NO. 1 PASADENA — The Bulldogs finished 22-6 overall last season and won their fourth consecutive Pacific League title. Pasadena has lost just one league game the past four seasons.
But despite all the regular-season success, the Bulldogs were ousted by Arroyo Valley in the second round of last year’s CIF-SS playoffs.
“We’re optimistic about this year,” Pasadena coach Tim Tucker said. “We think we’ll have a great year with a number of players returning.
“We have the size and one of the bigger teams in high school basketball.”
The Bulldogs will be led by San Jose State-bound Joseph Henson, a 6-foot-9, 255 pound senior who will provide an intimidating presence in the front court.
Henson had an outstanding sophomore season before injuries plagued his junior year in which some major Division I schools pulled the plug on their recruiting interest.
But Henson fought his way back into what may be the best condition of his life.
“It’s probably the first time the kid has been in shape,” Tucker said.
Henson recovered from hip surgery and earned a scholarship. He signed with San Jose State just a few weeks ago.
“The kid has come back strong and lost all the baby fat,” Tucker added. “A lot of schools liked the fact that he got back in shape, but he chose San Jose State because they stuck with him. It shows his character.”
Henson will have plenty of good company in the front court with 6-foot-9 junior Steven Adams, who grew three inches in the offseason, and 6-foot-6 small forward Tyler Slye.
Adams is considered one of the best power forwards in the country and is ranked No.4 in the nation in his class by some recruiting publications.
National powerhouse Kentucky and just about every Pac-10 school, including UCLA, have taken a look at Adams.
Slye brings a Michael Cooper-esque style to the Bulldogs this season, and he even wears the same number (No.21) the former Lakers standout and Sparks head coach wore as a Bulldog.
Pasadena hosts the fifth Rose City Classic, a tournament that features the best teams in the Southland. Among some of the best players showcased will be UCLA-bound forward Tyler Honeycutt, who will lead Sylmar.
The Rose City Classic, won by the Bulldogs the past two years, runs through Saturday with the championship set for 8 p.m. at Pasadena.
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NO. 2 LA CANADA — The Spartans finished 23-9 overall last season and went unbeaten at 10-0 in the Rio Hondo League. Clark Anderson, a first team all-league selection, is La Canada’s lone returning starter.
NO. 3 LA SALLE — The Lancers (11-15, 5-5) missed the playoffs for the first time in 16 years last season. “We’re looking to make amends for last year,” said La Salle coach Steve Goldstein, who is in his 19th season at the helm. Drew Assinesi is a returning point guard starter and Matt Nolan, a 6-foot-5 center, also returns. He was the leading rebounder, shot blocker and third-leading scorer for the Lancers.
NO. 4 MARANATHA — Mark Elffers is a four-year starter and will be at point. Daniel Dingle, a three-year letterman, and Ron Cole will provide experienced presence in the backcourt and Cameron Kanda, a 6-foot-1 senior, is at forward. The fifth spot is still up for grabs, coach Tim Godley said. The Minutemen won the Delphic League title last season and finished 20-8 overall before losing to La Verne Lutheran in the Division V-AA semifinals.
NO. 5 RENAISSANCE ACADEMY — The Wildcats finished 27-4 last season. There were a lot of key players who transferred to other schools, but a group coming in could bolster their roster and perhaps help them compete for another CIF-SS title.
NO. 6 ALHAMBRA — The Moors finished 16-11 overall and 5-5 in the Almont League, good for third behind Schurr and Montebello. Alhambra lost to St. Joseph’s in the first round of the playoffs on a jumper with five seconds remaining.
Seniors Eric Allen, a first- team all-league selection, Kevin Kwan and Haitham Ali will lead the Moors.
NO. 7 TEMPLE CITY — The Rams finished 14-13 overall and 5-5 in the Rio Hondo League. Temple City returns senior guard and captain James Chen, who averaged 14.6 points last season as a junior.
NO. 8 ST. FRANCIS — The Golden Knights will be inexperienced and lack some height, but they will have speed. Malik Speed, a senior guard who averaged 16 points a game, will join the team after football obligations postponed his involvement.
Senior Brandon Ruggles has not been cleared to practice the last three weeks because of back problems. His height (6-foot-2) will be missed. With no real presence at center, St. Francis will spread the court. The Spartans finished 10-15 last season.
NO. 9 MONROVIA — The Wildcats finished 10-14 last season and were second behind La Ca ada in the Rio Hondo League. Senior Chris Smith will be asked to carry the load offensively. Senior Jonathan Snickles, at 6-foot-3, will provide some height inside. Chris Bullock regained eligibility and the junior will add a soft touch. Derrin Jenkins, a sophomore guard, will see a lot of time on the court.
NO. 10 BLAIR — The Vikings (12-13) return Jasper Cobb (12.5 points per game) and Deon Geary (12.4). Blair could challenge for a better finish than its 5-5 season in the Rio Hondo League.