RATES RATES   _______________________________________

Socialize

’21-’22 BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEW – Artesia to challenge Cerritos for league title while teams look to rebound from short season

 

November 22, 2021

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff

 

Experience will be paramount for the area’s boys basketball teams as they either look to rebound from the unprecedented and shortened spring Covid season or if they have ambitions of capturing a league title. Cerritos High sees a changing of the guard in head coaches after 20 seasons while John Glenn High and Valley Christian High also welcome new head coaches.

ARTESIA PIONEERS                                                                                              

16-8 overall last season, 7-3 in the 605 League, tied for second place, lost to San Marino High 61-53 in the Division 4AA first round playoffs.

Head coach: Jeff Myles (third season, 31-22)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 80-56

Last time missed the playoffs: 1981

Division 4AA

STARTERS LOST: SR Jalen Casentiano, Jonathan Nelson

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Miles Jennings, SO Aaron Banks, SO Zion Staples

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Yutong Zhang

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: SR Jordan Kirkwood, JR Steve Anderson, JR Dontaye Hardy, JR Andrew Noquez, FR Jaylen Reed

Last season, head coach Jeff Myles pretty much saw his squad as a ‘brand new team’, as he stated, starting a pair of freshmen, two juniors and a senior and when the Pioneers ended the regular season tied for second place in the 605 League, he thought it was a major accomplishment. Of the team’s three league losses, one was by three points at home to league champion Cerritos, and another was a four-point home setback to Pioneer High.

“Last year was great, just to play, because we didn’t know if we were going to play,” said head coach Jeff Myles. “I think we ended up playing [24] games total last year where some schools only played 12 or 13. The regular season is 28, so we got 24 in which is great. It was tough on the guys; we had four games in five days maybe three straight weeks. But we got through it and were thankful we were able to play.”

Look for the Pioneers to have even a better season as the program seeks to continue its streak of 41 consecutive seasons of advancing to the CIF-Southern Section divisional playoffs. That type of streak can be intimidating to opponents, but as Myles tells his team all the time, whenever the team steps on the court, it’s someone’s championship game because when an opposing player sees the Artesia High logo or name across the uniform, they think of former standouts James Harden or Charles and Ed O’Bannon.

“It’s always an honor to coach Artesia,” Myles said.” This is a historic place. I’m trying to build the brand back up this year. Things are slowly starting to turn back the way it was and hopefully it’s turning in the right direction.”

If the Pioneers are to keep that long playoff streak going, they will have to do with four returning players, two of which are seniors and the other two being sophomores. Myles isn’t concerned that he has four returning players because the team played around 25 games in the summer and around 14 in the fall. The sophomores ended up being the leading scorers last season in Aaron Banks (11.1 points per game) and Zion Staples (12.2 ppg.). Even though he was starter last season, senior Miles Jennings played spot minutes but is expected to play more minutes this season. Myles projects him to be the team’s leader and thinks he could be someone who could play at the next level.

“One of the best quotes I heard was the best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores,” Myles said of Banks and Staples. “Them playing a lot last year was great for them. They got the chance to get the experience because there is nothing like experience.”

Juniors Dontaye Hardy and Andrew Noquez were stars on Artesia’s junior varsity team last season and are expected to help at the varsity level along with junior Steve Anderson, a transfer from Bakersfield and senior Jordan Kirkwood, also brought up from the junior varsity team. If Banks and Staples shined as freshmen, the same could be true for 5’10” freshmen Jaylen Reed, whom Myles says has great upside. Myles projects Anderson and returning senior Yutong Zhang as the other starters along with Banks, Jennings and Staples.

The biggest concerns Myles sees his team potentially having this season are not being up for the challenge when other teams are matching Artesia’s intensity and team chemistry when it comes to plugging players in and out of the game.

