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2017-2018 BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEW : Cerritos poised to have strong season with high number of returning seniors

 

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

 

Something special could be brewing at Cerritos High as the Dons not only prepare for their final season in the Suburban League, but will field what may be one of their best squads in school history. Gahr High and Valley Christian High must regroup with a low number of returning players while Norwalk High and Whitney High each are expecting better campaigns under second-year head coaches.

ARTESIA PIONEERS

15-12 overall last season, 6-6 in the Suburban League, fourth place, lost to Cabrillo/Lompoc 68-37 in the Division 3A first round playoffs

Head coach: Ray Walker (sixth season, 63-74)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 63-74

Last time missed the playoffs: 1981

STARTERS LOST: Alex Linao (2.6 points per game last season), Albert Pasqual (11.4 ppg.), Kody Pitts (6.4 ppg.), Devion Smith (13.0 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: JR Heder Gladden (14.1 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Angel Garcia, SR Roman Hernandez, SR David Lizarraga, SR Reginald Reamer (3.9 ppg.),

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: SR Brandon Logan, SO Jeremiah Charles, SO Princeton Hoang, SO Carlos Patino De Anda

It was another middle of the road season for Artesia High and head coach Ray Walker, who is pleased for this season as he fields a senior-laden team. He says the program is improving numbers-wise and added that just to field teams at all levels was a challenge before. Now the program has plenty of kids who want to play and compete. The competition is better, and the Pioneers are projected to be more athletic than in the past

“We had a pretty good year [last year],” Walker said. “We automatically qualified for the playoffs which we hadn’t done in a while in our league. It was a disappointing finish, but the season throughout, I think we competed pretty well and had a pretty good year.”

Only one starter comes back but it’s a big one in junior Heder Gladden. In two short seasons, Gladden has emerged as one of the best players in the Suburban League. Walker says he is looking for seniors Roman Hernandez and Reginald Reamer to score as well and added that it’s ‘their time’ to step up.

“It’s always interesting because with Heder coming from football, it’s always a process because you don’t have that work in the fall,” Walker said. “But it worked out well.

“He definitely has to be a leader for us even though he wasn’t here,” he later added. “He gets in [the gym] as much as possible. It is a great opportunity for him. He has made All-[Suburban] League the last two years. So, without a doubt, he needs to be a leader for us and a key part to our success going forward.”

The Pioneers won’t have any size in the program. Senior Brandon Logan, who stands at 6’5”, was in the program as a freshman but hasn’t played since. With three sophomores making their varsity debut, Walker says the future’s bright for sure but that the team will take their lumps a little bit because of the inexperience, which also includes some of the seniors.

One twist in Artesia’s schedule, as well as the rest of the league is the fact that league play will begin before winter vacation. The Pioneers will also host their own tournament again and play in the El Monte and Rancho Alamitos Tournaments.

“The league starts the 18th of December which is interesting,” Walker said. “That’s different for us with Suburban League starting early, before Christmas time and Christmas tournaments. But we’ll handle it.”

CERRITOS DONS

13-15 overall last season, 8-4 in the Suburban League, third place, lost to Mission College Prep 80-61 in the Division 2AA first round playoffs

Co-Head coaches: Jonathan Watanabe (17th season overall, 234-216) and Kevin Enomoto (third season, 31-27)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 73-68

Last time missed the playoffs: 2007

STARTERS LOST: None

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Vincent Biscoe (8.7 points per game last season), SR Destin Flucas (16.7 ppg.), SR Dorian Harris, SR Jyvonnte Moore (13.9 ppg.), SR Byron Sur

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Nathan Amanuel (3.4 ppg.), SR Jason Anigbo (4.6 ppg.), SR Branden de Groot, SR Derek Gunn, SR Justin Moon, SR Ayden Rivera, JR Lotanna Ene, JR Aditya Suresh

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: JR Tim Huang, SO Ethan Reyes, SO Jagger Uy, FR Alexander Archer

Long time co-head coach Jonathan Watanabe has never had 13 returning players in any year until now. Because of that, the Dons not only should improve on their record of last season, but give Suburban League defending champion Mayfair High a run for its money for the top spot. Last season, Cerritos had to figure out how to stay near the top after graduating five senior starters from the previous season. This season, all five starters will be seniors.

