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2018-2019 BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEW : Area teams to be tested with lots of youth as they field inexperienced squads

 

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

The formation of the 605 League isn’t the only noticeable change as the 2018-2019 boys basketball season gets under way. The season begins earlier than ever, and will finish sooner than ever, Valley Christian High has a new head coach and most of the teams will almost start brand new as there are very few returning players, In fact, there are only nine returning starters among the seven area teams.

ARTESIA PIONEERS

16-11 overall last season, 6-6 in the Suburban League, fourth place, lost to Segerstrom High 50-48 in the Division 4AA first round playoffs

Head coach: Ray Walker (seventh season, 79-85)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 70-66

Last time missed the playoffs: 1981

STARTERS LOST: Roman Hernandez (14.5 points per game last season), Reginald Reamer (7.5 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Heder Gladden (19.6 ppg.), SR Joshua Jennings (2.3 ppg.), JR Princeton Hoang

OTHERS RETURNING: SR LeRoy Gladden (2.4 ppg.), SR D’Andre Johnson, JR Jeremiah Charles (3.6 ppg.)

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: SR Jarren Bugay (transfer from Corona/Roosevelt High), JR Aaron Cleofas, P.J. Holmes (transfer from La Mirada High)

Of the three schools that bolted from the Suburban League to start the 605 League, Artesia High just might benefit the most as it is already one of the favorites to claim a league title. Head coach Ray Walker returns six solid players, including Mr. Everything Heder Gladden, a senior who is still playing football. Figure the Pioneers to improve greatly from last season’s 16-11 mark.

“We had two close losses to Mayfair and we beat La Mirada at the end of the year,” Walker said. “So, it proves that we can play in the league and compete. It was disappointing in the playoffs; we lost a close one. We didn’t get it done, so we’re looking forward to this year.”

Gladden won’t be the only focal point of the team, which Walker says is the deepest he has ever had in his seven seasons at Artesia. The Pioneers picked up a pair of transfers who will make impacts once they become eligible and seniors LeRoy Gladden and Joshua Jennings as well as juniors Princeton Hoang and Jeremiah Charles have improved tremendously since the end of last season.

“We’re excited to have them back,” Walker said. “LeRoy played a lot last year and may not have started. But we’re looking forward to getting him [once football is over] too. I think we have a good core coming back.”

The Pioneers finished no better than fourth place the last 11 seasons they were in the very competitive Suburban League. Now, they have a chance of winning a league crown for the first time since the 2006-2007 season. If anything, look for Artesia to be a top three team at the end of January.

“I like the move [to the new league],” Walker said. “I think it’s going to be a very competitive league, a good league, a fun league. So, I’m excited about it.

“I think we have a chance,” Walker later added. “I think Cerritos has been, obviously, better than us in the league we’re coming from the last few years. Pioneer, I’ve seen them in the summer, is also very good. It’s going to be a battle and I think we have an opportunity to win the league.”

CERRITOS DONS

20-8 overall last season, 9-3 in the Suburban League, second place, lost to Crean Lutheran High 78-61 in the Division 3AA second round playoffs

Co-Head coaches: Jonathan Watanabe (18thseason overall, 254-224) and Kevin Enomoto (fourth season, 51-35)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 82-60

Last time missed the playoffs: 2007

STARTERS LOST: Vincent Biscoe (7.9 points per game last season), Destin Flucas (16.2 ppg.), Dorian Harris (11.3 ppg.), Jyvontte Moore (9.6 ppg.), Byron Sur

STARTERS RETURNING: None

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Aditya Suresh, JR Ethan Reyes, JR Jagger Uy, SO Alexander Archer (4.2 ppg.)

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: JR Gavin Carothers

Longtime Cerritos High co-head coach Jonathan Watanabe has been in this position before; coaching a team that does not return a starter from the previous season. But, just like the previous times, he always manages to get the best out of the young and inexperienced players and the team goes on to do great things. This season, the Dons return just four players, but Watanabe says he’s excited because this could be one of the most talented teams they’ve had. Certainly, the Dons will struggle early because they’re young and don’t have the experience. But look for the black and gold to compete for a league title with Artesia.

