It was a sign of confidence, determination and resolve. Players from Fremont and Washington Prep both wanted to play Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, everyone’s No. 1 team in high school boys’ basketball, during a fall tournament game. There was no trepidation. The players’ body language was “bring it on.”
It was a hint that the City Section might be getting its swagger back.
You have to go back to the days of Crenshaw with coach Willie West and Manual Arts with coach Reggie Morris Sr. to understand what high school basketball used to be like. It was City Section teams everyone feared, led by stars including Marques Johnson, Dwayne Polee and Darren Daye. The gyms would be packed, the action was thrilling and the oohs and aahs were loud.
As basketball season begins Monday, City Section teams and players are ready to offer legitimate competition to their Southern Section counterparts.
“I think the coaching has gotten a lot better and stabilized a little,” Woodland Hills Taft coach Derrick Taylor said. “We’re getting our fair share of talent.”
Westchester in 2010 was the last City team to win an upper-division state basketball championship, but the quality and quantity of City teams this season are real.
Westchester, a 14-time City champion guided by the section’s all-time winningest coach, Ed Azzam, will welcome any and all challengers. The Comets have highly regarded Torrance Bishop Montgomery in their own tournament and could face Sierra Canyon in a tournament in Hawaii.
The Comets return the City player of the year in 6-foot-6 Kaelen Allen, who received a fifth year of eligibility when his hardship request was granted. No team in the City Section could stop Allen last season, and the Comets also return standout guards Jordan Brinson, Jeremiah Turley and Kevin Bethel.
Western League rival Fairfax lost to the Comets in last year’s Open Division final. The Lions still must figure out how to deal with Allen, but they are loaded at the guard position with UNLV-bound Ethan Anderson, Robert McRae and Culver City transfer Keith Dinwiddie.
The biggest news is how many quality teams there are in the City Section. Lake Balboa Birmingham, Washington, Fremont, Dorsey, Narbonne, Woodland Hills El Camino Real and Granada Hills all have teams with talent and experience. Ready to make an impact are Noel Scott of Washington, Roy Clarke of Fremont, Corey Cofield of Birmingham, Brandon Wilson of Taft, Reese Dixon of Dorsey, Jesse Bannout of Granada Hills and Joseph Escalante of Narbonne. City teams will contend for state titles in several divisions.
Sierra Canyon, Bishop Montgomery, Temecula Rancho Christian and Santa Ana Mater Dei from the Southern Section are the clear top four teams in the Southland, if not California. The Trailblazers lost one starter from last year’s state championship team and added 7-footers in Christian Koloko from Birmingham and Jia-Hao Yu from China. Cassius Stanley, Scotty Pippen Jr., Terren Frank and K.J. Martin are better than ever.
The Mobley brothers from Rancho Christian, 6-10 Isaiah and 7-0 Evan, will offer a unique challenge to any opponent. Bishop Montgomery, led by Oregon State-bound Gianni Hunt, has reloaded. Mater Dei, with rising sophomore point guard Devin Askew, was beating everyone in summer competitions but will be challenged by Bellflower St. John Bosco in the Trinity League.
There’s outstanding players around the Southland, including UCLA-bound Jaime Jaquez of Camarillo, USC-bound Onyeka Okongwu of Chino Hills, USC-bound Drake London of Moorpark, junior guard Joshua Christopher of Lakewood Mayfair, and the senior duo from Santa Margarita headed to UCLA and USC, respectively, Jake Kyman and Max Agbonkpolo.
It sets the stage for a competitive, entertaining four months of basketball, with City teams not backing down from anyone.