Artesia has a strong non-league schedule with three tournaments, including the MaxPreps Tournament in San Diego County in late December. But when it comes to league play, if there was a season for the Pioneers to snap Cerritos’ three-year reign in the 605 League and win a league title for the first time since the 2006-2007 campaign, it just might be in three months.

“I always have mainly three expectations any time I’m coaching,” Myles said. “My first one is to always to try to finish above .500. My second one is to try to win league any way I can and my third one is always to try to make CIF playoffs. Those are what our expectations are going in. League is always going to be tough; you never know what is going to happen. You can’t overlook other teams. My guys have to be ready for all the challenges.”

CERRITOS DONS                                                                                                    

11-4 overall last season, 10-0 in the 605 League, first place, lost to Orange Lutheran High 66-52 in the Division 2AA first round playoffs.

Head coach: Lance Convento (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 84-47

Last time missed the playoffs: 2007

Division 3AA

STARTERS LOST: Alexander Archer, Obinna Ene, Tylenn Meeks, Ryan Scammahorn

STARTERS RETURNING: JR Andrew Hartman

OTHERS RETURNING: SR John Berry, SR Francis Carrillo, SR Brendon Dela Pena, SR Landen Loo, SR Jaden Rabago, SR Alec Reyes, SR Jordan Santos, SR Armand Soriano, JR Dominic DeLaCruz, SO Luke Rigor

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: SR Matthew Gray, SO Osinachi Agaranna

After a remarkable 20-year run as the head coach at Cerritos, Jonathan Watanabe and his 305 victories gives way to Lance Convento, a former Cerritos standout who graduated in 2003 and was the head coach at Whitney High the past two seasons. Convento inherits a team that has a lot of returning players, but only one of them has extensive playing time.

“It means a lot,” Convento said of coaching at his alma mater. “I always envisioned maybe coaching [at Cerritos] eventually after graduating from high school and after playing basketball in college a little bit and overseas. Then after hanging up my shoes and not being able to play anymore, I started coaching. I’ve been having that dream to coach back at home at Cerritos. To give back to the City of Cerritos community and give back to my alma mater means a lot.”

Convento will see a difference in the style of play at Cerritos than what he saw at Whitney as the tempo is much faster than it was on the east side of town. He said that he thinks the kids at Cerritos grew up playing basketball at a higher level more than the kids who play to Whitney, and they play more basketball in the offseason.

The Dons return 11 of 17 players from last season’s squad with junior Andrew Hartman as the lone returning starter. Hartman scored 71 points in 14 games including a pair of games where he reached double figures. Only one other returning player scored in double figures, that being senior Armand Soriano. Of the 18 players the Dons will field,13 of them are seniors.

“He’s a promising young talent; definitely one of our more athletic guys,” Convento said of Hartman. “He definitely can score in a lot of bunches and quick points in a small amount of time and can definitely be one of the leaders on the team and one of the players to help us get to where we want to go.”

While Convento isn’t sure who will complement Hartman in the starting lineup, he said he is counting on a lot of the seniors to step up this season. But at the same time, he didn’t rule out the possibility of Hartman coming off the bench to become the sixth guy. He added that of the other returning players, none of them stand out amongst the others. While there may not be an Alex Archer-type of player, Convento said his team is more well-rounded and they all contribute in many ways.

In terms of expectations for the first-year head coach, he said they haven’t changed from previous seasons, which are to win a league title and ultimately try to make a run in the playoffs.

GAHR GLADIATORS

3-9 overall last season, 1-7 in the San Gabriel Valley League

Head coach: Richard Roper (12th season, 179-125)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 65-60

Last time made the playoffs: 2019

Division 3AA

STARTERS LOST: Rashad Willis

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Daniel Okoro, SR Caleb Shepherd, SR Jayden Thomas, SR Delmus Wilkerson

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Brion Jackson, SR Siva Pidikiti

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: JR Kane Young, SO Dayvon Gates, SO Jared Joseph, SO Tyler Robinson, SO Evan Spurlin-Renfroe, FR Dillon Chelsea

Like most schools, Gahr High didn’t do anything from March 2020 to this past March when the team was able to get back into the gymnasium. As the season approached, the team practiced outside for two weeks, then one week inside before the season began. Head coach Richard Roper called it ‘a pretty challenging year’ and because of that, the Gladiators played only 12 games with four coming outside the San Gabriel Valley League.