“I don’t think it’s too different,” Watanabe said. “We planned for [this season]. We actually had five returners on varsity scheduled, but [senior] Lotanna Ene is not going to be playing this year. So, all four [returners] will start; Lotanna probably would have been our starter at the center spot. But we had a strong j,v, team which won the Suburban League, and then we added a really strong freshman class, who are now sophomores.”

The team is based on juniors Ethan Reyes and Jagger Uy and everything Cerritos does is geared on what they do, according to Watanabe. The goal for the team is to play at their speed and have them be the leaders and everyone else to catch up to them speed-wise. All four returners will start with junior Gavin Carothers slated to be the other starter. There are 18 players listed on the varsity roster, but not all will begin the season on varsity. Watanabe will be moving several players up and down from the junior varsity team as the season goes on and says this will be one of the biggest teams in the league.

“As a coach, you always look at what you have this year and what you’re going to have the next year,” Watanabe said. “You have to prepare at least a year in advance. I think sometimes my focus is almost too much into the future and I need to make sure I always stay in the present.”

“Alex is probably going to be our stud,” Watanabe said. “We need him to get better. He’s not used to that role. I think he’s too unselfish, and it’s a credit to him and his family. He’s just a good kid and he doesn’t want people to feel like he’s taking too much control of everything. But he’s good enough to do it.”

Cerritos will be faced with a very tough preseason with road games at Canyon High and Gahr High, meeting with Downey High at Staples Center and a return trip to the North Orange County Tournament. Watanabe says his team can go winless in preseason, but the goal is to win the league. Once league begins, Cerritos will have three straight home games, followed by five on the road before wrapping up the regular season with two at home.

“I don’t know who put it together, but the fact that we open up with our first two games during the winter break…Whitney has no games during the winter break,” Watanabe said of the schedule. “We suggested swapping that home game so that at least every single team in our league would have one home game and one away game during the winter break, and they said no.”

GAHR GLADIATORS 

12-14 overall last season, 4-6 in the San Gabriel Valley League, fourth place

Head coach: Ricky Roper (ninth season, 144-89)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 87-56

Last time made the playoffs: 2017

STARTERS LOST: Jarrel King (13.0 points per game last season), Seth Shaw (5.8 ppg.), JR Jaren Johnson (13.1 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Isaiah Knowles, SR Justin Stephens (6.3 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Micah Bernard, SR Ryan Young

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: SO Jalen Pitre

The 2017-2018 season was one that followers of Gahr basketball, nor head coach Ricky Roper ever envisioned. Not only did the Gladiators finish with a losing overall record, as well as a less than .500 league record, but Gahr failed to make the playoffs for the first time in over 20 seasons. In addition, Gahr failed to have a winning season for the first time since the 2003-2004 campaign and went from co-league champions of the San Gabriel Valley League to a tie for fourth place.

“No one expects not to make the playoffs,” Roper said. “We had a chance to win the last game and we just didn’t quite get it done. We had a really, really tough schedule and the new CIF rule is that you have to finish .500. We played in the Pac Shores Tournament and our tournament was [also] tough. So, we were probably as good as the other teams who made the playoffs.”

In Roper’s defense, the Gladiators were in every game, especially in league were four losses were by eight points or less. The scoring goes down significantly as far as who comes back for this season. But Roper says he’s expecting a big season out of his two returning senior starters, Isaiah Knowles and Justin Stephens.

“Justin will score a lot of points and get a lot of rebounds,” Roper said. “Isaiah is the point guard and he’ll run the show. He’ll get everyone involved better.”

Senior Ryan Young, another guard, had a good offseason and is expected to produce while senior Micah Bernard is fresh off the football team and will contribute in the rebounding department. Roper says he plays really good defense and has improved his offensive skills. As far as the new varsity players, look for sophomore Jalen Pitre to have a big year, according to Roper.

“We should be better,” Roper said. “We should be in every game. Every game in league should be competitive. We should be very competitive as far as getting back in the playoffs. We had a good summer and a good fall. I like the group and we’re pretty excited.”

