Boys Hoops Preview: Lutheran, Damien and Glendora are loaded, get ready for a super 2011-12 season

La Verne Lutheran head coach Eric Cooper has a talented team featuring the likes of Cameron Osorno (15), Grant Jerrett (33) Eric Cooper Jr. (21) McKay Anderson (20) and Brian Beard Jr (1). The Trojans are seeking their third consecutive state championship. (Keith Birmingham / Staff Photographer)

The new CIF-Southern Section Division realignment will benefit some teams more than others for the 2011-12 boys basketball season, but there is no doubt the area is in for an exciting season with back-to- back state champion La Verne Lutheran boasting one of the best teams in the country and Damien in position to make a run at the Division 3AAA title with St. Mary’s-bound senior Chris Reyes topping a deep Spartans roster that includes two heralded freshmen. (To continue reading Top Ten preview, click thread)

Tribune boys hoops preseason top ten (2010 record)
1. La Verne Lutheran (23-5)
2. Damien (26-4)
3. Glendora (21-7)
4. Ayala (19-9)
5. Chino Hills (22-7)
6. Northview (23-7)
7. Covina (17-12)
8. Bishop Amat (21-8)
9. Rowland (17-12)
10. Bonita (26-4)

La Verne Lutheran leads our annual top 10 preview.

1. La Verne Lutheran (23-5 last season)

The Trojans are trying to become the first team in CIF -state history to win three state titles in a row after winning Division 5 in 2010 and Division 3 in 2011. They will shoot for the Division 4 title in 2012.

Lutheran, which has become one of the top teams in the state and country, boasts one of the nation’s best players in 6-foot-10 forward/center Grant Jerrett, rated the No. 1 player in California and ninth in the country by ESPN.

Jerrett, who signed a national letter of intent with the University of Arizona, averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds as a junior and is the reigning Tribune player of the year.

“He’s a special player, and players like him don’t come around too often,” Trojans coach Eric Cooper Sr., said. “Grant is the type of guy that defenses have to plan for. He’s one of those guys that causes defenses to migrate to, and all that does is leave a host of other guys available who can hit shots, penetrate and make plays.”

Cooper’s son, Eric Cooper Jr., also is one of the best guards in California and will join Jerrett at Arizona after verbally committing last year.

McKay Anderson is a 6-foot-6 junior forward who can dominate inside and sophomore Brian Beard will share the backcourt with Cooper.

There also is 6-foot-8 freshman forward Nnamdi Okongwu, who gives the Trojans plenty of size to go with their deep backcourt.

The Trojans, who became too good for the Arrowhead League, are a freelance school this season and will compete in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA, which includes powers Price and Harvard-Westlake.

But the Trojans, who will compete in Pasadena’s Rose City Classic Tournament next week, along with the Chik-fil-A Classic and San Diego’s Torrey Pines tournament, have a nonleague schedule that includes powers such as Orange Lutheran and Mater Dei.

“We made our schedule so that we could be in great games all the time,” Cooper Sr., said. “The tournaments are great, the nonleague games are great. And look, we realize we’re going to have a target on our backs and that everyone wants to beat us. But that’s the way it should be.”

2. Damien (26-4)

The defending Sierra League champion advanced to the Division 3A semifinals before losing to Harvard-Westlake and return 6-foot-8 power forward Chris Reyes, a senior who signed a national letter of intent with St. Mary’s.

What Jerrett is to La Verne Lutheran the dominating inside presence of Reyes is to Damien after averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds to earn league MVP and Tribune first-team honors.

Junior point guard Clayton White, who averaged eight assists, gives the Spartans a dynamic inside-outside presence. There also are the likes of 6-foot-5 junior Kevin Alfaro, 6-foot-5 senior Jonathan Prater and junior Jared Dizon.

“If you’re going to return two players, having your perimeter guy (White) and dominant guy (Reyes) is the best-case scenario,” Spartans coach Matt Dunn said. “Chris had a great offseason. He expanded his game and is more comfortable on the perimeter and still a dominant guy around the basket.

“Clayton kind of controls everything for us. He was top five in the state in assists last year and is a much improved shooter.”

The Spartans also boast two super freshmen, 6-foot-2 guard Jeremy Hemsley and 6-foot-3 Isaiah McCullough, both of whom are well-known on the club circuit.

“Jeremy is a gifted guard who is going to be special and Isaiah is already one of the strongest guys on the team,” Dunn said. He’s (McCullough) physically mature and both of them are very athletic, talented and great young men. They’re going to be special.”

Damien competes in the new Division 3AAA and will be one of the favorites to win it.

“This is the most skilled team we’ve ever had and the most athletic team we’ve ever had,” Dunn said. “We’re very excited to get the season going.”

3. Glendora (21-7)

The Tartans return the area’s leading scorer in junior Nick Colletta, who averaged 24 points and seven rebounds his sophomore year while helping the Tartans finish second in the Baseline League behind Etiwanda.

The Tartans were upset last year in the first round of the Division 2A playoffs by Eastside but, like Lutheran and Damien, will be one of the favorites to win their division in 2012.

Also returning for the Tartans is senior 3-point specialist Kyle Gordon, who averaged 11 points, junior guard Kevin Blayney and 6-foot-3 senior Wesley Burke.

The Tartans have size with improved 6-foot-8 center Alex Pink and 6-foot-6 junior Christian Schneider.

