Boys' Basketball: Armstrong, Gatlin lead way

Fountain Valley achieved something this winter it hadn't done on the hardwood in 18 years: win a Sunset League championship in boys' basketball. The Barons took the title behind a senior-driven class of players, two of whom have earned the league's top honor.

Guard Josh Armstrong and center Jackson Gatlin have been tabbed MVPs of the 2013 league season. The pair headline a 14-member all-league team.

Armstrong averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 7.5 assists per game, for the season. During league play, he averaged 24.5 points, six rebounds and 7.2 assists per game.

"Josh had a breakout year," Fountain Valley Coach Roger Holmes said. "He is big (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) and was so good in the open court. He averaged over 20 points a game and led the county [with 202] assists, quite a feat. A very difficult guy to guard because of his strength and ability to get into the key."

The 6-foot-7 Gatlin averaged 14.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.2 blocks per league game. For the season, he averaged 13.5 points, 11 rebounds and 4.7 blocks a game.

"Jackson was our anchor on the defensive end of the court as well as having the ability to rebound and step away from the basket to make shots," Holmes said. "He led the county in blocked shots (126).

"Both players, last spring, were dedicated to the goal of getting the Sunset League championship back to Fountain Valley."

Fountain Valley basketball has seen a steady rise in the program over the past three years. In the 2010-11 season, the first with Holmes in the role of head coach at his alma mater, the Barons went 16-11, finished fourth in league and advanced to the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1-A Division playoffs. That season included the program's first postseason win in 10 years. Last year, they went 17-10, finished second in league and reached the first round of the Division 1AA playoffs.

This year's squad won 20 games, went 20-7 overall and again qualified for the 1AA playoffs again. The season was marked by the program's first Sunset title since 1995.

"I think the biggest reason for our turnaround, is that the players believed in us as coaches and wanted to turn the program around," Holmes said. "You must have players to win, but those players need to be on the same page as far as team goals, program goals, and direction of the program. The players embraced our staff and what we were all about. This year, all of the things that this senior-laden grouped learned, came together. They had the skill to win it and put in the work to win it."

Holmes praised his coaching staff which included Andrew Meyer (sixth all-time assists leader at Marina) and Eric Edmunds (all-league, All-CIF at Fountain Valley) in his first two years. This year, Garrett James, a three-time all-league, and All-CIF player at Marina, Billy Thompson, an All-Southwestern League and All-CIF player at Temecula Valley, Aren Baghdassarian, a member of Marina's 2004 CIF finalist and state playoff team when Holmes coached at Marina, and Brendan Holmes, a three-time all-league, and All-CIF player at Marina, and son of Roger Holmes, joined the Barons staff this year.

"These guys were all very accomplished players and are even better coaches," Roger Holmes said. "I have been incredibly lucky to have people of this caliber surround the players in my programs.

"I just can't say enough about how hard the members of my staff have worked in getting this program turned around. The individual player development that has taken place over the last three years has been phenomenal. The players were ready and willing to put in the time and effort and it paid off."

"To the kids' credit, they bought into what we wanted to do when we came in during the spring of 2010," said Meyer who in addition to assisting the varsity team for two years, also served as the Barons' junior varsity coach. "It wasn't an overnight success but a steady work ethic that allowed these guys to improve and achieve what they did this year.

"Josh [Armstrong] and Jackson [Gatlin] are examples of the growth of the program. With Josh, it was never a question of his talent, but from the time from the end of his sophomore year, going into the summer of his junior year, he made big-time strides. He was a workaholic in the gym. For Jackson, the potential was there and he went on to have a great year this year. It was pretty cool to see both these guys blossom."

Holmes and the Barons staff will lose a big chunk of this year's roster to graduation in June. There's more work to be done, he said.

"We have a huge challenge ahead of us next year with the loss of eight of 11 varsity players," Holmes said. "We will go from having a senior dominated lineup, to one that is young and inexperienced. We have some very talented young players — our freshman won the Sunset League and 23 games this year, and the returners that we do have, are anxious to make their mark."

2013 All-Sunset League Boys' Basketball Team

MVPs: Josh Armstrong, Fountain Valley; Jackson Gatlin, Fountain Valley

First Team: Brae Ivey, Edison; Andrew TenBrink, Huntington Beach; Wes Mitter, Los Alamitos; Khalid Washington, Los Alamitos; Nic Sargeant, Newport Harbor.

Second Team: Derek Molina, Edison; AJ Garrity, Edison; Joey Petersen, Fountain Valley; Casey Hayes, Marina; Hayden Winks, Marina; Kevin Rakestraw, Newport Harbor; Zack Wade, Newport Harbor.

michael.sciacca@latimes.com

Twitter: @MikeSciacca

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