The formula to defend the Rio Hondo League title for a sixth time is simple for veteran La Cañada boys’ basketball coach Tom Hofman.
Of course, not wanting to jinx anything, if he revealed that, he would probably come up short this season in league.
Entering his 32nd year with the program, Hofman celebrated his 700th win after an 82-55 league victory against South Pasadena on Jan. 19.
With the Spartans winning a crown in 2017-18, Flintridge Prep was the other area squad to capture a league title, sharing the Prep League crown with rival Pasadena Poly.
St. Francis didn’t make the playoffs and will look to reverse course.
Here is a closer look at the teams.
There doesn’t seem to be a milestone along the lines of an historic win for Hofman, but his passion and desire for titles continue to burn bright in the heart of the program.
“That was enough for that one,” Hofman said. “Just hoping it would be a calm year. The kids did a great job last year with that game, but, it’s over now, thank goodness. We’re worried about the next one, No. 800, in 20 years.”
The Spartans made an early postseason exit with a loss to Campbell Hall in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division II-AA playoffs, but still finished 19-10 and 9-1 in league, it’s first league loss in two years.
The Spartans will return Ryan Graves, who contributed 10.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, two assists and 1.2 steals last year and was named the Rio Hondo League co-Most Valuable Player.
Kyle Brown joins Graves as a returning junior after an impressive summer, senior guard Jake George is expected to run the point and senior forward Zach Feehan will give the Spartans size.
“[Graves] is definitely a player we fall back on because of his experience and he’s a good leader,” Hofman said. “George is a solid leader on the floor, too, as a point guard.”
Despite a returning cast of players, Hofman will have a key player, Noah Ford, sidelined. The senior recently broke his wrist, and may return in the middle of league.
“You hate to see stuff like that,” Hofman said. “It’s tough as a team, but you just hate to see a guy like that lose all that time.”
With Ford out, Hofman looks to senior John Hickman as a replacement, but will look to rotate through the lineup as the preseason progresses.
Hofman acknowledges his team is heavy on shooters, so the next step in winning another league title is staying consistent.
“We have yet to put together a full four quarters,” Hofman said. “We haven’t put together a full game yet, and that’s the big key. If we put together 32 minutes, we’ll be a good team.”
Blair has been the Spartans’ closest competition in recent years, and Hofman expects the Vikings’ athleticism to continue to be a challenge, as well as the rest of the league to be competitive as ever.
The Spartans open league Jan. 5 against Monrovia.
Winning league championships and making deep postseason runs have become staples throughout the century for the Rebels.
Flintridge Prep made it to the second round of the Division IV-AA playoffs before succumbing to champion Hiillcrest. The Rebels (14-12, 7-1) have appeared in two finals since the 2010-11 campaign.
The Prep League will look different this season with the addition of Providence.
“We had a bit of a rough season at times last year, but we were able to win league,” said Flintridge Prep coach Garrett Ohara, who begins his 20th season as coach of the Rebels. “I do love this group now and we’ve got a very good mix of younger players.
“With Providence coming in, it’s going to make for some good battles around our league. I’m thinking Pasadena Poly, Providence and Flintridge Prep will be battling it out for league.”
Flintridge Prep, which will be in Division IV-AA, will turn to senior forward AJ Nicassio and sophomore guard Zach Kim for experience and leadership.The duo received all-league second-team recognition last season after averaging 6.2 and 4.4 points per game, respectively.
Since Todd Wolfson took over the coaching chores at St. Francis in 2015, the Golden Knights have qualified for the playoffs twice. St. Francis missed out last season following a last-place finish in the Mission League.
Wolfson said the Golden Knights (14-14, 2-10) are capable of turning things around quickly.
“Something we’ve seen since the start of the fall is that the guys are clicking and there’s a lot of energy,” said Wolfson, whose team will be in Division III-A. “We don’t really set too many goals and we just want to be ready heading into the gauntlet of the Mission League.
“I always look at the league as being one of the toughest with the likes of Loyola, Harvard-Westlake and others. When you come to St. Francis, you sign up to play the best competition.”
There’s talent around the court for the Golden Knights, who will return senior center Matthew Molina, senior guard Dennis Flowers III and junior guard Andre Henry.