STAR-NEWS TOP 10 PRESEASON RANKINGS
2. La Caada
3. Pasadena Poly
4. Flintridge Prep
8. La Salle
9. St. Francis
10. Rennaisance Academy
By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
With success comes higher expectations, which is the reason why Pasadena High School has moved from Division 2A to 1AA for this season’s CIF-Southern Section boys basketball playoffs.
Pasadena joins the ranks of Mater Dei, Etiwanda and Long Beach Poly, all perennial powers.
The Bulldogs last season reached the Division 2A final and the semifinals of the Southern California Regional State Playoffs. It’s uncertain if Pasadena will have as much success playing in 1AA, but the simple fact the Bulldogs can be named in the same sentence as the aforementioned schools is the reason why Pasadena again is the No. 1 team in the Star-News’ preseason top 10 rankings.
1. Pasadena (27-8 last season)
Steven Adams will return for his fifth season after he was granted a hardship waiver by the CIF-State office. Adams underwent brain surgery two years ago and missed the second half of his junior season and played sparingly last year.
“He played last year but he was at about 55 percent,” Pasadena coach Tim Tucker said. “(The) CIF (Southern Section) denied his request, but he went to the state and there was enough evidence to support that the kid deserved another year.”
Adams has since regained some of his strengths as a post player, and Tucker said his confidence will grow as he plays more games. His work ethic also has shot up, so much so that he’s leading by example and for the first time was named a captain.
Pasadena, ranked 17th in the state by ESPN, will be led by Todd Lewis Jr., the slashing forward with a soft stroke. He averaged 18 points and eight rebounds per game on his way to earning All-CIF honors as a junior.
Brandon Jolley started halfway through last season as a freshman and early on showed why he’ll be a dominant force. Jolley (6-foot-5) is one of a number of players who will give the Bulldogs a sizeable front court. Adams (6-9), Lewis (6-4) and Nick Holden (6-6) are the others who will likely make up the starting five. Senior Austin Daniels, a speedy point guard with an eye for finding the open man, will replace three-year starter George Toyama.
“It’s his turn,” Tucker said of Daniels. “He’s been on this team for three years and he showed a lot of maturity in the playoffs, where he got to see a lot more time. This is what he’s been waiting for, to show what he can do.”
Tucker said this season’s bench is arguably his deepest in a while. It features 6-5 junior Simon Erza, who is captain of the Sweden 16U National Team. Tucker said he can play four positions, but will need a few games to adjust to “U.S.” speed.
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2. La Caada (23-6)
Coach Tom Hofman said this season’s Spartans comprise arguably the most experienced returning group he’s had in 18 years.
Hofman, in his 25th season at the helm, is looking to build on last season’s run that saw La Caada reach the quarterfinals of the Division 3A playoffs.
The Spartans return three starters, led by senior Mike McGlashan, who averaged 14.8 points last season. He will shoulder more offensive responsibility with the departures of Jeff Grigg and Rocky Moore.
“He’s really developed and is more balanced this season,” Hofman said.
Joining McGlashan are seniors Matt Faber and Mason Holle.
“We’re a little less dependent on the JVs coming up,” Hofman said. “Because of the experience we’re a little bit ahead of where we were last year.”
3. Pasadena Poly (23-5)
The Panthers remain intact less one guard, Justin Whorland, who is now a student at Harvard.
Daniel Wohl, who averaged 18.9 points and 7.6 rebounds, led the Panthers to a 23-5 record and a semifinal run in the CIF-SS Division 5AA playoffs last season. He earned MVP honors in the San Gabriel Tournament, first-team All-Prep League and first-team All-CIF honors, and is a major reason why Pasadena Poly may make another deep postseason run.
The Panthers also will rely on 6-5 forward Hunter Merryman and guard Blake Edwards.
“The issue is they’re playing football right now,” Pasadena Poly coach Brad Hall said.
Merryman is the quarterback and Edwards is the elusive running back leading the Panthers football team against host Bishop in Friday’s semifinals of the Northeast Division playoffs.
Curtis Toyota is the other guard who will join Edwards, but the Panthers’ bench looks just as promising with the 6-5 Grant Genske leading the charge. Matt Capehart will add depth when he returns in the second half of the season. He’s currently recovering from ACL surgery.
4. Flintridge Prep (18-7)
Kenyatta Smith is now a senior and his mere presence is an attraction. The 6-8, 260-pound center has committed to Harvard, but that won’t stop the recruiters when they see the Rebels hit the floor later this month in Torrey Pines at the ESPN Holiday Classic.
