The way Laguna Hills Coach Dave Brown sees the top 10, "it's Mater Dei, Woodbridge and eight other dwarfs."
Well, maybe Sonora and Villa Park too, but Brown has a point. There is striking parity in the county. The season may produce less-spectacular results than most think.
So, with thanks to Brown, the other county coaches who threw in their two cents and some input from our prep staff, here's The Times Orange County preseason top 10:
1. Mater Dei
The Monarchs are a shoe-in for a sixth consecutive Southern Section title, but they might not post as many victories as they did a season ago, when they went on a 34-game winning streak, reached the Southern California finals, lost to their old nemesis Los Angeles Crenshaw and finished 34-2. With four starters back they are stronger up front and will again be led by point guard Kevin Augustine, The Times county player of the year in 1995-96.
This team has the potential to be flat-out super if it can put aside the specter of Riverside North, which upset the Warriors in the opening round of the playoffs last year. If 6-10 senior center Chris Burgess, who has signed with Duke, shares the ball with his teammates, Woodbridge could make a big run.
The Raiders return four starters and one of the most underrated coaches in the county in Mike Murphy. Jeffrey Berokoff was a second-team all-county selection and Josh Lien was the Freeway League's MVP.
4. Villa Park
Senior center Eric Chenowith and point guard Isaiah Cavaco make for a solid combination. Chenowith on the inside, Cavaco up and down the court from the outside.
The Aztecs can play and the only thing holding them back is speculation about how the sudden departure of Coach Mark Hill (he was fired) at the end of last season will affect this team. Still, another Sunset League title should be a cakewalk.
6. Mission Viejo
What was it that Diablo Coach Joe Reid said? "The top 10 should include Mater Dei, Woodbridge and the rest of the South Coast League." With 6-3 guard Commander King in charge, the Diablos are capable of anything.
7. Capistrano Valley
Why? Austin Moherman. He's a good athlete who can make things happen. Some sayMoherman, who has signed with Ohio State to play football, won't have his head into basketball after the football season. With point guard Dan Galvanoni returning, the Cougars are sound.
8. San Clemente
The Tritons advanced to the Division II-AA quarterfinals last year and two starters return. Throw in a recent playoff history, a great summer season and Coach Ed Coyle's brash assertion that his team is bound to be better than it was a year ago.
9. Dana Hills
Only one starter returns for the Dolphins, but they have enough height to stock the entire county. Huber Souza, a 6-7 exchange student from Brazil, is supposed to be a real show-stopper. Add Mark Thornton, the veteran coach from Capistrano Valley, to the mix and things are looking up in Dana Point.
10. Santa Margarita
Coach Jerry DeBusk will tell you the defending Southern Section Division II-AA champions don't have a single starter back, and that he figures the Eagles will be lucky to make the playoffs. Right, and the sun never rises over Rancho Santa Margarita. Fact is, there's good height and a burgeoning tradition.