“Last year was not, I would say, maybe as we planned,” Watanabe said. “But we knew it was going to be rough. We had a newer group coming in, we knew we were going to take our lumps early and I thought we did okay. We were able to kind of turn the corner at the end of December and into league. I thought we played our best basketball going into the first round of league. We’re hoping that this year we can kind of build and keep that growth going forward the whole year as opposed to having our peak somewhere in early January.”

Watanabe says his team is a more balanced team this year and because of the balance and the experience, if the Dons play the right way and share the ball, they can be really good. The guys understand what they need to do. It’s just a matter of getting it done on a consistent basis.

Look for senior Dorian Harris, who played half the season, to have a breakout campaign. If he can duplicate the league season he had last season, Cerritos will be hard to stop as seniors Destin Flucas and Jyvonnte Moore each combined to average over 30 points a game.

“Dorian Harris is one of our best players; he may be our best player,” Watanabe said. “He came over from Gahr last year and had to wait out until January. So, it was a transition that he had to make and he did a great job of coming in and being patient and working his way into the starting lineup. By the end, he was one of our starters and he’s been one of our starters the whole time since we started in the spring.”

Watanabe says senior Branden de Groot will be the defensive stopper and that ‘he’s a monster on defense’ while senior Derek Gunn will give the team offense off the bench, Senior Nathan Amanuel will give the team good play in all different kinds of categories and on most teams, he would be a starter. Senior Jason Anigbo and junior Lotanna Ene will hold down the fort in size when Moore is out.

Freshman Alexander Archer is the biggest addition with super talent and will be ‘amazing for us next year’, according to Watanabe. He’s even projected to be a Division 1 basketball player.

“It’s definitely going to be different,” Watanabe said. “We’re just used to having all of December just to prep for league. It’s good for us in our standpoint having a team with 13 returners and 11 seniors to give us some leadership.”

Despite many predicting Mayfair to repeat as league champions, Cerritos is not ready to subscribe to that thought. If anything, the Dons want to go out as league champs in their final season in the Suburban League.

“We’re playing for [league] championship; we’re not playing for second,” Watanabe said. “We’ve been there, we’ve done that. We’re trying to win the whole thing and I don’t care which league we’re in. One of our goals is to be a league championship team. We’re going to try to be a CIF championship team. We’re going to try to be a state championship team. Those are three of our goals every single year.”

GAHR GLADIATORS

18-10 overall last season, 9-1 in the San Gabriel Valley League, co-league champions, lost to Los Alamitos 63-61 in the Division 1AA second round playoffs

Head coach: Ricky Roper (eighth season, 132-75)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 89-55

Last time missed the playoffs: 1997

STARTERS LOST: Marvin Bragg (19.5 points per game last season), Tony Crosby (8.7 ppg.), Julio Maldonado (3.9 ppg.), SR Gary Williams (12.9 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Jarrel King (6.7 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Justan Lucas, SR Seth Shaw, SR Jonathan Sims, SO Amir Kirkwood

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: JR Isaiah Knowles (transfer from Servite High), JR Justin Stephens, SO Jaren Johnson (transfer from Bellflower High)

This has the makings for an unusual, but interesting season for the Gladiators. Head coach Ricky Roper returns for seniors and a sophomore who spent time with the junior varsity and varsity squads last season. Still, Gahr earned a first round bye in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs.

“It was a good year,” Roper said. “We won a league title, we played a really, really tough schedule, played in the Pac Shores Tournament. Our non-league [schedule] was really tough. So, we were probably a 20-win team. We went out a little earlier in the playoffs than we would have liked. But, we were in Division 1AA.”