“I thought our kids handled it well and competed hard,” Roper said.

He went on to say that he didn’t have any expectations for the team in the shortened season and that all he wanted to do was try to give the kids an opportunity to compete and have fun.

The Gladiators return four senior starters from last season, but Roper was quick to say that they aren’t necessarily the starters for this season. He added that seniors Daniel Okoro, Caleb Shepherd, Jayden Thomas and Delmus Wilkerson have been great for the culture of the program and getting the team through the Covid season.

“Honestly, it really hasn’t stopped because we picked up in early April and had the shortened season,” Roper said. “Then we went right into summer league two weeks [after the end of the season], then we took a break and then we went into the fall league. We’ve kind of been at it since March.”

Although the Gladiators return six seniors, Roper says their experience is different because they haven’t played in November tournaments. Gahr is coming off a 2-2 performance in the Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary Cardinal Classic last week and was in the El Monte Thanksgiving Feast Tournament this past week.

Roper said that all 13 members of the team are going to play a lot, but he is very impressed with junior Kane Young and freshman Dillon Chelsea as newcomers to varsity and went on to say that Chelsea stands out because he’s a very skilled player for his age. Gahr’s freshmen team did so well last season that several sophomores are now at the varsity level.

“The team hasn’t been together a whole lot, but we definitely have a lot more talented skill than we’ve had in the last few years,” Roper said. “

According to Roper, he would like to take his team back to the playoffs but it’s going to be challenging and added that there will not be an easy game among the 10 league contests. But he feels like the team is good enough to finish in the top three in a lot of the other leagues.

“For our [league] things would have to break right for us,” he said. “But we have a shot at it.”

JOHN GLENN EAGLES

0-10 overall last season, 0-10 in the 605 League, sixth place

Head coach: Sam Abebe (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 14-99

Last time made the playoffs: 2014

Division 5A

STARTERS LOST: Chanmaforine Somchan

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Natanael Jacobo, SR Richard Ramos, SR Joan Salgado, SO Seyharmony Somchan

OTHERS RETURNING: SR Isak Hernandez, JR Michael Saucedo

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: JR Sebastian Figueroa, JR Tony Jefferson, JR Frank Sanchez

For the second time in the past six seasons, Glenn failed to win a game and the program has not a winning season in over two decades. On top of that, the Eagles have had two playoff appearances since 2000. Sam Abebe, who replaces Ruben Guerrero, becomes the program’s ninth head coach since 2000. He had been the freshman coach and the junior varsity coach at Santa Fe High the past two seasons and before that, he was the freshman coach at West Covina High. Abebe said he knew very little about the Glenn program upon arriving at the school other than knowing it had struggled the last couple of years.

Despite the losing woes, one thing that Glenn has going in its favor is experience with four starters coming back, three of them being seniors including Natanael Jacobo. He scored 76 points last season and, as Abebe puts it, is a ‘hard-working kid who loves Glenn more than any other kid I’ve come across in my short time being here’.
“He is a kid who has a bright future off the court due to his work ethic,” Abebe continued. “On the court, he is a player with an extremely high IQ, understands the game well and is going to be a big part of our team. He is a fantastic leader as well.”

Senior Richard Ramos added 63 points last season while the other four returning players combined to score 59 points. Glenn will field nine players this season and Abebe is tabbing junior Sebastian Figueroa as the top varsity rookie, saying he can do everything on the court and is going to bring a dimension to the team that will help everyone’s game improve. He continued by saying he is ‘arguably the most athletic player on the team and has the ability to score on all three levels’.