JOHN GLENN EAGLES

6-18 overall last season, 2-10 in the Suburban League, 6thplace

Head coach: Ruben Guerrero (third season, 7-42)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 16-110

Last time made the playoffs: 2014

STARTERS LOST: Juan Jimenez (5.3 points per game last season), William Keith (6.9 ppg.), Chris Murray (9.0 ppg.), Peter Punsalan (17.4 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Chris Lujan

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Gerardo Vargas (3.0 ppg.)

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: SR Joseph Angulo, SR Jourdhin Smith, JR Chris Saucedo, SO Rafine Som

Head coach Ruben Guerrero had a squad that was senior-heavy last season but once again, John Glenn High stumbled to finish in the bottom half of the Suburban League. But, some positives came out of last season, most noticeable was the fact that the Eagles won five more games than the previous season and six more than two seasons ago. In fact, Glenn doubled its win output than the previous three seasons combined.

“There were a good handful of games that I think we should have won,” Guerrero said. “But again, the boys have never been in this situation where they had an actual chance. And I think with that mentality, it’s still kind of lingering around the John Glenn basketball program.”

Guerrero went on to add that to him, it seemed that half of the team wasn’t sure if they could pull out a win almost every night and the other half was somewhat content with the attitude of, ‘it is what it is’. He said the drive for success was different from one player to another.

This season, the Eagles will field a team of 10, highlighted by the only two returning players-seniors Chris Lujan and Gerardo Vargas.

“We have, actually, pretty good players; guys that really get after it, guys that are coming in here kind of hard-nosed,” Guerrero said. “They’re very physical and they’re really tough on each other. That’s a very rare thing for John Glenn.”

Of the newcomers, Guerrero believes that junior Chris Saucedo can play at the next level and that he can become the team’s leading scorer by midseason, if not sooner. Senior Joseph Angulo, whose top talent is with the baseball team, is playing high school basketball for the first time. Guerrero believes he could be at least a second-teamer on the 605 League All-League.

Glenn’s move to the 605 League could be a good thing if the Eagles aspire of getting to the playoffs and despite the small team in terms of numbers, Guerrero feels there’s a chance of cracking the top three

“I really wanted to find some success in the Suburban League,” Guerrero said. “Some of these schools were tough to say the least. But I think overall, with us moving to the 605 League, it gives us that competitive equity that we need.”

NORWALK LANCERS 

10-16 overall last season, 5-7 in the Suburban League, 5thplace

Head coach: Brent Campanelli (third season, 21-31)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 52-79

Last time made the playoffs: 2017

STARTERS LOST: Cris Cecenas (3.8 points per game last season), Richard Lozano, Justin Schultheis (8.2 ppg.)

STARTERS RETURNING: JR Christopher Herrera (15.4 ppg. In 25 games), JR Pablo Juarez (6.8 ppg.)

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Andrew Beeson, SR Mark Gonzalez, SR Daniel Marcial, SR Kobe Nevarez, JR Armando Castellanos (4.0 ppg.), JR Julian Lomeli

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: SO Miguel Fernandez, SO Jayden Williams

One basket, two baskets or sometimes three baskets was all that kept Norwalk High from having a better season and advancing to the postseason. Last season, head coach Brent Campanelli saw his team fall to Whitney High by three points, Monrovia High by two points, Glenn by four points and Artesia by a point. Those potential wins would have put the Lancers at 14-12 overall and 7-5 in the Suburban League.

“Close, very close,” Campanelli said. “We knew it was going to be tough, but we wanted to get into the playoffs and two years ago we missed it by two games and last year we missed it by one. December really got us last year; it really hurt us.”

Norwalk should be better this season because of the returning players it has, especially junior starter Christopher Herrera, the team’s leading scorer. But any of the six non-starters coming back are capable of putting up high numbers in scoring, or rebounding. If Herrera can get close to 20 points a game and junior Pablo Juarez close to double figures, then the Lancers will be sitting pretty.

“They’ve improved tremendously,” Campanelli said of Herrera and Juarez. “Just from a leadership standpoint, really. Both of them have taken on a leadership role and they’ve understood that there’s really nobody to look to now. They’re the ones that need to be looked up to.”

Herrera lived up to the expectations Campanelli had for him and his expectations have doubled for this season. Campanelli also said that junior Andrew Beeson is probably the team’s best defender and rebounder, and senior Mark Gonzalez will slide into a starting spot to start the season. He also added that junior Julian Lomeli’s tenacity will surprise the rest of the league and sophomore Jayden Williams, a varsity newcomer, will contribute from day one.

