Last season, Huntington Beach, Ocean View and Edison high schools tied for first place in the Sunset League basketball race.
Well, Sunset League basketball fans, get ready to kiss your sister again because the race doesn’t figure to be too much different this season.
“Any of five teams can finish in the top three,” Marina Coach Steve Popovich said.
The reason? Popovich says the league has more returning players than ever before. Edison, Marina, Ocean View and Westminster each has three starters back.
With all the parity, successful teams will have to stay healthy and be consistent, Ocean View Coach Jim Harris said.
“It’s going to be like the ACC or the Big East where every night is a major game,” Harris said. “If you’re not ready to play, or you have a guy hurt, or you have health problems, or just an off night . . . It’s going to be very interesting. You have to be up twice a week, for sure.”
Marina and Edison have the edge on paper. Marina, with the state’s best big man--6-11 junior center Cherokee Parks--is a league front runner. So is Edison, which has the height to contend with Parks.
The Chargers can go 6-10, 6-5 and 6-4 across the front line. The big man is senior Bill Martineau, who averaged 12.8 points and 7.6 rebounds last season.
Don’t count out Huntington Beach. With four starters gone, who should drop into Coach Roy Miller’s lap but transfer student Mustapha Abdi, a 6-4 forward. Abdi averaged 17.7 points for Savanna last season, but increased that to more than 30 points in Savanna’s two playoff games. He was the only sophomore to make the Times’ all-county basketball team.
He teams with senior Stephen Lucas (6-7) to give the Oilers height and power up front.
Ocean View has the league’s best guard in 6-2 1/2 Greg Evans, who has signed with Loyola Marymount.
Fountain Valley figured to have experience at both guard spots. But new coach Gordon Billingsley will be without guard Doug Weaver for the entire season. Weaver, one of the county’s best football receivers, had knee surgery two weeks ago.
Forward Mike Merli (6-4), who led the Barons last year with 16.4 points a game and 7.3 rebounds, returns for his senior season, along with guard Derek Corcoran.
A look at the teams:
EDISON--If you want to find Edison this year, look above the rim. The Chargers have exceptional height and experience at all positions.
“This could be the best team I’ve had at Edison,” said Coach Jon Borchert, who is starting his seventh season at Edison. His team will be strong on the boards, but it remains to be seen how well the players will work together, Borchert said.
Martineau and 5-11 guard Tom Tyler, all-league selections last season, are back.
Martineau, a force inside, has developed some moves but has been bothered by back trouble. “He is one of those kids who has just steadily improved through high school,” Popovich said. “If he can solve his injury problems, he is a real factor.”
Steve Thobe, a 6-5 forward who averaged more than six points and six rebounds last season, is the third returning starter.
Borchert says Brandon Jessie, a 6-4, 200-pound sophomore forward, has the potential to be an all-county player. Dan Lovelady (6.8 points), a 6-2 senior guard, and Todd Smyser, a 6-3 junior, are returning lettermen.
FOUNTAIN VALLEY--The Barons have some size but not much experience or depth. Merli and Corcoran will form the team’s nucleus. There are no other returning lettermen. Merli, a senior forward, averaged 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds last season.
Joining the varsity are forwards Erik Zellmer and Kevin Volpe, and 6-5 center Adam Ziebarth. Team strengths are speed and perimeter shooting. Billingsley, who spent 11 years as a varsity assistant at Fountain Valley, replaces Dave Brown, now the athletic director and boys’ basketball coach at Laguna Hills.
HUNTINGTON BEACH--The league’s surprise team last season, Huntington Beach will be in contention again because the Oilers have two of the strongest forwards in the county--Abdi and 6-4 senior Stephen Lucas.
Lucas, who averaged 11 points and seven rebounds last season, is the team’s only returning letterman. Still, Coach Miller is confident he can go nine deep.
“Last season we played a power game and relied heavily on inside play,” Miller said. “This year will require more motion in the offense and we should have more consistent shooting from outside.”
MARINA--Last year, Parks was a hub with few spokes, but this season Marina has some experienced players to complement him.
Travis Boyd, who transferred from Mater Dei and was eligible for the last three games, returns for his senior season. A good shooter, Boyd (6-0) will provide leadership as a point guard, Popovich said. Starters Darren Fields (6-3) and Thi Nguyen (5-10) also return, along with lettermen Sean Haselrig (6-2), Brant Shelor (6-5) and Tuan Nguyen (5-10).
The Vikings are quick, can use big and small lineups and are counting on the experience gained from last season’s tough schedule.
OCEAN VIEW--The team’s scoring powers, guard Mike Frohn and Times’ all-county center Todd Norman, have graduated from a 19-9 squad. Their supporting cast returns, however. Point guard Evans should improve upon last season’s 10.6 scoring average. Starters Darren Ernst (6-6) and Jim Gwaltney (6-4 1/2) also are back. Together with junior letterman Marcel TenBerge (6-7 1/2), they give the Seahawks some size up front. But don’t mistake TenBerge for Norman. His game is still developing.
Injuries have hampered the Seahawks so far. “We haven’t had a day where all 11 guys were healthy--ankles, broken noses, flu, walking pneumonia,” Harris said. “I hope it’s not characteristic of the team. I hope we get it out of the way early.”
Jim Harris III, the coach’s son, was one of the team’s top eight players, but he broke his foot in a scrimmage this week and will miss at least six weeks.
WESTMINSTER--What kind of squad will the Lions’ have this season?
First clue: The five projected starters are all three-point shooters. Second clue: only one of them is taller than 6-1.
Westminster is going to have trouble improving on last season’s last-place league finish.
Nonetheless, Coach Dick Katz is confident in his team’s shooting ability and thinks his squad could be a spoiler.
Guards Mitch Okur (5-5) and Mike Murphy (6-0) and center Eric Wilkins (6-3) return. Of the three, Okur was the leading scorer with a 7.6-point average. Katz is expecting strong contributions from seniors Dave Rall (6-1) and Eden Yawata (5-9).
HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL PREVIEW ‘89SUNSET LEAGUE
1988-89 Overall, League Records in Parentheses
SCHOOL ’89-'90 COMMENT Edison (15-13, 7-3) Height, maturity and more height Fountain Valley (19-7, 6-4) Solid nucleus returns for new coach Huntington Beach (13-12, 7-3) All-county forward Mustapha Abdi a big addition Marina (10-15, 3-7) Has state’s best center: 6-11 Cherokee Parks Ocean View (19-9, 7-3) Has league’s best guard: Greg Evans Westminster (3-18, 0-10) No starter over 6-1, a 3-point shooting team
Friday: Small Schools