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FREEWAY LEAGUE : Sunny Hills Has the Sleekest Look in This Slow-Moving Traffic

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It’s no secret that Freeway League boys’ basketball teams haven’t fared well in nonleague competition lately.

Sunny Hills and Fullerton high schools, the league co-champions last season, won only five of 25 nonleague games in 1989-90. Only Troy, which tied Buena Park for third place, finished the regular season with a .500 record overall.

And this year entering Wednesday’s games, the league’s six teams were 6-18.

“It’s not a league that is really feared,” said T.J. Hardeman, in his first season as Troy coach after nine years at Paramount. “But there is competition. I think anyone can beat anybody, so it should be real fun.”

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Freeway League coaches have a variety of explanations for the apparent downturn:

--Coaching turnover: Only Sunny Hills Coach Steve White, in his 15th year, has coached more than three years in the league. Troy and Sonora each have had three coaches in four years.

--Tough schedules: Many of the teams are playing against schools such as Cerritos, Canyon, Estancia and Woodbridge that have large enrollments and/or strong basketball programs

--Priorities: “I don’t think our league looks to the December games as important as the January games,” White said. “Realistically, we don’t have the bodies that some of those other schools do.”

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But the consensus is that Sunny Hills has more than enough bodies to win a fourth consecutive league title. The Lancers are the tallest, quickest and most experienced team--they have all their starters back from the team that shared the title last season.

“They’re in a league by themselves, at least in our league,” La Habra Coach Frank McCarroll said.

A closer look at the teams:

BUENA PARK

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Coach: Ed Matillo (third year).

1989-90 record: 12-13, 5-5 in league.

Returning lettermen: Six.

Returning starters: Three. Top returners: Richard Harvey (F, 6-5, Sr.); Prentice Johnson (G, 6-0, Sr.); Brian Baylor (G, 6-3, Jr.)

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Top newcomers: Angel Barrios (F, 6-2, Jr.); Chris Stone (G, 6-2, Soph.)

Outlook: Despite losing two all-league players (Ray Lanier and Donyell Collins) to graduation, Matillo likes what he has left. Harvey, also an all-league selection, returns for his second varsity season and Johnson returns for his third. Add to that Barrios and Stone, who played on Buena Park’s league champion junior varsity team that went 20-2. The Coyotes won their first playoff game in 23 years last season.

FULLERTON

Coach: Chris Burton (third year).

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1989-90 record: 13-13, 8-2 in league.

Returning lettermen: Three.

Returning starters: None.

Top returners: Craig Olson (F, 6-3, Sr.); Chris Hartshorn (G, 6-1, Sr.); Ladd Brunner (G, 6-0, Sr.)

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Top newcomers: Joe Brookman (F, 6-2, Jr.); Mark Van Pertz (F, 6-2, Sr.)

Outlook: Early season injuries to Olson and Hartshorn have hampered the Indians’ progress. Olson, who averaged 28 points in the first two games this season, has a hip pointer and Hartshorn has a sprained ankle. Neither injury is serious but each is disruptive. “It’s just enough to throw you out of sync for a couple of weeks,” Burton said. “It’s hard to put a gauge on where you’re really at.” The Indians advanced to the Division 4-A quarterfinals last season before losing to eventual champion Artesia.

LA HABRA

Coach: Frank McCarroll (fourth year).

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1989-90 record: 7-17, 3-7 in league.

Returning lettermen: Six.

Returning starters: One. Top returners: Jose Amaya (G, 6-0, Jr.); Erik McFrazier (G, 6-2, Sr.), Scott Seminoff (C, 6-4, Jr.)

Top newcomer: Wendell Wickersham (F, 6-5, Jr.)

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Outlook: With four juniors in its starting lineup, La Habra is the least experienced team in the league and McCarroll says it might take a season for the Highlanders to jell. Wickersham, who missed all but four games last season after breaking his thumb the day before the opener, has grown three inches and now is an inch taller than Seminoff, giving La Habra one of its tallest front lines.

SONORA

Coach: Mike Murphy (first year).

1989-90 record: 6-18, 1-9 in league.

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Returning lettermen: Four.

Returning starters: One. Top returners: Roy Park (G, 5-8, Sr.); Andy Lanham (F, 6-3, Sr.)

Top newcomers: Chris St. Clair (G, 5-11, Soph.); James Canday (F, 6-4, Jr.)

Outlook: Despite its poor showing in the league last year, Sonora made the playoffs, losing to Western in the first round. And Murphy, who comes to Sonora after five years at Southern California Christian High School, says it shouldn’t take long to turn the program around. “I like our chances,” Murphy said of his team, which includes four sophomore starters. “I think we’ll be right in the middle of it.”

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SUNNY HILLS

Coach: Steve White (15th year).

1989-90 record: 10-13, 8-2 in league.

Returning lettermen: Eight.

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Returning starters: Five.

Top returners: Dominic Carnesi (G, 5-9, Sr.); Terry Mann (F, 6-6, Jr.); Brett Mitchelson (C, 6-7, Sr.); Kenny Overby (G, 5-11, Sr.); David Ragsdale (F, 6-5, Sr.)

Top newcomers: Scott Paden (C, 6-4, Jr.); Brad Borsari (G, 5-9, Sr.); Tobin Hobbs (F-G, 6-1, Jr.)

Outlook: The team that shared the league title with Fullerton last season returns almost entirely intact. With its depth, height and experience, Sunny Hills will be hard to beat come January. Two players--Mitchelson and Ragsdale--are in their third season as starters. White said that Mann, whose father, Gerry, was on California’s 1959 NCAA championship team, is a Division I prospect.

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TROY

Coach: T.J. Hardeman (first year).

1989-90 record: 11-12, 5-5 in league.

Returning lettermen: Four.

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Returning starters: Three. Top returners: Jim Falletta (C, 6-4, Jr.); Don Ploghaus (F, 6-4, Sr.); Jim Inman (G, 6-1, Sr.)

Top newcomers: Randy Abbott (G, 6-0, Jr.); Tim Lien (C, 6-5, Jr.); Chris Downs (G, 5-10, Sr.); John Epson (F, 6-2, Jr.)

Outlook: Last season, Troy was the only team to beat Sunny Hills in league play, and the Warriors did it twice. Abbott, brother of former Troy point guard Mike Abbott, is averaging about 19 points. Hardeman said he is encouraged by the team’s depth--he is playing nine to 10 players a game--and its offensive progress. However, the defense still needs work, he said.


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