Abebe believes this season’s team can be the program’s winningest team it has had in a long time and that the talent is there; they just have to be patient.

“These young men are hungry and will never give up,” Abebe said. “I am extremely excited to be a part of this journey and look forward to seeing how far this team can go. Making the top three in the 605 League is going to be an extremely tough task, but this team has the heart to accomplish anything they want. I know one thing; we will compete in every game.”

NORWALK LANCERS                                                                                             

4-7 overall last season, 2-4 in the Suburban League, third place

Head coach: Brent Campanelli (sixth season, 54-67)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 54-67

Last time made the playoffs: 2020

Division 4AA

STARTERS LOST: Jonathan Bolanos, Miguel Fernandez, Luis Gomez, Jayden Williams

STARTERS RETURNING: JR Aytin Reyes

OTHERS RETURNING: JR Jesus Gomez, JR Kaleb Nakano

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: JR Alejandro Hernandez, SO Yahir Martinez, SO Zack Powell, SO Robert Salazar

After going 18-12 and advancing to the quarterfinals during the 2019-2020 season, Norwalk head coach Brent Campanelli saw his team play just 11 games this past spring and not make it to the playoffs. He said going to the playoffs was never on his mind this past spring because the team was relatively young. In fact, he called the short season ‘pretty exciting’ and felt it was ‘pretty strange’. He continued by saying the expectations were very minimal because of the lack of time the team was able to get inside the gymnasium.

“A couple of years ago, we had a pretty good team, and they were pretty full,” Campanelli said. “So, we lost all of them, then Covid happened. The intention was to bring a bunch of sophomores anyway. We only had two seniors who were really going to lead us. To be honest, we wanted to get some experience and give the seniors a farewell and I was happy we were able to do that.”

This figures to be another tough season for the Lancers as they return only three players from last season’s team, one of them being a starter in junior Aytin Reyes. Campanelli stated that the lack of varsity experience is becoming less and less of a concern because the team is learning to compete. However, he admitted that it’s still in the forefront of their minds. Norwalk will carry six seniors, six juniors and three sophomores.

“We just don’t have the experience,” Campanelli said. “We’re learning to compete, [but] it’s very hard to win at this level. Learning to compete is the first step; learning to win is the second step. It’s going to be a challenge.

“This is a brand new experience,” he continued. “For me, having that many sophomores and having a bunch of juniors without the experience…this is a brand new situation for me. And it’s been nice to lean on [former Norwalk head coach Jim Webster], who has been around for a while and has gone through these sorts of things. He’s been a great support.”

If Campanelli has plans of looking ahead, he said he has a solid sophomore class, even at the junior varsity level and he’s been talking to the team about the ‘big picture’.

For this season, Campanelli expects his team to compete. win the games that he knows his team has the ability to win and play hard. He said the team has a serious defensive mentality, which is what Campanelli came to Norwalk when he took over as head coach.

VALLEY CHRISTIAN DEFENDERS

14-8 overall last season, 3-5 in the Olympic League, third place, lost to Aquinas High 83-65 in the Division 3AA semifinals, lost to Aquinas 70-62 in the CIF Southern California Regional Semifinals

Head coach: Tom Lewis (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 82-55

Last time missed the playoffs: 2011

Division 2AA

STARTERS LOST: Brett Stahl

STARTERS RETURNING: SR Nathan Medina, SR Micah Sybesma, JR T.J. Waters, SO Michael Wright

OTHERS RETURNING: JR D.J. Harrington

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: JR Nick Bozanic, SO Chris Allen, SO Jacob Bayla, SO Myles Harvey,

Head coach Tom Lewis, who replaces Josh Zumkehr, may be new to the V.C. program but is not new to coaching basketball. In fact, Lewis has 34 years of experience ranging from high school to college to the WNBA. He opened his coaching career as an assistant at St. John Bosco High for one season before holding that title at Mater Dei High for the next three seasons. From there, it was on to Long Beach State University for four seasons and worked under then-head coach Wayne Morgan. Lewis was then on the coaching staff of the Phoenix Mercury and Cheryl Miller for one season before working with the legendary Vivian Stringer at Rutgers University.

