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CHANNEL LEAGUE BASKETBALL PREVIEW : Talent Spread Among 8 Teams

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The big names are Eric Thomas, Jeff Oliver, Matt Purdy, and Mike Spears. But the Channel League’s basketball talent won’t end with those names this season.

For the first time in recent years, soft jump shots and stingy defenses will be scattered throughout the league.

“This is going to be a year when anyone can get knocked off anywhere down the line,” Buena High Coach Glen Hannah said.

Santa Barbara Coach Bob Purdy, whose team figures to do most of the clubbing, believes the league could be one of the strongest in the Southern Section.

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“I don’t know who will be at the bottom of the league, but they’ll be very strong and probably over .500,” Purdy said.

Purdy’s team will likely be at the top. Santa Barbara (15-10, 10-4 in league play last season) is loaded with a large front line and a talented group of juniors. The team finished in the top eight among 126 schools at the L. A. Games.

“If they put it all together, they will be very tough to beat,” Rio Mesa Coach Steve Wolf said.

Santa Barbara is led by Matt Purdy, a 6-foot-6 junior who averaged 14 points and nine rebounds last year. The team also has 6-6 senior Jesse Turner (10 points, six rebounds) and 6-6 junior David Palmer in the middle.

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But Bob Purdy hasn’t cleared space in the trophy case yet. The third-year coach is concerned that his son Matt and point guard Simon Banks, starters on Santa Barbara’s Division II semifinalist football team, might not be on the basketball court until Dec. 13.

“It’s going to slow us down a little,” Purdy said.

It likely won’t keep the Dons from their fourth consecutive playoff berth. Santa Barbara lost in the first round last year and reached the quarterfinals the previous two seasons. “I do have some good vibrations,” Purdy said.

Buena and Rio Mesa will also do some shaking. Buena was 21-5 last season, losing to Capistrano Valley in the 5-A semifinals. But the fast-breaking Bulldogs seldom allow a league race to bypass them.

Only two players return, but Buena fared well in a similar situation last season, thanks in part to its up-tempo style. Also, the Bulldogs can rely on players from a 17-6 junior varsity team.

“We had a lot of kids come through for us last year,” Hannah said. “We’ve been lucky in that respect through the years, and it looks like we’re there again.”

The two returners, starters Jeff Oliver (16.8 points, 6.7 assists) and Darren Shearer (8.9 points), are quality players. Oliver, a point guard, was a Times All-Ventura County selection.

“Oliver is extremely tough to defend,” Hueneme Coach Howard Davis said.

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Oliver, who signed a letter of intent with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, will direct an offense that must overcome the graduation of all-county selection Adan Valencia, all-league forward Matt Anderson and Troy Erickson.

Valencia averaged 16 points and was second in the county with 11 rebounds a game. Anderson averaged 12 points and Erickson was Buena’s top defensive player.

“I think if we really play well, we’ll be at the top fighting for a playoff spot,” Hannah said.

Rio Mesa (21-5, 13-1), the defending champion, is again a contender despite losing all but one key player from last year’s 5-A quarterfinal team.

But that one returning player is Eric Thomas, a 6-6 senior who averaged 16.3 points and 9.5 rebounds and was a Times All-Ventura County selection for the third consecutive season. Thomas, who has signed with New Mexico State, could carry the Spartans.

“We’re real young,” Wolf said. “If we mature, we could be among the top three.”

Eric Dyer, a 6-6 forward, will help relieve some of the pressure on Thomas in the middle. And Wolf is pleased with the performance of 6-2 point guard Manuk Kayoaglu, who will run the team’s control offense.

Hueneme (6-15, 3-11) struggled through yet another losing season last year, but may be the most improved team in the league. Davis, the second-year coach, expects the Vikings to post their first winning season in at least nine years.

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“I would be really disappointed if we didn’t have a winning record,” Davis said.

With Spears in the lineup, it should be difficult for Hueneme not to finish better than .500. Spears, a 6-6 senior, averaged 11.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 4.5 blocks last season and is one of the top players in the county. He is a returning starter, as are Giovanni Guese, a 6-3 guard, and 6-1 forward Mel Nunnery.

"(Spears) has worked really hard in the off season and improved dramatically,” Davis said.

So has Hueneme, which could be in the playoff hunt at season’s end.

Oxnard (6-17, 2-12) has its share of fine athletes, but will struggle with a small and inexperienced lineup. The Yellowjackets have only one player taller than 6-3 and will suit up six juniors on a nine-player team.

Therefore Oxnard will rely on quickness. The backcourt will likely consist of Yusef Sharp, a 5-10 point guard, and Antonio Williams, a 6-1 shooting guard. The front line will consist of 6-3 senior Bryant Taylor, an honorable-mention all-league selection last season, 6-5 senior Quincy Johnson and 6-3 senior Nazario Lopez.

Ventura (10-13, 5-9) will have its third coach, Dan Larson, in as many years. “It’s tough for the kids because they’re trying to learn their third program in three years,” Larson said.

The Cougars’ tallest player is only 6-4, and just one letterman returns. But they remain optimistic under Larson, who graduated from Ventura in 1978 and has brought an emphasis on defensive pressure from his four-year stint as coach at Serra High in San Mateo.

“I think we’ll be a tough defensive team,” Larson said. “We have some quickness, so I expect to run the break a little bit, too.”

Ventura is counting on leadership from David Rea, a 5-10 senior guard, and scoring underneath from 6-2 senior Kevin Kiech.

San Marcos (6-16, 4-10), which won’t have a senior in its lineup, will likely have to wait another year before becoming a contender. “We’re very young, but looking to improve,” Coach Jeff Lavender said.

Sophomore Rob Ramaker, a 6-8 center, averaged nine points last year and Zak DeMatteo--the team’s second-leading scorer at 12 points a game--also returns. The Royals will have players from a 17-6 junior varsity team.

The question isn’t whether Dos Pueblos (13-10, 7-7) has talent, but whether the Chargers can overcome the adversity of its fourth head coach in four years and the threat of the school’s closure.

If so the Chargers, led by Chris Gaines, will be tough to beat.

Gaines, a 6-6 senior, averaged 14 points last year as Dos Pueblos narrowly missed a 3-A playoff berth. Gaines will get help inside from Tom Carr, a 6-5 forward.


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