“We’re hoping to have a real good year,” Tartans coach Mike LeDuc said. “I’m not going to compare us to some of the great teams we’ve had, but we should be competitive every single night.

“We’ve got good size, shooters, chemistry and the intangibles are great. If we put it together and play well we’ll see.”

4. Ayala (19-9)

The Bulldogs tied Chino Hills for second in the Sierra League and return senior triplets Jared, Mathew and Tyler Ponce, who likely will give Damien all it can handle in the chase for the league title.

Mathew and Jared Ponce are guards, with Tyler Ponce on the front line to go with 6-foot-4 senior center Josh Ramirez and guard Jake Fonsworth.

5. Chino Hills (22-7)

The Huskies are playing a tough schedule which includes next week’s Rose City Classic hosted by Pasadena.

The Huskies graduated standouts A.J. Hecox and Warren Ondatje but return twin brothers Deion and Deandre Page, both guards, and 6-foot-3 sophomore forward Bishop Mency and junior point guard Cameron Curry.

6. Northview (23-7)

The defending Valle Vista League champion lost forward/center Brian Johnson to graduation, but return one of the area’s best all-around players in 6-foot-5 senior Treavon Francis, who averaged 21 points, and senior guard Nick Fuertes, who averaged 10 points.

7. Covina (17-12)

The Colts return almost everyone from last year’s CIF-SS Division 4A second- round team that came within two points of making the quarterfinals in a 54-52 loss to Maranatha.

The Colts return 6-foot junior guard Mike Peters, 6-foot-6 forward Justin Mason and 6-foot-8 Edgardo Campos.

8. Bishop Amat (21-8)

Lancers coach Brandon Ertle has done a wonderful job with the Lancers the past few years, but this might be his most challenging season after graduating multi-talented Daniel Rodriguez, Tyler Hill and Jeff Davis.

The only starter back is junior Joseph Cook, but the Lancers have others who can step up. They include Vaughn Hoskins and Nate Burchardt.

“We don’t have that one go-to guy and it will be tough losing Daniel. He was our main facilitator and made everything click,” Ertle said. “We’re going to have to do everything as a group, and obviously we will have to do a good job of executing.

“Every year is different and I’m as curious as any to see how this team meshes.”

9. Rowland (17-12)

With Bonita and Walnut graduating so many starters, the Raiders might be the team to beat in the Hacienda League, with senior guard Derrick Mar, a second-team all-league selection, back along with junior guard Joseph Dionisio.

Junior transfer Chris Arzadon, who sat out last year after leaving Nogales, gives coach Gordon Hamlow a solid backcourt.

“Our league is really balanced,” Hamlow said. “It’s going to be fun to see who’s fighting for the league title.”

10. Bonita (26-4)

The Bearcats lost to Damien in last year’s Division 3A quarterfinals and only one starter, Garrett Horine, is back. But they’re usually well-coached by Greg Eckler and always are among the area’s top programs.

The challenge will be replacing two-time first-team all-area players James Northup, Jordan Butler, and Scott Fassas, who averaged almost 40 points between them.

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  • Jim Garrison

    La Verne Lutheran is an example of why I don’t like high school basketball anymore.

    That’s not the say I hate them as a team, I hate their coach, their players because I don’t. And that’s not to say they aren’t a good team, because they are. And when they have games against Price, Mater Dei, etc I’ll watch them.

    I just hate the system that’s set up that makes these teams into basketball factories. Even in the past when you had private school powerhouses you at least had kids who grew up dreaming of playing for that school. Does the typical kid of a Mater Dei fan, whose dad takes him to a game have a chance at really playing for them someday? Did any of these kids grow up wanting to go to La Verne Lutheran?

    They’ll do well, and they’ll be good to watch, and its kinda good to have a team to represent the SGV that can play with the Mater Dei’s and Westchesters of the CIF and such.

    It’s just not as fun.

    (Wow, I’ve turned into my dad… I feel old now)

  • socalhoops fan

    As someone who used to travel all over so-cal to see high school basketball I quit going to games around 5 years ago. The playing field is not level and to win you have to recruit players from out of district or be connected with a club team. There are a few local high schools who use in district player that can compete however to win you need outside help. I have a good friend who coaches in the big 8 and will not recruit out of district players. Thus his teams are usually in the bottom of the league as teams like Corona Centennial,MLK,and North bring in a lot of outside hoopsters.

  • Damien Wins State !

    This year Damien will win a State Championship with their combination of youth , experience, height, length and numbers they are easily the areas tallest team they will crush every one in the Sierra League and go undefeated. Once again give credit where credit is due as Coach Cooper has shown, why play anywhere but La Verne? With travel ball on the rise and so many players crowding other schools Cooper , with the help of the Murrays, realized a simple truth, Lutheran isn’t the long term gold mine they thought it would be, Damien is. Next year Damien will be a powerhouse for one simple reason, too many resources not to and Coach Cooper will be on a college sideline. Damien’s has consistently had the areas tallest team but always lacked explosive “to the rim players”. and settled for an offense built on screen shooting dead eyes…not any more. What will be interesting to see is how Reyes is let loose offensively this year and how often the Spartans run teams off the court, which should be often. Best of luck to the Spartans.

  • PUSC 3

    @socalhoops fan and Jim Garrison, totally agree. Schools that don’t recruit outside their districts have no chance and lose that fun of seeing hometown kids achieve together. Need to get rid of travel ball teams, that’s where all the recruiting starts and all the bloodsuckers start getting on these children.