Roper considered playoff loss to Los Alamitos to a semifinal game in another division with a semifinal atmosphere and said there were 20 teams that could have won the division. Gahr will be in Division 1A this season.

“To have a good program, you have to get out and compete against the best,” Roper said. “That’s what we try to do year in and year out.”

Gahr will have to find a way to replace someone of the caliber of Marvin Bragg, who led the team in scoring last season. In fact, several players will have to step up their game as senior Jarrel King is the only player with significant scoring totals from last season.

“Marvin was special,” Roper said. “He was on varsity for four years, started for three, we won a league title two out of the three years Marvin was here, made a run to the CIF finals his sophomore year, we were on the [CIF] Open [Division] watch every year he was here. So, his career is probably as good as any career of anybody who has played at Gahr. He played in a Honda Center game, got a Division 1 scholarship [at American University], was league player of the year.”

Roper says the success of this season has to be a collective effort. The team was good defensively in the summer and in the fall. Offensively, whoever is open is going to have to take the shot. Roper says the team is still trying to find themselves and calls this a new era of Gahr basketball. This could be a group in February that’s a lot better than in November and he compares this team to the 2015 team which peaked late

“It’s a pretty new journey,” Roper said. “We have kind of a blend of a few veterans and we have a lot of new young guys.”

Gahr will be tested once again as it always is and began the season this past Monday in the competitive Pacific Shires Tournament at Redondo High. When it gets time for San Gabriel Valley League action, everyone will be looking up at Dominguez High.

“Dominguez has everybody back from last year; that’s who we tied with for league,” Roper said. “They have all five starters back. They also have a kid named Keith Carlton, who was the M.V.P. of the league two years ago at Lynwood. So, they’ve kind of been building that group for four years. It’s kind of their year and I think everybody else is kind of battling for second.”

JOHN GLENN EAGLES

1-24 overall last season, 0-12 in the Suburban League, seventh place

Head coach: Ruben Guerrero (second season, 1-24)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 11-116

Last time made the playoffs: 2014

STARTERS LOST: Lucas Aguirre (3.2 points per game last season), Hugo Anguiano (14.5 ppg. In 21 games), Sean Espineda (1.9), Cruz Gomez (12.2 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: JR Chris Lujan (4.0 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Juan Jimenez, SR Willie Keith, SR Chris Murray (6.5 ppg. In 13 games)

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS:SR Peter Punsalan (transfer from La Mirada High), SO Hatem Alawad (transfer from California High)

It was another long season for John Glenn High and new head coach Ruben Guerrero was caught in the middle of it. The program has struggled longer than any other program in the Suburban League, mostly because the players keep on holding to bad habits from previous coaching staffs instead of adjusting to the present. Despite one win, Guerrero said the positive that came out of last season were they were more competitive than the previous seasons and the boys showed the lower levels how much work is involved to being a competitive program and that they have a foundation they could depend on.

The lone starter coming back is junior Chris Lujan, but that’s not a challenge to Guerrero because he was able to have a full offseason preparing the program for this season. Three other players return but Guerrero isn’t worried.

“It puts us in a better position,” he said. “We weeded out the hard workers from those that go through the motions. Willie Keith is going into his senior year and has developed maturity which helped with his leadership for the team. He brings a positive voice to the team. Chris Murray is another one of our student-athletes that brings a positive vibe to the program.”

Guerrero also said senior Juan Jimenez has been working on the nuances of his game and has developed into a decent jumper and improved in the post.

Glenn hopes to be competitive in its final season in the Suburban League and Guerrero is hoping his team can notch a few league wins.

“My outlook for this season is simple; be better than last year and be better than yesterday,” Guerrero said. “I expect us to be competitive, finish games and make an honest run for a playoff spot. We have a group that is very coachable and want to help us change the stigma the boys program carries. We know what people think of our program. With knowing that, we are using that as motivation. I’m looking for an all-around improvement in attitude, confidence and culture.”

