By Aram Tolegian
With nearly of month of games under their belts, things are starting to take shape for local boys high school basketball teams.
Most teams probably have one more stop on the tournament circuit after Christmas, and soon after that league play begins with championships and playoff berths on the line.
There’s enough evidence to form a strong opinion on exactly who are the top 10 teams in the area at this point. Here they are …
1. DAMIEN (7-2)
The Spartans had to replace big man Chris Reyes, now at St. Mary’s, but they haven’t really missed a beat. An athletic lineup playing a slightly more up-tempo style has been too much for most of Damien’s early foes to handle.
The Spartans started the season by winning the Baldwin Park/Sierra Vista Tournament. They were heavily favored to do so, just as they will be in next week’s Covina Tournament.
Damien’s schedule has been a good mix of local opponents in local tournaments and a trip outside the comfort zone in the Father Barry Classic, where the Spartans lost to Northern California foes.
Sophomore Jeremy Hemsley is averaging nearly 20 points per game. Senior Jared Dizon gives the Spartans another good scoring threat and sophomore Isaiah McCullough provides Damien good muscle inside.
The Sierra League will be no easy task, but Damien looks like the most complete of the group as of now.
2. GLENDORA (10-1)
The Tartans gave their fans a mild scare when they lost to California in the Baldwin Park/Sierra Vista Tournament.
But Glendora got things figured out in a big way and won the Glendora Tournament last week by knocking off Walnut in the semifinals and Keppel in the championship. The Tartans will spend next week in the Century Tournament as their final tuneup before starting Baseline League play.
Head coach Mike LeDuc has nice talent to work in sophomore swing man Brandon Brothers. Big man Christian Schneider ensures the Tartans won’t be pushed around.
Junior guard Thomas Rico also could develop into a force, and if the Tartans ever got scorer Nick Colletta back healthy for a decent stretch they’d really be a nightmare.
The league goes through Etiwanda and standout guard Jordan McLaughlin. Glendora was swept by the Eagles last year and will need to at least get a split against them this season to have any hopes at winning league.
3. CHINO HILLS (7-3)
The Huskies may have seven wins, but it’s their losses that make us feel like big things are looming.
Chino Hills’ narrow 50-47 loss to perennial power Pasadena looks better and better. And when you consider the Huskies lost only because of a late Pasadena rally, you start to get the feeling this team will be capable of big things.
Chino Hills also played Etiwanda tough recently and will get a chance to tighten things up before league play in next week’s Torrey Pines Tournament.
The Huskies gave a good account of themselves in league a year ago by finishing third. They won 17 games last year and could win a similar number this season.
Cameron Curry is the only returnee from last year’s group of top scorers, but he’s capable of carrying the team when needed.
4. DIAMOND RANCH (7-2)
The Panthers get the nod as the most talented team in the Hacienda League and could make quick work of league with any sort of consistency.
Senior Nnadi Udengwu is the early favorite for league MVP, thanks to his 23 points and nine rebounds per game.
The Panthers will be thrown to the wolves over the holidays by playing several big-name teams in the Maxpreps Holiday Classic. No matter what happens, they should come back a better team and be ready to rock when they face Bonita on Jan. 4 in the first key league game of the season.
5. ROWLAND (7-3)
It was a mild disappointment when the Raiders fell to Keppel last week in the semifinals of the Glendora Tournament and did not reach the championship game.
Rowland has 12 seniors and is loaded with experience after winning 19 games last season. Replacing Derrick Mar hasn’t been easy, but the Raiders can fill it up from outside thanks to the return of sharpshooter Joseph Dionisio.
Forward Saeed Montoya and guard Chris Arazdon will be counted on heavily to fill up the stat sheet. When Rowland is playing its game and knocking down its shots, the Raiders are very dangerous.
6. LA VERNE LUTHERAN (5-3)
Most area fans are wondering just how far the Trojans have fallen after losing Tribune Player of the Year Grant Jerrett to graduation and coach Eric Cooper and his son Eric Jr. to St. Anthony of Long Beach.
New head coach Brandon Lee was an assistant under Cooper and also was a standout at Glendora in the 1990s, so he knows the area.
Lutheran lost early in the Rose City Classic and will continue to play in tough tournaments and regular-season games for the remainder of the season as the school is playing a freelance schedule.
There’s still talent for Lee to work with in 6-foot-9 center Alpha Ndaw and 6-5 forward Joe Rushing.
7. WALNUT (7-3)
Yet another contender in the deep Hacienda League.
The Mustangs always seem to be playing their best ball of the season at the right time of year for underrated coach Josh Cameron.
Walnut reached the semifinals of the Glendora Tournament before bowing out against eventual tourney champ Glendora. It actually was the second time the Mustangs played Glendora, the first being a three-point loss.
8. COVINA (7-3)
The Colts got a huge win earlier this week over archrival Northview. That performance and the emergence of guard Mike Peters as one of the area’s most electric players stamps Covina as the favorite in the Valle Vista League.
The Colts aren’t quite as tall as last season, so that might be a bit of a worry when they step up in class. Covina has split two games with Diamond Ranch this season and has its own tournament coming up next week to further showcase itself as one of the top teams in the area.
9. BONITA (5-3)
We’d be all set to write off the Bearcats in the Hacienda League were it not for their win over La Canada on Dec. 15.
That showing proves Bonita is still dangerous for coach Greg Eckler, who always has his teams playing their best ball at the right time of year.
The league is wide open this season and the Bearcats are the defending champs, but losing league MVP Garrett Horine to graduation was a major blow.
10. LOS ALTOS (6-3)
The overall record looks nice and paints the Conquerors as another team believing it can win a wide-open Hacienda League.
Los Altos coach Jeff Lucas is one of the best in the area and may not always have the best talent around, but he still can muster a 15-win season like last year and stun somebody along the way.
The Conquerors simply have been taking care of business this season and will need to be on their best behavior in January in order to compete with the league’s top teams.
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