One of the most anticipated high school senior classes in Southern California basketball history, including Chris Burgess of Irvine Woodbridge, twins Jason and Jarron Collins of North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake and Schea Cotton of Bellflower St. John Bosco, took to the courts this week in a season that's expected to put the area on the national map.
Compton Dominguez, which won the state Division II title last year and has three returning starters, is rated No. 1 in several preseason national polls, with traditional powers Santa Ana Mater Dei and Crenshaw also being frequently mentioned.
For the first time, the state tournament finals will be held at the Pond of Anaheim on March 21-22.
A look at the top teams with section, division and last season's record:
1. COMPTON DOMINGUEZ
Southern Section, Division II, 34-2 in 1995-96--The Dons won their first state title last year. Their top players--junior forwards Jason Thomas and Tayshaun Prince and senior guard Kenny Brunner--are among the top 10 players in the state.
City Section, Division 4-A, 29-5--The Cougars have the area's best guard tandem in Kevin Bradley and Alastair Faux. They helped the team to a record seventh state title last season, and expectations haven't lessened.
3. SANTA ANA MATER DEI
Southern Section, Division I, 34-2--The Monarchs aren't quite as deep as last season's team that won 34 consecutive games before losing to Crenshaw in the Southern Regional final. But with four returning starters, including guard Kevin Augustine, they remain tough.
4. NORTH HOLLYWOOD
Southern Section, Division III, 31-2--Stanford-bound twin towers Jason and Jarron Collins, each 6-10, will play their final season for the Wolverines, who weren't a basketball power until their arrival 3 1/2 years ago. Guard Victor Munoz, an effective floor general, adds to their strength.
5. IRVINE WOODBRIDGE
Southern Section, Division II, 23-7--The Warriors, knocked out of the playoffs in the first round last season, will be improved. Many say 6-10 center Burgess is the best in the country, and he will have plenty of support to help his team battle Mater Dei for the top ranking in Orange County.
6. LONG BEACH POLY
Southern Section, Division I, 17-10--The Jackrabbits were expecting a successful season with Stanford-bound guard Michael McDonald in the lineup, but the outlook became even brighter with the addition of 6-8 junior Ricky Anderson, a transfer from Millikan.
7. PACIFIC PALISADES
City Section, Division 4-A, 24-3--The Dolphins have a solid nucleus from last season's team, which was eliminated in double overtime by Crenshaw in the semifinals. Three starters are back: guard Eurskine Robinson, forward Philipp Czernin and center Vejas Anaya.
Southern Section, Division I, 25-7--The Tartans relied on several freshmen last season and the result was a loss to Mater Dei in a section final. The group, including guard Casey Jacobsen and twin forwards Chris and Chad Clark, are back and a year older.
9. INGLEWOOD MORNINGSIDE
Southern Section, Division III, 20-10--Coach Carl Franklin has his most experienced team in 21 years at the school. Nine players return from last season's team, which lost to Harvard-Westlake in a section final. The lineup includes guard Lee Denmon and 6-7 center Ronald Dow.
City Section, Division 4-A, 24-7--The Comets were up and down last season, but they should be more consistent with returning players Billy Knight, Tony Bland and Albert Miller, who average in double figures. The bench is also deep with 6-6 Lee Parks and 6-7 Shane Roberts.
Southern Section, Division II, 19-9--The Tarbabes should make a run for the Moore League title with the addition of transfers Deandre Moore, Marcus Herring and David Hamilton.
12. RIVERSIDE J.W. NORTH
Southern Section, Division I, 22-9--The Huskies have been the Inland Empire's most consistent winner in recent years, and that shouldn't change with guard Ron Baldwin and forward Todd Ramasar, both seniors averaging in double figures, in the lineup.
13. LA HABRA SONORA
Southern Section, Division II, 21-7--Four starters return, including forward Josh Lien, the most valuable player of the Freeway League last season.
14. LAKEWOOD ARTESIA
Southern Section, Division II, 24-6--Although several top players transferred, the Pioneers still have forwards Jason Kapono and Brian Hills.
15. VILLA PARK
Southern Section, Division II, 18-6--Kansas-bound center Eric Chenowith (7-1) will lead the Spartans farther than last season, when they were upset in the first round of the playoffs.
Southern Section, Division II, 29-5--The Sentinels have three returning starters, including guard Dino Tanner, back from last year's team, which lost in the section finals to Dominguez.
17. SANTA MONICA CROSSROADS
Southern Section, Division IV, 27-9--Point guard Baron Davis, one of the nation's top unsigned recruits, is the key for the Roadrunners, who won a section title last season.
18. TORRANCE BISHOP MONTGOMERY
Southern Section, Division III, 25-4--The top two players return in guard Delano D'Oyen and center Solomon Hughes.
City Section, Division 4-A, 27-5--Seniors Brian Webb and Derrell Houston are the mainstays for the Pathfinders, who will rotate 10 players in the lineup.
20. FONTANA A.B. MILLER
Southern Section, Division I, 22-6--Forward Travis Reed leads the Rebels, who won the San Andreas League title last season.