.”
COACH: Ken Lee, 1st season
LAST SEASON: 3-15; 4th in league, 1-9
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Ask Lee what’s up at Van Nuys and he’ll tell you: “Not our height.” He isn’t kidding. Consider a backcourt of guards Robert McGee, a 5-9 returning senior, Russell Nishimoto, a 5-7 junior promoted from the junior varsity, and Sokharith Sary, who measures in at 5-5. The frontcourt doesn’t get much bigger. Lee will go with 5-11 forward James Hooks and Michael Crawford, a promising 6-2 transfer from Palmdale. How about quickness? “We scrimmaged Canoga Park,” Lee said. “And we’re not as fast as they are. We have about average speed.”
OUTLOOK: Said Lee: “We lack experience. We lack height.” What’s left? “We have a lot of desire,” Lee said.
Sherman Oaks CES
COACH: Mac Becker, 6th season
LAST SEASON: 9-12; 4th in league, 4-9
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Becker lost his biggest horse, Marcus Littlejohn, but he believes he might have a few colts that are ready to step forward. Cleve McWright, a 6-5 forward and a part-time starter last season, had 16 rebounds in a game against Faith Baptist on Monday and is probably the team’s preeminent player. “He’s good outside and very quick,” Becker said. Byron Devers, a senior forward, has good scoring touch from the 12-foot range and will help take the heat off McWright inside. Om Reeder, a three-year letterman, and Kevin Campbell are the starters at guard. Campbell, who starts at off-guard, is the team’s primary three-point threat. The star on the horizon, Becker says, is sophomore Raleigh Henderson, a 6-5 sophomore. “He can play inside and outside,” Becker said. “All he needs is seasoning.” Henderson and Devers were co-MVPs of the junior varsity last year.
OUTLOOK: If players progress and gain maturity during the preseason, the team may make a run at league favorite Wilson. Henderson’s emergence might make the difference. “He’s a very, very good player,” Becker said. “And that’s right now. Next year, we may build the whole team around him.”
COACH: Hector Ornelas, 5th season
LAST SEASON: 2-17; 5th in league, 1-12
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Things are pretty bleak when the coach is taller than every player on the team. Especially when the coach stands a whopping 6-foot-2. Such is the case with Ornelas. “We’re small,” he said. “It could be a long year.” If the Dons make any kind of move toward improving on last season’s mark, senior forward Kent Purser will lead the way. Purser, who Ornelas says was the best player on the team last season, averaged 18 points as a junior. Yet he is only 5-11. “When you look at him, you think, ‘There’s no way he can do it,’ ” Ornelas said. “But he does.” The tallest player is Steve Boudreaux, a 6-1 post man. “He’s our center, if that’s what you want to call it,” Ornelas said. Two players from the football team, Darrell Evans and Joseph Letscher, will contribute. Tuyen Tran, a 5-8 point guard who played for the B team last season, will start.
OUTLOOK: Verdugo Hills won two games last season. Bettering that total might be difficult. “We’re going to have another tough year,” Ornelas said. “It all depends on how they play together.