Now that the Suburban League is a four-team circuit, the Lancers will have to play even harder in order to get an automatic playoff berth. Norwalk has not finished higher than third place since the 2009-2010 season and in a four-team league, the top two get automatic berths.

“I think for tradition sake and for parity sake, I do wish it was still seven,” Campanelli said. “It gives the guys a chance to travel a little more and play some other schools in and around the community. We’re not going to complain; it is what it is.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN DEFENDERS

17-11 overall last season, 4-4 in the Olympic League, fourth place, lost to La Serna High 54-30 in the Division 2A first round

Head coach: Josh Beaty (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 81-67

Last time missed the playoffs: 2011

STARTERS LOST: Jacob Green (8.5 points per game last season), Brandon Krikke (6.3 ppg.), Trevor LaParl (8.7 ppg.), Julio Martinez (13.0 ppg.), Kyle Williams

STARTERS RETURNING: None

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Christian Bozanic

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: JR Malvin Payero, SO Denzel Williams, FR Nathan Medina

Former Crean Lutheran High head coach Josh Beaty replaces Bryan Branderhorst, who had been Valley Christian High’s head coach for the past 12 seasons and inherits a team that has no starters coming back and just one returner. Needless to say, this will be a rebuilding season for the Defenders, who has not missed the postseason since 2011.

“Valley Christian has tremendous potential for a basketball program,” Beaty said of taking over the team. “The vision of the school coupled with all of the local basketball talent make for a perfect combination for a premier program.”

Beaty said it will be challenging this season being in a tough league as opposed to the now-defunct Academy League, but V.C. will build the foundation which will create momentum for the program moving forward.

While senior Christian Bozanic will be the team’s senior leader, a sign of things to come in the future could come from junior Malvin Payero, who won’t be eligible until Dec. 26, sophomore Denzel Williams, who has developed a lot in a short amount of time and has a very bright future, according to the new head coach, and freshman Nathan Medina.

“The expectation this year is to build our culture by the way we conduct ourselves on and off the floor and the way we play,” Beaty said. “On the court outcomes are secondary for now to branding ourselves as a team that passes the ball to the first open guy, is always first to the floor for loose balls and plays for the change. We want to play right and let winning take care of itself.”

WHITNEY WILDCATS 

7-20 overall last season, 4-8 in the Academy League, fifth place

Head coach: Glenn Gates (first full season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 45-80

Last time made the playoffs: 2015

STARTERS LOST: Jonan Baladjay, Victor Chiang, Heaven Flores, Adi Jahic

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Joshua Chung

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Kamron Ortiz, SR Timothy Reyes, SO Jeffrey Hernandez

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: SR Ethan Xu, JR Victor Ufondu

It was a troubling season for Whitney High, which made a coaching change in early December of last season as Glenn Gates replaced Wade Morris. On top of that, the Wildcats graduated four talented starters, but also returns enough talent to keep the team competitive in the 605 League.

“We talked about this a lot,” Gates said. “I think it was unfair to them with the situations that did occur. So, I think there was somewhat of a disadvantage for our kids. But ultimately, I think it was a gap in the seniors and juniors just in talentwise. It’s definitely been a challenge, just getting to know the environment, how these kids learn, what they like to do, what they don’t like to do and who are they,” he continued. “What I love is the fact from our varsity team on down to our now freshman group that we have, I think that there is better chemistry.”

Gates said that seniors Kamron Ortiz, Joshua Chung or Timothy Reyes, and Sanal Asokan are guards to fear and are projected to be the starters along with senior Ethan Xu and junior Zaafir Haider. Sophomore Jeffrey Hernandez, who came up late last season from the junior varsity team, will begin the season on the junior varsity team again but will see some time on varsity.

“I don’t know, but we’ll find out soon to come,” Gates said of where his team will finish in the league standings. “But I really feel the kids are really, really comfortable with knowing that they’re playing against some of the guys that they know. I think that benefits us the most.  We feel comfortable in this setting that we feel like we can really make a run. This group is extremely confident.”

 

 

 

 

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