Lewis came back to coach at JSerra High for five years, New Mexico State University, Saddleback Valley Christian High for seven years as the head coach, California State University, Los Angeles as an assistant, Orangewood Academy last season and now at V.C. In between some of his coaching stints, Lewis was a trainer for former Southern California star Tyson Chandler. He becomes the school’s fourth head coach in the past five seasons.

“First of all, I think I’m fortunate to have the job,” Lewis said. “Looking at it from the outside, it’s an unbelievable job, especially with the tradition it has and with the community support. The administration is very supportive of that. But I think the thing that sticks out the most since I’ve had the job is the character of the kids.”

The Defenders had a banner season this past spring, advancing to the semifinals twice in the playoffs, only to face Aquinas High both times. Experience is going to be the key as V.C., which has nine players on this season’s team, returning four starters and one reserve from last season. The key component will be senior Nathan Medina, whom Lewis has already tabbed as one of the best scorers in Southern California. In the first four games this season, while being doubled and tripled teamed, Medina has scored at least 20 points three times. Last season, Medina reached 20 points at least 15 times.

“He’s going one against three in most games now because everyone is running at him to try to contain him and his scoring ability,” Lewis said. “That really shows a lot about his character that he is unselfish enough to obviously distribute the ball when he’s triple-teamed. But he’s one of the best scorers I’ve ever coached in high school.”

Complementing Medina in the starting lineup will be senior Micah Sybesma, junior T.J. Waters and sophomore Michael Wright, all of whom scored over 100 points last season. The other returning player is junior D.J. Harrington, who added over 70 points last season.

Of the four newcomers to varsity, sophomore Jacob Bayla is one to keep an eye one as he is already the most improved player since moving up from the junior varsity squad. But sophomore Myles Harvey is a great utility player who can hit shots and guard players, according to Lewis, while sophomore Chris Allen is capable of hitting three-pointers and junior Nick Bozanic brings the toughness.

Despite playing in the very tough Olympic League, regarded as one of the top strongest leagues in the CIF-SS, and not finishing above third place since the 2006-2007 season, V.C. has not missed the playoffs since 2011. Lewis is confident his team can make it 11 straight trips to the postseason.

“You have put into perspective, you’re dealing with Village [Christian] and Heritage [Christian], two of the top 25 teams in Southern California,” Lewis said. “It’s not the days where you’re dealing with an above average basketball team. Our success is all based on our defense; how well we play man to man defense is what will determine our success. How successful we are in league is going to be based on our defense. I think we can play with anybody any given night if we show up and play our defense.

“But we have two challenges,” he continued. “Heritage has about probably six or seven Division 1 players on the team and Village has probably three or four themselves and have some of the best players in Southern California. We have our hands full, but I think that our community and our school and our team and our athletic department…we’re excited about having the opportunity to play those teams.”

WHITNEY WILDCATS

5-10 overall last season, 4-6 in the 605 League, fourth place

Head coach: Joseph Webber (third season, second stint, 11-40)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 37-87

Last time made the playoffs: 2015

Division 4A

STARTERS LOST: Kofi Addo, Dhilan Amin, SR Andrew Sim

STARTERS RETURNING: JR David Song, JR Ethan Wong

OTHERS RETURNING: None

TOP VARSITY NEWCOMERS: To be announced

Former Whitney head coach Joseph Webber, who last coached the Wildcats during the 1998-1999 season, becomes the program’s fifth head coach in the past seven seasons. Whitney has not had a winning season since the 2011-2012 campaign, which was the last of three straight winning seasons. According to the roster posted on MaxPreps.com, the Wildcats do not have one senior.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.