1. Cantwell-Sacred Heart
Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary boys basketball players from left: Dawit Wilson, Avery Martinez and Jesus Rivera. The Cardinals are ranked No. 1 in the area to begin the season. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb, SGV Tribune/ SCNG)
The Cardinals again begin the season as one of the top ranked teams in the state. CSHM has advanced to the state tournament each of George Zedan’s five seasons as coach and the Cardinals will make another run at it, and could compete for the Division IAA title, if left in that group come playoff time.
They lose 2016 area player of the year Jacob Davison, who is now at Eastern Washington, but they return Avery Martinez, a big scoring option, and welcome El Toro transfer Dawit Wilson, who provides some athleticism. Senior guard Jesus Rivera is also one to watch, as is some talented freshman who have joined the program.
2. La Mirada
The Matadores transition to a youth movement, but they are still very talented. They should compete for the Suburban League title, led by all-area guard Rendwick Helaire. Daniel Cabrera and Bryce Craver are other players to watch.
3. St. Paul
The Swordsmen were the surprise team in the area last season. They will be a force again, led by center Louis Bangai, who is considered one of the top inside players in the state. Others to watch are Eric Dutra and Kylan Mann.
The path to the Freeway League title has gone through Sonora the past five seasons and it’s not expected to change this season. The Raiders, who went 5-0 last week, again look to be formidable, led by seniors Kevin Marlow and Austin Carter.
5. La Serna
The Lancers look like the team to beat in the Del Rio League after finishing second last season. They feature junior Cedric Sobers, who has the ability to take over games. La Serna also returns senior Walter Franco, who was second team all-league.
The Cardinals have a bunch to replace after enjoying one of the better seasons in school history. They could push La Serna with seniors Jesus Gomez and Spencer Torres.
7. Whittier Christian
They Heralds will again find it tough sledding in the Olympic League, which features two teams rated among the top 25 in Southern California. They could do some damage on some nights with senior Justin Osborn, who averaged 8.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in 2016.
8. Santa Fe
The Chiefs shared third with Pioneer last season and have enough pieces returning to put a scare in Del Rio League favorites La Serna and Whittier. If they can get more consistent, this is a team to look out for.
9. El Rancho
The Dons, who feature first team All-Del Rio League swing player Noah Losoya, could be one of the most-improved teams in the area. They have showed solid signs in recent seasons and now seem to have the parts to challenge in the Del Rio League. But can they?
The Spartans won just eight games last season, but are expected to be improved. They opened the season by winning four of five games at the Sierra Vista/Covina Tournament last week, including pushing Damien before losing. They could challenge Keppel in the Almont League.
Guard: Dawit Wilson, Cantwell-Sacred Heart, Senior
Wilson, a transfer from El Toro, is one of the top scoring guards in the area. He averaged 15 points a game last season for the Chargers and was All-CIF-SS Division 2AA.
Guard: Rendwick Helaire, La Mirada, Junior
Could be the Matadores’ next star after a solid sophomore year. He’ll be the leader and key if La Mirada is going to make another run for the Suburban League title. Helaire averaged nearly 10 points a game last season.
Center: Louis Bangai, St. Paul, Senior
Bangai is considered the top center in California. He’s nearly unstoppable on the block and has enough touch on his shot keep opposing teams offense. He’s the key to the Swordsmen winning a second consecutive Santa Fe League crown.
Forward: Avery Martinez, Cantwell-Sacred Heart, Junior
The junior was a solid scoring option for the Cardinals and should be improved this season. He can score from either inside or the perimeter and along with Wilson, gives the Cardinals a solid scoring punch.
Forward: Cedric Sobers, La Serna, Junior
The junior enjoyed a break-out year as a sophomore. He has the ability to take over games and came up big when called upon last season. He’s the key to the Lancers winning the Del Rio League title. He’s a touch match up outside.