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HARBOR LEAGUE PREVIEW : Parity’s Shadow Hides Christian, Strength of the League

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Here’s a rousing endorsement of the state of boys’ basketball in the City Harbor League, from Clairemont Coach Greg Lee:

“I’ve seen all of (the teams) and quite truthfully I can’t give anyone the edge,” he said. “On any given day, everyone can go from pitiful to very good.”

Two days before league play begins, Harbor teams are wedged somewhere in between, and on the rise.

With the departure of Tony Clark, state scoring champion, it might be easy to overlook the league. But most of the teams have played respectable preseason schedules, have respectable records and won’t stay hidden for long.

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Besides, there are two defending San Diego Section champions represented here--Coronado won the Division IV title and Division V-winner Christian reached the state final before it lost in Oakland--a distinction few leagues can boast.

This year the talent has been spread around.

“There’s definitely more balance. It’s (a better league), and a bit more competitive,” said Lenny Schlein, Marian coach. “In general, there aren’t as many impact players, but now (the talent) is more where it was intended to be.”

Many still intend to see Christian win the league championship. Eight players return from that team.

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“Christian is the toughest right now,” said Jeff Armstrong, St. Augustine’s coach. “With all those kids off the state playoff tournament, they’re the cream, they have the nod.”

THE RACE

Top contenders: Christian (19-12, 5-3 in 1989-90), St. Augustine (7-21, 5-3, after forfeiting 12 victories for using a transfer student).

Surprise potential: Clairemont (7-14, 3-5), Coronado (17-8, 6-2).

Hoping for improvement: Marian (8-15, 1-7).

Game of the year: St. Augustine at Christian, Feb. 5. The Jan. 15 meeting may set the tone for the season, but the second contest is more likely to determine the league championship.

THE PLAYERS

The man: Already Clairemont’s Alex Love is the player to watch in this league, but Lee said if he were four inches taller, Love’s dominance would be a given.

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“He can do it all,” said Schlein of the 6-foot-3 senior guard. “He can dunk, shoot the three, play inside, and he’s a good backcourt player. He does everything but sell tickets.”

Said Armstrong: “Love is the No. 1 kid in the Harbor League.”

Lee said what set Love apart was his killer instinct.

“He’s very, very aggressive,” Lee said. “He’ll always have a half step on you. He’s not content to beat you for a second. He’ll take you all the way to the basket.”

Who will fill Tony Clark’s shoes? No one, from the perspective that Clark got the kind of public relations usually reserved for and lavished on college and professional athletes.

Christian’s Chad DeGrenier, a transfer from Arizona, is the closest thing.

DeGrenier, a powerful 6-4 senior forward, “does everything well,” according to Christian Coach Randy Wright.

“Chad’s made a difference for us,” Wright said. “He’s well rounded and plays hard. He’s important to this team.”

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Other newcomers expected to make a difference:

Clairemont’s John Brady, a 6-4 sophomore forward, is the Chieftains’ second leading contributor. St. Augustine’s Aaron Buckner, a sophomore and the Saints’ quarterback, is a force at center; and Coronado sophomore Andy Dickerson is just 5-5, but making an impact at guard.

Others to watch: Mark MaGee and Matt Kenney, a pair of 5-11 senior guards, are the catalysts if St. Augustine is to be successful. Kenney is the only returning starter, and MaGee, who didn’t play last year, is the team’s leading scorer.

“They’re the whole key to our team,” Armstrong said.

Clairemont’s Rahsaan Brown, a 5-10 junior guard, is a consistent player averaging 10.5 points a game; Marian’s Joe Lagula, a 6-2 senior center, is the Crusaders’ leading scorer.

A couple of 6-4 seniors from Coronado should keep the Islanders’ head above water--Adam Smith, a power forward, and Chris Anselmo, a center.

THE INTANGIBLES

The C-Words: Christian lost the Harbor League title to Coronado and the state title to Colusa, and although it will be a chase to return to the California regional and state playoffs, the Patriots are oozing confidence.

Said Wright: “They may be saying that right now, that their goal is to go back to state and win the title, but they have to get through the league and playoffs first.”

Still, Christian, with playoff-toughened seniors David Piester and Jeff Rose and improved sophomore Vincent Clark, might have the personnel, the balance and the bench to get the job done.

“We have a lot of good players, other guys we can go to,” said Piester, Christian’s leading scorer. “There’s just a lot more we can do this year.”

Big O, Little D: They won’t be putting up numbers quite like Loyola Marymount or U.S. International, but the Harbor League is boastful on scoring and meek when it comes to defense.

“You’ll see a lot of scoring in this league,” Armstrong said. “After having the state’s leading scorer last year, (the Harbor League is) capable of putting points on the board. With us, Christian and Clairemont, it’s a league with a lot of scoring.”

No Eight and Oh: “No one will go undefeated. I’ll even be surprised if the league champ goes 7-1,” said Lee of the league’s win-loss records. “It’ll be a real run right down to the wire.”

Said Dekker: “It’s up for grabs. The winner will lose a couple (games).”


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