The High School boys basketball season has arrived and with it comes new surroundings and a breath of fresh air for some like Glendora, which is finally out of the rugged Baseline league.
Glendora, under legendary coach Mike LeDuc, will battle it out in the new Palomares along with Bonita, South Hills, Diamond Bar, Ayala and Claremont, forming one of the areas most competitive leagues.
Damien and two-time player of the year Jeremy Hemsley have moved to the Baseline league where it will go up against some of the state’s best teams like Chino Hills, Rancho Cucamonga and Etiwanda, but the Spartans are up for the challenge after winning a CIF-SS divisional title a couple years ago.
As usual, we start out the season with our annual top ten preview.
For the top ten, click the thread.
The Spartans finished 22-7 and were knocked out in the tough Division 1AA playoffs last year, but figure to be a big-time player moving back to the 3AA Division, where it won the championship in the 2012-13 season.
Hemsley, who already has given a verbal commitment to San Diego State, averaged 22 points, five rebounds and five assists a year ago, and will be challenged by several other top-notch players in the Baseline.
The Spartans also return 6-foot-5 post player Malik Fitts, who averaged 13 points and seven boards, and inside bruiser Isaiah McCullough, a junior who started on varsity as a freshman and figures to have a breakout season.
The good news for the Spartans is even if they finish third or fourth in the Baseline, which is one of the top leagues in the state, they still figure to be among the favorites when the playoffs start.
2. Diamond Ranch
New coach Eric Cooper, who built little known La Verne Lutheran into a power that won lower-level CIF-SS divisional and state titles in 2010 and 2011, is back in the area and is already attracting talent for the Panthers.
Diamond Ranch, which will be favored in the new Hacienda league and could challenge Damien in the 3AA Division, welcomes 7-foot junior transfer Roman Silva from Etiwanda and also 6-foot-3 sophomore guard J.J. Watson, a highly coveted recruit who transferred from a school in North Carolina.
Watson, who averaged 19 points during the regular season and 25 points in the North Carolina state playoffs as a freshman, is already being looked at by several big-time colleges.
“He’s something special,” Cooper said of Watson. “Of all the great kids I’ve had over the years, he’s the best sophomore I’ve ever had, which is saying a lot. He’s the complete package.”
Also transferring to Diamond Ranch is junior point guard Tyler Mclean, who started at Servite last year and 6-foot-8 Latrelle Standifer from Rancho Verde.
The Panthers were just 12-15 last year but the new infusion of talent should change everything. They also return junior Ethan Jarrell, who earned Hacienda league first-team honors as a sophomore.
“I’m excited,” Cooper said. “If these guys work hard skies the limit. I’ll just lay out the plans, but they have to want it and go get it.”
Going from the Baseline to the new Palomares is huge relief for the Tartans who have practically everyone returning from last years’ 18-12 team.
The big returners are senior point guard AJ Bigornia, who averaged 19 points and 6-foot-4 senior forward Brandon Brothers, who averaged 13 points.
Joseph Alvarez, a 6-foot-9 senior center, is back and healthy after an injury-riddled junior season.
And you can bet LeDuc is happy with the new surroundings, though he’s not ready to say his Tartans are the league favorites.
“In my opinion, there are no favorites, everybody has a shot,” LeDuc said. “I don’t mean that as a cliche, but whoever plays the best and comes together will be the best. We have a shot along with all the others.
Glendora will compete in the Division 2AA playoffs, which doesn’t have many noticeable super teams.
“Just looking at some (preseason) rankings, there are a half dozen pretty good teams (in Division 2AA),” LeDuc said. “I haven’t wasted a lot of time looking at it, but on the surface that’s what it looks like.”
One of the best kept secrets may be the emergence of the Brahmas, who second-year coach Henry Frierson says could be the best team at the school in over a decade, partly due to some serviceable transfers that could help challenge Glendora as co-favorites for the Palomares league title.
4. Diamond Bar
Diamond Bar was 11-17 last year but added senior point guard Tyler Ginyard from Damien, junior shooting guard Lamar Johnson from Upland and 6-foot-7 Brandon Rice, who started at Diamond Bar, left to Servite, and is back for his senior year after sitting out his junior season.
The Brahmas also have brothers Tyler and Kyle Peterson, and a super freshman in Jaren Williams that a lot in the basketball community are raving about.
Williams played with Cantwell Sacred Heart over the summer before settling at Diamond Bar.
“We have the ability to be better than we have been in a long time,’ said the second-year coach. “We’re kind of under the radar but we like the talent level on our team and feel like we can do a few things.”
Although the Mustangs lose coach Josh Cameron, there is loads of talent returning from a Mustangs team that went undefeated in winning the Hacienda league title and finished 22-6.
Former assistant Joe Khouzam will take over as head coach.
If anyone figures to challenge Diamond Ranch in the Hacienda, it could be the Mustangs who return Hacienda player of the year Juri Williams, who averaged 10 points but is a game-changer defending the floor and making everyone better.
Jeff Huang, another Hacienda first-team selection, is back for his senior year along with Ryan Herrera.
6. Bishop Amat
Like Glendora, Bishop Amat is another team that will enjoy its new surroundings in the Camino Real league after competing against state powers Bishop Montgomery and Serra in the Del Rey League.
Amat returns leading scorer Joshua Andarza, a senior who averaged 12 points and 7 rebounds and also senior guard Christian Mora, who averaged eight points. Andarza and Mora are both returning Del Rey first-team selections.
Bishop Amat should be among the Camino Real favorites along with Salesian, St. Anthony and Bellarmine-Jeff.
The Lancers also return bruiser Anthony Camargo, who earned second-team all-league honors last year.
The Bearcats were 20-8 and finished third in the Hacienda league and figure to be steady again. The Bearcats welcome new coach Tim Godley, who had success at other schools and is just what they needed to remain among the areas elite.
Can Bonita hang with Glendora and Diamond Bar in the new Palomares? That remains to be seen this season, but over the long haul, they’ll battle it out annually for the league title.
The Wildcats were the surprise of the Valley after going 20-8 and going undefeated in the Valle Vista league to claim the title and they return Kyle Price, a senior point guard who earned league first-team honors.
Also back is junior all-leaguer Justin Chan, junior Jared Kawamoto and senior post player Justin Lee.
The Wildcats do lose league player of the year Kevin Price, but figure to be the favorite along with San Dimas for the league title.
9. San Dimas
The Saints’ biggest offseason transfer was coach Gordon Hamlow moving over from Rowland after winning five league championships and finishing second five times in 13 years with the Raiders..
The Saints were 12-14 last year but return arguably the league’s best player in senior Ryan Ocampo, who averaged 13 points last season and 6-foot-5 forward Omar Nasri, who averaged eight points.
A sophomore to watch is 6-foot-3 guard Ronnie Rafeh and senior guard Eddie Casas.
“Great shot selection, strong low post presence and tough defensive play will
be the staple of this team,” Hamlow said. “The Saints believe they will be a strong contender in the Valle Vista League.”
10. South Hills
Huskies coach Marc Hart is realistic after going 13-15 last year, figruing that after Glendora and possibly Damien, everything else is a crapshoot in the Palomares league.
The Huskies will likely battle for the third spot with 6-foot-4 junior Darius Scott, who can shoot the long ball and play inside, and Alex Sanchez, a 6-foot-4 forward.
The Huskies also returns Marcus Williams, 6-foot-3 sophomore guard.