One of the top New Year's resolutions is always to lose weight. Is there a better way to do it than by playing basketball?
For about 20 former Estancia High boys' basketball players, they showed up at their alma mater this week to play themselves back into shape. On the second day of 2013, they wanted to stick to their New Year's resolution of shedding weight.
Some don't have to lose as much. Xavier Castellano isn't one of the lucky ones.
He organized the pickup games. He even let me borrow a pair of sneakers and shorts to play. The games were to take place inside the school's small gym, not the big gym, where Castellano said he sat on the bench for most of his senior season in 1997-98.
While everyone warmed up before the first game, Castellano swept the floor. Brandon Casillas, a standout 16 years ago, said he hated it when his team practiced in the small gym. It showed when the game began.
Casillas, who's 6-foot-6, knocked down practically every jump shot during warm-ups. When it was time to play, his game disappeared just as his hair has since high school.
Carlos Pinto had something to do with shutting down Casillas. Many consider the 6-4 Pinto to be one of the best players to suit up at Estancia.
In his senior season in 2004-05, Pinto led the Eagles to the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division III-A playoffs. That season, he averaged 20.5 points per game, 26 during the team's best postseason run in seven seasons.
Pinto carried his team back then and the one he played with on Wednesday. Pinto played alongside three members of the Fryslie family — Judd, Tom and Barry — and still won every pickup game. That should tell you how talented Pinto still is.
The reason Pinto stopped playing wasn't because some other team knocked off his. He got tired after leading the way in five straight games. I asked him when was the last time he felt that exhausted, and he mentioned his senior season, thanks to his former coach, Jason Simco.
Simco might have been a young coach at 22, but Pinto said he made his players work.
"It didn't matter if the team had won 10 straight games, we were still running a lot in practice," said Pinto, whose team finished 23-6 and with a Golden West League title. "All of the conditioning worked. When other teams were worn out going into the fourth quarter, we were still fresh."
How times have changed. Not many players were going strong by the second go-around in the small gym.
Castellano still wanted to play another game, pointing at his wide hips as the reasons why. I told him he should put his hips to good use and box out for rebounds, but he didn't listen. He thought he was a point guard.
I couldn't figure that one out. Another thing I couldn't figure out was how Castellano and Judd Fryslie weren't teammates. I thought they did everything together, coach the Estancia girls' basketball team and play on the same team.
Judd, 59, kept playing, thanks to Pinto dominating, and his two sons, Tom and Barry, hustling.
Castellano, 32, went home after two games and I thanked him. With him gone, our team, or what was left of it, finally had a chance to win.
League play opens next week for four of the five local boys' basketball teams. Out of the group, Corona del Mar has the best shot at finishing first in its respective league.
The Sea Kings have claimed first or a share of the Pacific Coast League title four times since Coach Ryan Schachter took over the program six years ago. No other boys' team in the area has won a league crown in the last six seasons.
Getting back to the top of the Pacific Coast League won't be easy for the Sea Kings. The league is stacked. Three teams — Northwood (10-5), CdM (10-7) and Irvine (10-8) — are above .500 in nonleague play.
The league opener for CdM is at Irvine on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
The Sea Kings have faced a tough schedule so far, playing Foothill, ranked No. 9 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1-AA preseason poll, Tustin, No. 2 in Division 3-AAA, Ocean View, No. 4 in Division 3-A, and Las Vegas, the No. 4 team in the state of Nevada by MaxPreps.com, during the Las Vegas Prep Championship.
"Our schedule is going to help us come league time," said Max Stone, CdM's leading scorer, who is averaging around 16 points per game. "The teams in our league haven't seen the teams we have played."
Estancia (4-11) and Costa Mesa (4-11) look as though they will battle for not only for the Battle for the Bell, but also for second place in the Orange Coast League for the second straight season.
Since the league's inception six years ago, Laguna Beach has won it every time and it will again. The race for second starts Wednesday for the Eagles and Mustangs. They open league play at Estancia at 7 p.m.
Sage Hill (6-7) begins Academy League play at Crean Lutheran (5-6) on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
Newport Harbor (8-7) is the area's lone team starting league this week. The Sailors play host to Edison (8-7) in a Sunset League opener on Friday at 7 p.m.
The Sailors haven't done so well in league, posting a 6-34 record in the past four seasons. Their best league finish during the stretch is a fourth-place tie three seasons ago.
That season was also the last time Newport Harbor won its league opener. Don't be surprised if the Sailors, with their height advantage with 7-footer Kevin Rakestraw, get past a young Edison team.