NORWALK LANCERS

11-15 overall last season, 5-7 in the Suburban League, fifth place

Head coach: Brent Campanelli (second season, 11-15)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 60-76

Last time made the playoffs: 2016

STARTERS LOST: David Balderas (9.7 points per game last season), Desmond Johnlouis (12.5 ppg.), Jacob Molina (8.2 ppg.), Jordan Volpei (11.4 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Cris Cecenas (3.2 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Richard Lozano, SR Jimmy Molina, SR Justin Schultheis

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: JR Tyrese Allen, JR Andrew Beeson, JR Mark Gonzalez-Carrasco, JR Daniel Marcial, JR Kobe Nevarez, SO Armando Castellanos, SO Christopher Herrera, SO Pablo Juarez, SO Julian Lomeli

It was a very trying season for head coach Brett Campanelli, who came over from Sunny Hills High but struggled in his first season with the Lancers. He said he came in with a new philosophy that it was difficult for the guys to grasp that. Once the team figured it out, it was too late. Had some success at the end of the season, though.

“It’s not what we had hoped for,” Campanelli said of last season. “But we tempered our expectations. I thought we had a pretty good class last year and it would have been nice to have a summer with them and even another whole year. But, it was what it was. So, we turned the page on that and we’re ready to go this year.”

It may be another long season for Norwalk with one returning starter, senior Cris Cecenas, and three other returning players. Needless to say, everyone, even the newcomers to the team, will have to improve much more. Of the newcomers, Campanelli said sophomore Christopher Herrera will get a lot of minutes.

“Having Cris return as a starter, I think, is big for us just because he’s sort of the emotional leader,” Campanelli said. “He’s the vocal leader and he was trying to play that role last year. So, he’s going to keep doing that for us this year.”

Norwalk has been known to pull off a surprise here and there in league play. If that’s the case this season, then the Lancers could find themselves in fourth place and maybe even third.

“I knew coming from North Orange County, which has good basketball, that this is a tough league for sure with the Mayfair’s, the La Mirada’s and the Cerritos’,” Campaneeli said. “Those are probably the three top teams that we’re looking at. Returning Josh Christopher as the league M.V.P., what are you going to do with that? But definitely, the Suburban League is everything I thought it would be.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN CRUSADERS

15-14 overall last season, 3-5 in the Olympic League, tied for third place, lost to Rancho Christian 65-45 in the Division 2A second round playoffs

Head coach: Bryan Branderhorst (12th season, 171-138)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 75-72

Last time missed the playoffs:2011

STARTERS LOST: SO Gorden Boykins (9.3 points per game last season), Johnny Johnson (10.4 ppg), Aaron Purnell (15.1 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Jacob Green (4.8 ppg.), SR Julio Martinez

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Brandon Krikke, SR Trevor LaParl, SR Chris Woodard, SR Garret Williams, SR Kyle Williams

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: SR Brandon Marion, JR Christian Bozanic, SO Nick Lamb

Another team that had high aspirations of performing better than it did, and lost a lot of scoring due to graduation or other reasons, was Valley Christian. Was finishing a game above .500 what head coach Bryan Branderhorst expected?

“Heading into the season, I try not to put a whole lot of expectations on win totals,” Branderhorst said. “You just never know what’s going to happen. You have a season like last year where it seems like we’re starting to build towards something really good. We beat number one ranked Heritage Christian at home, right after getting our football players’ feet wet in a groove, right after getting Julio [Martinez] eligible off a transfer, then in that very game, Jalen [Hines] breaks his finger and never plays really again. Shortly thereafter, Julio sprains his ankle bad and never plays again.”

He added that margins are really thin and there a lot of good basketball teams and a lot of good coaches and programs everywhere. There is not one easy win in our league, never ever, he continued, and being in Division 2 makes it difficult as well.

“We certainly lost a lot of productivity as far as putting points on the board from those guys,” Branderhorst said. “Aaron is doing well in college and is playing early and Johnny as well. We miss them but we’re proud of them. I guarantee you guys are ready to take up the slack and are excited to prove they can play too.”