Smith is one of two returning starters, along with Korey Hamane, who averaged 11.1 points as a sophomore. Smith averaged 16.6 points and 9.3 rebounds as a junior. He hasn’t grown since shooting up a few inches after his sophomore year and appears to be growing more comfortable with his frame.
“He has a lot more poise,” said Flintridge Prep coach Garrett Ohara, who enters his 12th season at the helm. “We refined his post moves. His hands are really good and so is his foot work.”
5. Muir (10-16)
The Mustangs appear to be the darkhorse team of the Valley under second-year coach Gamal Smalley.
Muir returns two senior starters in Deshawn Hayes and Justin Knowles. Seniors Jelani Mitchell and Tevin Polk will see a lot more playing time this season, but the offense will still center around Hayes.
The 6-5 senior wingman averaged 21.2 points last season to go with 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.9 assists.
“Justin is the quarterback of our team,” Smalley said. “Over the summer he worked on his mid-range and we’ve seen a lot of improvement.
“Deshawn is very athletic. We used to joke last year that he shows up to the parking lot with 18 points. He’s just a scorer, and he should be on the high-jump team because his jump is out of the gym. He’s gotten a lot stronger, too.”
The Mustangs might not yet be up to par against the likes of Pasadena to compete for a Pacific League title, but that’s not the case when it comes to the playoffs.
Muir this season will play in Division 5AA and could potentially make a deep run.
“It’s funny because every time I mention what division we play in they say that,” Smalley said. “The kids are starting to talk that way and think that way, and rumors around town is look out for Muir.
“And I like the fact they can have that vision, but we have to learn to take it game by game.”
6. Keppel (24-7)
The reigning Almont League champion had a dream season after making its first CIF-SS semifinals and CIF-State playoff appearances in school history.
Keppel’s Hung Duong, in his 10th season as coach, leads a talented but inexperienced group eager to make another splash.
Keppel returns nine seniors and two juniors.
And the Aztecs have to do it while replacing three-year starters Timmy Wong and Sam Thim, who have graduated.
“Losing Timmy and Sam, that’s about 36 of our points right there,” Duong said.
Twins Justin Young and Jordan Young will be asked to produce along with Max Katz, who came off the bench last season but will now start at guard.
Cameron Lee-Sung is the other third returning starter.
7. Maranatha (17-11)
The Minutemen return seven seniors, including Josh Chamberlain, Stephen Van spronsen and RJ Straker.
Chamberlain averaged 12 points last season to lead all scorers. Van spronsen (6-5) and Straker (6-1) give the Minutemen size, but it’s Jeremy Major’s speed and deft ball-handling skills that will make the offense go. He almost single-handedly helped Maranatha pull off an upset over La Salle in the second round of the playoffs last season.
“He’ll have a bust-out year,” Maranatha coach Tim Godley said.
Van spronsen hit the weights this offseason and spent a lot of time in the pool. He’s gotten stronger, and it’s showed. He recently grabbed 14 rebounds in a scrimmage against Keppel.
Maranatha will take part in the Pasadena Poly Tournament next week before flying to Hawaii for the Maui Winter Classic.
8. La Salle (20-9)
The loss of Matt Nolan is a big void to fill for the Lancers. Nolan, the 2009 Star-News Player of the Year, averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds, leading the Lancers to a Camino Real League title and a quarterfinal run.
Josh Anderson and Michael Edwards will step into more demanding roles, and Israel Lacy, a sophomore transfer, looks promising. Ian Schuler and Darryl Oliver earned second-team All-Camino Real League honors last season and will see more time on the floor.
Kishon Sanders (6-2) and Gary Mkrtichyan (6-3) will provide a more physical presence inside for the Lancers.
“Maybe not height-wise, but definitely weight-wise they can bang bodies inside,” La Salle coach Steve Goldstein said.
9. St. Francis (12-16)
The Golden Knights return two starters in senior Sevan Zarifian and junior Emmerson Casta eda.
Zarifian is one of four returning seniors. Ben Maynard, Sean Brennan and Greg Stratz, who will come off the bench, are the others.
Emmerson and Zach Garde are expected to carry the load offensively, but St. Francis co-coach Ray O’Brien said all six are capable scorers.
“I’d say this is probably the most balanced scoring team we’ve had,” said O’Brian, who along with Jeff Stephens are in their third season as co-coaches.
10. Renaissance Academy (20-9)
The Wildcats have two returning starters in point guard Eddie Burroughs and center/forward Jesse Cantinol, who at 6-5, 230 is the tallest and most physical player on the team.
Renaissance Academy will be young with three sophomores and three juniors, including Troy Sontinilla, who was a part-time starter last season.
The Eagles are in the Burbank Tournament this week before taking part in the Nogales Tournament, which they won last year.