Above: Senior George Toyama is a four-year letterman for PHS.
When the CIF-Southern Section realigned basketball, it was doomsday for some schools.
But for Pasadena High School, it meant finding the right place to compete.
This could be another Bulldogs season of redemption.
With an athletic and fast lineup and the return of a desperately missed post presence, Pasadena once again is the Star-News’ preseason No. 1 team.
No. 1 Pasadena
The Bulldogs finished 22-6 last year and claimed their fifth consecutive Pacific League championship, but for the second year in a row they were ousted in the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs, this time by Long Beach Poly.
The Bulldogs since have been moved down to Division 2A where they have a legitimate shot at winning a CIF title, not that they couldn’t compete with the likes of powerhouse Mater Dei.
“It wasn’t that we didn’t have a legitimate shot at winning the title, but we lost Steven Adams,” Pasadena coach Tim Tucker said. “Losing a 6-foot-9 guy who’s been playing the whole year and averaging 18 points a game the last five games before he was out for the season meant we had to make some changes. To have to play Long Beach Poly in the second round was a huge challenge, but I still think (Pasadena) is a quality program that can compete with anybody if we’re healthy.”
Adams, a senior, is back after undergoing 10 hours of brain surgery to remove a mass behind his right eye that put pressure on the brain and at one point forced a self-induced coma.
Pasadena will have some tough shoes to fill with the departed Joe Henson (San Jose State) and Travis Flye (McLennan Community College, in Waco, Texas).
The steady hand on the Bulldogs for a fourth season is George Toyama, a senior point guard who will be counted on to control the tempo.
Aside from Adams, the Bulldogs don’t have the inside presence it had last year, and because of that you can expect a quicker tempo.
“You can’t replace those guys,” Tucker said of Henson and Flye. “The height, for one, you can’t replace the inside and rebounding. We’re a different team that’ll have a lot more running and a lot more full-court pressure, baseline to baseline and pressuring defense.”
Seniors Tyler Barber (6-foot-5) and Chris Bridges (6-0) are getting a lot of Division I looks, but the makeup of the Bulldogs this year consists of young talent that will see valuable minutes, including 6-foot-5 freshman forward Brandon Jolley.
Pasadena hosts the prestigious Rose City Classic running through Saturday. It features some of the top teams in the state, including Corona Centennial, Etiwanda, Inglewood, Fremont and Eisenhower.
Pasadena will not participate in the MaxPreps National Tournament at Pines and instead chose to stay home for the Christmas holiday and play in the Oaks Christian Tournament. The Bulldogs also will take part in the Mission Prep National Tournament beginning Dec. 17 against Edison of Fresno.
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No. 2 La Caada
The Spartans finished 20-8 overall and advanced to the second round of the CIF-SS Division 3AA playoffs.
La Caada returns All-Rio Hondo League first-teamer Jeff Grigg, Omar Rady, Mike McGleshan and Rocky Moore. Nathan Holley played significant minutes for the Spartans, too.
Matt Saber is an additional player who will make a difference as a 6-foot-4 forward. Besides Saber, the Spartans don’t have much post presence and will rely on their speedy guards to wear down defenses.
No. 3 La Salle
The Lancers will be led by 6-foot-6 forward/center Matt Nolan, who averaged 11 points and eight rebounds per game last season. Josh Anderson (6-3) and senior guard Ryan Akineayode are the other returning starters who led La Salle to a 16-13 record.
Kishon Sanders (6-foot-3, 235 pounds) will give the Lancers another strong inside presence to go along with Anderson and Nolan.
Shooting guard Ian Schuler and Michael Edwards, a 6-foot transfer from Loyola, will bolster a lineup that hopes to improve on last year’s CIF-SS Division 4A quarterfinals showing.
No. 4 Flintridge Prep
Rebels coach Garrett Ohara returns for his 11th season and brings with him a leaner and stronger post player in junior Kenyatta Smith.
The 6-foot-7, 265-pounder gives Flintridge Prep an intimidating post player who can chase down rebounds on both ends of the court.
Flintridge Prep returns four returning starters, including Prep League player of the year Edmund Chow, a senior guard who also earned all-CIF first-team honors.
No. 5 St. Francis
Ray O’Brian and Jeff Stephens begin their second season as co-head coaches.
The Golden Knights have two returning starters in Tommy Jordan, an All-Mission League second-teamer, and Dietrich Riley. Sophomore Travis Talianko (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) is looking forward to playing his first full season on varsity after a broken right hand sidelined him last year.
No. 6 Maranatha
The Minutemen return four starters in Dominic Johnson, R.J. Straker, Josh Chamberlain and Stephen Van Spronson.
Maranatha will battle CIF-SS Division 5A champion Pacific Hills for the Alpha League title.
No. 7 Alhambra
It won’t be easy, but Ed McKinney will have a tall task as he replaces Joe Petralia, who retired last season after 14 seasons and 30 years as a well-liked teacher on campus.
The uphill battle is accentuated by the fact the Moors don’t have any returning starts. They do, however, have four players from last year’s team who were part of Petralia’s final Almont League championship: Tony Dang, Ahmed Ali, Steve Wei and Pei Wei Liu.
Alhambra’s tournament runs Dec. 15-19.
No. 8 Temple City
No James Chen means the Rams start the season without the San Gabriel Valley’s leading scorer. Chen, the Star-News Player of the Year, now is at UCLA. Replacing him won’t be easy, especially with only one returning starter in Leo Chu. Zach Aquino, who twice torched La Ca ada with 17 points, is a key returner who played valuable minutes last year.
No. 9 Muir
The Mustangs will have some height to work with this season, but inexperience is an issue for first-year Muir coach Gamal Smalley.
The Mustangs will rely on captains Justin Knowles and Tevin Polk, a 6-foot-3 sophomore shooting guard.
No. 10 Monrovia
The Wildcats finished 16-10 last year and were second in the Rio Hondo League behind Temple City. Sophomore Ellis McCarthy, a 6-foot-5, 245 pound tight end/defensive end on the football team, will join the team when the Wildcats’ football season is over.