Even though senior Jacob Green returns as the team’s leading scorer with less than five points a game, Branderhorst says the Crusaders will have a good amount of depth, a lot of balance and will maybe be one of the best passing teams he has ever had. He is quick to point out that a lot of people will be taken by surprise by senior Brandon Krikke, who had an excellent offseason. Senior Trevor LaParl is playing with a lot more confidence and seems to be more free and less nervous. One thing to notice about the 2017-2018 V.C. squad is that there are only 10 players, but not to worry.

“No, it’s not a concern at all,” Branderhorst said. “In fact, it’s kind of fun. I don’t have to worry about finding minutes for them. We have 10 guys who are all going to play in the rotation as long as everybody is healthy and under normal circumstances, everyone is going to play significant minutes every game.”

Branderhorst concludes by saying that the Olympic League is a little bit mysterious because Village Christian High had a coaching change and everyone from last season’s team is gone either by graduation or transfer. Heritage Christian High graduated a lot as well.

WHITNEY WILDCATS

12-17 overall last season, 3-9 in the Academy League (includes two forfeit losses), fifth place

Head coach: Wade Morris (second season, 12-17)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 51-74

Last time made the playoffs: 2015

STARTERS LOST: Ben Barnett (5.0 points per game last season), Peter Kang (6.3 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Heaven Flores (13.2 ppg.), SR Adi Jahic (6.2 ppg.), SR Daniel Sou (5.0 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Jonan Baladjay, SR Victor Chiang, JR Joshua Chung, JR Kamron Ortiz, JR Timothy Reyes

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: FR Adetokunbo Adeleye, FR Ivan Bacamack

A late season surge to get into the playoffs was nullified by two forfeit losses as a result to some scheduling issues. It ended what would have been the season head coach Wade Morris was looking for. Even though Whitney High finished what would have been fourth place, Morris was caught off guard just a bit by what the Academy League was all about.

“I didn’t know how tough the league would be,” Morris said. “So, the top three teams are really the top three teams. I didn’t expect that. I expected to win more than three games in league, of course. By the end of the season, they seemed to get it. They got what I was saying, they understood what I was saying. Unfortunately, my best players were all hurt; broken down at 70 percent. So, I’m dissatisfied [with last season].”

The biggest change this season for the ‘Cats, according to Morris, is that he has some warriors. Most of the guys he has will fight and it begins with his returning starters-seniors Heaven Flores, Adi Jahic and Daniel Sou. The scoring figures to me vastly improved out of those three, along with senior Jonan Baladjay, who he considers his best player who ‘does it all’ and says that he’s not a good athlete, but an exceptional athlete. He just came back from knee surgery where doctors said he would be out until December.

“Daniel is a pure shooter,” Morris said. “But he wants to play defense. He can be one of the best defensive guys in the league. Adi got better; Adi is a better player than he was last year. So, he’s going to have a good year. Heaven is a better player than he was last year.”

Morris says his five seniors are the best players on the team but won’t start all of them. Junior Joshua Chung will be a backup point guard, junior Timothy Reyes is an exceptional shooter from three-point range and junior Kamron Ortiz is the second-best athlete, he added.

The one thing the Wildcats must overcome is the confidence that they can win every game. If they can do that, then Whitney should finish in fourth place since cracking the top three is nearly impossible. This will also be the final season of the Academy League.

“If they thought that the team they were facing was good, they didn’t come out to win,” Morris said. “They went out to survive. If they thought that the team they were facing was bad, they came out to win. That was the mentality. What they would always ask me was this, ‘are they good’? The mentality last year was a losing mentality.

“A lot of people are telling me that it’s going to be my worst season,” Morris later added. “I think it’s going to be my best season. I think it’s going to be much better than last year. All we have to do is stick together and play hard. That’s it. If we play defense, we’re going to be fine.”

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