City Section basketball has no clear No. 1 team

Angel Corona of Westchester is guarded by Romello McRae of Fairfax.
(Nick Koza)

For those who like playoff competition to be so unpredictable that No. 1 could lose to No. 8, get ready for the City Section Open Division basketball playoffs next month. Calling the tournament wide open is the best way to describe the state of City Section basketball.

Some of the section’s longtime powers should be in the running to put up another banner, but anyone who says they know with certainty which team will win is simply popping off. Taft (13-3) may have started the season as the favorite, but the list of potential champions keeps growing.

Perhaps the COVID-19 start, stop and start again experience in the Los Angeles Unified School District is having an effect, but the lack of consistency among the top teams is very visible, along with a noticeable lack of experience among players. For the first time, there are no City Section teams in The Times’ top 25 rankings, which indicates a decline in talent. Also, the Open Division champion could end up being put in Division II for state playoffs.


It means that the potential is there for a number of teams to get hot late and sweep to the championship.

Here are the teams that seemingly have a chance for the title.

  • Taft. Coach Derrick Taylor might have the most talented roster best suited to win an eight-team tournament at the end the regular season, but the Toreadors have some troubling losses, which gives hope to opponents in the playoffs. Juniors AJ Johnson and Keyon Kensie Jr. and senior Isaiah Lewis will need to gain a level of consistency come playoff time.
  • Birmingham. The defending City champs waited until Dec. 26 to have all their players eligible, leading to a slow beginning. There are signs the Patriots are progressing. A win over Taft on Wednesday will offer a boost of confidence. El Camino Real transfer Brooklyn Caldwell has been a nice edition, and Larry Olayinka is capable of being a force inside and on the boards.
  • Venice. The Gondoliers own a win over Birmingham, which should be helpful come seeding time. They defeated Westchester for the first time in more than 30 years. They are 7-0 in the Western League with two games looming against Fairfax to decide the league title. Sophomore Tyler Hunt has become one of the top players in the City Section.
  • King/Drew. The Golden Eagles always get underrated during the regular season, then are considered a surprise when making it to the semifinals. This season, guard Kalib LaCount is having an MVP season, so beware. He had 46 points last week against Lawndale.
  • Fairfax. Of all the teams in contention, the Lions could improve the most over the next month because of their youth and having played just nine games until January. The only question is how will the young players respond to playoff pressure. Sophomores David Mack and Jaden Hubbard, freshman Hudson Mays and senior Tyler Bey certainly have the talent to take the Lions far.

There have been several 7-foot high school basketball players in the past across the Southland. There is currently another handful of them playing.

Jan. 23, 2022

  • Narbonne. The COVID-19 pause didn’t do the Gauchos any favors. They returned to lose to Gardena in a Marine League game. They own an early-season win over Fairfax. The Gill brothers, Andrew and Christian, have boosted the Gauchos.
  • Westchester. The 15-time City champions don’t have coach Ed Azzam (he retired) and have lost to Fairfax, Palisades and Venice, but there’s still talent, led by Jonathan Choyce and Angel Corona.
  • El Camino Real. When the Royals are at full strength, they are very dangerous. Karson Pheffer, a 6-foot-6 transfer from Crespi, became eligible at the end of last month and must be dealt with.
  • Palisades. With wins over the Comets and Birmingham, the Dolphins could be in the Open Division playoffs.