All four area boys’ high school basketball teams have been bolstered this season by transfers.
While the makeup of Burroughs High and Burbank won’t be changed much by the new incoming talent, Providence and Bell-Jeff will likely field teams that will only vaguely resemble the squads that took the floor for the respective programs a year ago.
The Guards are coming off the most successful season, as they won the Santa Fe League championship for the first time in 13 years.
The Bulldogs and Pioneers both made the CIF Southern Section playoffs, but were bounced in the first round. The Indians were the only group that didn’t make the postseason.
Here is a closer look at how the teams are shaping up.
The Pioneers (13-12 last year and fourth in the Liberty League) could have the most exciting and talented group in the city. Ernest Baskerville has taken over as coach of a program that liked to run and gun last season, but enjoyed just limited success.
“We are going to play a little differently than last year,” said Baskerville, who added that he will stress a strong defensive presence, something the Pioneers didn’t possess last season. “We will still score points, but with the defense we can score off deflections and steals.
“We’re looking pretty good, and I think we’re going to be pretty good.”
Returning for the Pioneers is senior Patrick Gonzalez, who is coming off one of the most successful seasons in city history. He broke school records in everything from points in a game (52), to free throws made (134), to most three-pointers in a game (11) to most three-pointers in a season (137).
According to maxpreps.com, Gonzalez ended the season with the highest scoring average and the highest three-point average (six a game) among players in California. The junior averaged 37.8 points and 11.5 rebounds a game. In addition, along with scoring 869 points, Gonzalez tallied 30 or more points in 19 games and 40 or more in 10 games.
On the school’s career scoring list, Gonzalez has 1,468 points and trails Barry Dabbaghian (1,555) by just 87 points.
With a more balanced offense this season, Baskerville said Gonzalez won’t be called upon to put up such gaudy numbers.
“We have some people around Patrick this season, so that should help him,” Baskerville said. “He realizes his role has changed some and he’s been willing to do what it takes and he’s been very receptive.”
Joining Gonzalez is athletic freshman Marcus Lovette Jr.
“He’s just a special player,” Baskerville said of Lovette. “He just has a high basketball IQ and he knows the court so well....He’s going to be a good one for us.”
Also returning is senior Justin Sarenas, and up from the junior varsity team is junior David Gasparian.
New to the squad is senior Kellen Smith, a 6-foot-7 transfer from Community Charter, sophomore Christian Ware-Berry, a transfer from El Camino Real, and sophomore Jonathan Ly, a transfer from Rosemead High.
“We’re going to have a very fast team,” Baskerville said.
After finishing fourth in league last season, the coach said he expects to move up the ranks this season,
“I think the teams to beat are Yeshiva and Buckley, because they have won the last 11 years,” he said. “I just want to crack the top three in the league.”
Although the Guards (12-13) captured a league championship in Coach Julian Andrade’s first season, the coach had to deal with his share of discipline problems, strife and aggravation with the group.
But the coach said things have gotten a great deal better this season.
“It’s definitely not like it was last year,” he said. “Things look a lot better this year. We are at a completely different place now than we were at this time last year.”
Bell-Jeff, however, is dealing with replacing its top scorer of a year ago, Micah Shirley, who graduated. Shirley was named the league player of the year, averaged 16.6 points a game and scored 24 in a game against St. Genevieve on Feb. 10 to help the Guards secure the league crown.
The team also lost Brandon White, an all-league player who transferred to Sierra Canyon.
Trying to make up for the lost scoring, the Guards should benefit from the addition of six transfers.
“We do have six transfers, but we didn’t go out and recruit them,” Andrade said. “They all came to us,”
Two of the transfers are from the country of Serbia, 6-6 junior Branko Ivic and 6-3 senior Nikola Novakovic. The two are nephews of former Bell-Jeff standout Boran Rajcic, who was the league co-player of the year in 2006.
Also transferring into the program from Reseda High is junior Will Morales, 6-2 junior Jalen Henry — bother of Bell-Jeff athletic director and girls’ basketball Coach Jaclyn Johnson — is from Lancaster and sophomore Alex Witherspoon is a transfer from Buckley.
“We might be a little inexperienced, but we will have the talent,” Andrade said. “We will be 11 strong. Any of our 11 players could be starters on any given day. It’s like having 11 starters to choose from.”
A key returner is senior Elijah Reed, a first-team all-league selection. Adam Gupilan, a 6-4 junior, rejoins the team after being ineligible last season.
In league competition, Andrade said the biggest obstacle in front of the Guards and their quest to win their second straight championship is St. Anthony.
The Bulldogs (16-12) finished in a three-way tie for third place in the Pacific League and had to petition for an at-large berth in the playoffs. In a first-round game, Burbank nearly pulled of a monumental upset, losing, 41-39, to No. 1 Mission Viejo, which went on to play for a division championship.
Gone from that team is a pair of impact players, 6-5 Adam Colman and 6-7 Chris White, who both graduated.
“More than anything, more than the guys that we lost, it’s the depth that we lost,” Hernandez said. “We lost a lot of height that we don’t usually have and a lot of depth that we don’t usually have. But we have some other guys coming in. We have to do what we do best and we have to be in better shape. We will get up the floor and we have to defend well.”
“We have had some obstacles like many teams have, but we’re where we want to be at this point in the season.”
Burbank does return three solid starters from last season, 6-5 senior Austin Pope, 6-3 junior Andre Spight and senior Remy Youssefi.
“No doubt that we’re going to go whichever way those three guys take us,” Hernandez said. “Leadership is going to be a big issue, as well as our composure. We are just going to have to have other guys step up and help those guys out.”
Three newcomers who Hernandez said he hopes will step up are sophomore Albert Marmol, 6-4 senior Simon Elmoyan, a transfer from Hoover, and 6-3 junior Adrian Chaves, a transfer from Burroughs. Elmoyan won’t be eligible until January, Hernandez said.
“In league, Pasadena has a good group, [Crescenta Valley] has some players back and Muir should also be good,” Hernandez said.
The Indians (3-24) are attempting to rebound from a disastrous season in which they finished last in the Pacific League. With most of the team back and its share of talent, Coach Adam Hochberg said the squad is primed for a turnaround.
“We have seven returners from last year, so that should give us some experience. Hopefully we’re not going to struggle like we did last year,” Hochberg said. “I don’t think we are going to be pushovers like we’ve been the last couple of years.
“We are definitely guard heavy and we should have a group of players who are real close in terms of scoring. We are going to have to get up and down the court and try and take advantage of our quickness.”
Burroughs enters the season with one of its key players sidelined with an injury. Two weeks ago, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder from a year ago, 6-4 junior Jorge Flores-Pere — a two-year varsity starter — suffered a hamstring injury and Hochberg said he could be out until the start of league in early January.
“With Jorge out, we are going to have a lineup with five guards on the floor sometimes,” Hochberg said. “But all of the players are pretty good, and I think our strength will be in our depth.”
Two of the squad’s top returners are seniors Austyn Thompson and Zeke Zuniga. Hochberg said he will look to the pair to step up, especially until Flores-Pere can return.
Also returning is junior Lawrence White and senior Brandon Jimenez. A key newcomer is senior Ty Bennett, a transfer from Burbank.
Hochberg said a goal of the team is to definitely make the playoffs.
“With the sum of our parts, I really think we have the ability to be a top-three team in league,” he said. “That’s if we can put it all together.”