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Ready for tipoff

Mike Sciacca

As the final days of preseason practice and scrimmages wind down,

Rob Cullinan is finding out what he can expect from a unique and

young Laguna Beach High boys’ basketball team.

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With a squad of three seniors, one key transfer player and two

program veterans, and a talented underclass ensemble, Cullinan’s

Breakers figure to better last season’s six-win total.

“We are looking to improve our win total from a year ago and get

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into the playoffs,” the second-year coach said. “We must over-achieve

every time out.”

Cullinan’s maiden season resulted in an overall record of 6-17 and

a fifth-place finish in the Pacific Coast League.

The one key loss from that squad is second-team All-PCL forward

Trevor Lyle.

But there’s a big addition to this year’s unit in 6-foot-6,

190-pound guard Kyle Hogan, a transfer from Villa Park.

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Hogan, a second-team All-County selection in 2001-02, averaged 15

points, nine rebounds and six assists per game during his junior year

at Villa Park.

“He’s one of the top returning players in the county and is being

recruited by Division I schools,” Cullinan said. “Kyle may challenge

some of our [school’s] single-season scoring records.”

Ivan Kovacevic, a 6-3 sophomore forward up from the junior varsity

team, is a projected starter Cullinan said.

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Laguna has two returning starters from last year: 5-7 point guard

Peter Renault and 5-11 forward Alex Norfleet, a two-time letterman

who averaged six points per game last season.

Renault and Norfleet, seniors, are the only two players from the

class of 2003 to spend four years in the program.

Juniors joining the squad are returning letterman Austin Sands and

four members from last year’s junior varsity team, which finished

second in the league, including team co-MVPs Taylor Willhoit and

Bobby Marquette.

Spencer Willhoit and Michael Kote are two more sophomores who,

Cullinan said, will gain valuable experience this winter.

Junior Jake Wheeler, an all-purpose player, is joining the team

late because of the football season, which ended last week.

Wheeler played defensive back and back-up quarterback for the

school’s football team, and Cullinan says he’ll compete with Sands

and Willhoit for the fifth starting spot.

Bobby Marquette, who played on the Breakers’ boys’ water polo

team, joined the team on Monday.

“The team has come together very nicely since the arrival of Hogan

in September,” he said. “Playing as a team, and each player

understanding and filling their role are keys to our success, as will

be our mental toughness, competing in every game and keeping everyone

healthy.”

But illness and injury have already plagued the Breakers:

Kovacevic dislocated his knee cap last month and is not expected to

be available until Dec. 9, three games into the season; Willhoit,

Sands, Curran and Kote have been battling the flu bug.

“Our first three games are big for us. We need to play solid

without some key people in order to win,” Cullinan said.

“We play in the La Quinta Tournament following our first three

games, then the following week we are in over our head a bit with the

Irvine World News Tournament,” he said. “Then it’s the Century

Christmas Tournament and a game at El Modena -- all tough competition

to gear us up for league.”

The Breakers open their season with a three-game stretch next

week.

On Wednesday, they host Irvine in a 7 p.m. tipoff. Thursday, they

travel to Sage Hill, then they return home Friday for a 7 p.m. game

with Century.

Their first-round opponent in the six-day La Quinta Tournament,

which commences on Dec. 9, is Estancia.

Laguna defeated the Eagles in the first round of last year’s

tournament.

As for the Pacific Coast League race, Cullinan sees veteran-laden

teams Northwood and University as the hand’s down favorites.

“Both, basically, return all their key players, and both will

likely be ranked,” he said. “They both have a lot of weapons and good

coaches.

“Calvary Chapel is big and has talent. Tesoro will be very young

but have talent,” he said. “Corona del Mar has a sharpshooter in

Kevin Mancillas and I have a ton of respect for Ryan Curry. He is a

good coach who gets the most out of his players.

Laguna will launch Pacific Coast League play on Jan. 15 with a

home date against Corona del Mar.


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