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Boys basketball: Preseason Top 10 teams
Here are the top 10 Orange County basketball teams at the start of the 2012-13 season:
1. Mater Dei: The Monarchs don't have the senior stars they had last year, when they won CIF section and state championships and finished 34-2. But the Monarchs still should rule county basketball. Last year's county player of the year, Xavier Johnson, graduated and now is at Colorado. Another Mater Dei 2011-12 first-team all-county selection, Katin Reinhardt, is at UNLV. But returning is All-County first-team player Stanley Johnson, a 6-foot-7 junior who can do just about everything. There is senior leadership. Point guard Jordan Strawberry, son of former Dodger Darryl Strawberry, is a senior as is guard Elijah Brown, son of ex-Lakers coach Mike Brown. Junior Mario Soto could make big contributions if he avoids the injury jinx that hit him the past two years. Mater Dei also has two of Southern California's better freshmen, Jayce Johnson and Michael Cage Jr., both 6-9. Cage is the son of former NBA star Michael Cage, who has joined Gary McKnight's Monarchs coaching staff. Mater Dei will get challenged in the Trinity League by improving St. John Bosco of Bellflower and JSerra, as well as still-strong Orange Lutheran.
2. Foothill: The Knights have an excellent group of returnees from last year's team that went 23-6 and shared the Century League championship with Esperanza. Senior point guard Justin Davis was All-CIF Southern Section Division 1AA. "He's as good as any point guard you'll find in the county," Foothill coach Rusty Van Cleave said. Steven Browne, a 6-7 senior forward, was All-Century League, as were Davis and Kyle Lawson. Jacob Dean, a junior, and Eric Patton, a sophomore, give Foothill plenty of rebounding support at 6-6 each. Dean has developed into an inside and outside scoring threat. Foothill has size, shooters and depth, and will be the team to beat in the always-competitive Century League. The Knights are in that ultra-tough 1AA division, and could be good enough to go beyond the second round this coming spring.
3. JSerra: The Lions might be the third-best team in the Trinity League, but could be among the top three teams in Orange County. JSerra finished fourth in the six-team Trinity last year and was 16-11 overall. The Lions lost to Harvard-Westlake of North Hollywood in the playoffs of Division 4AA, which probably was the second-best division, after 1AA, last season. Among the returnees are senior forward Jamal Aytes and sophomore guard Rex Pflueger. JSerra coach Joedy Gardner said Pflueger is the teams' best overall player and already is drawing plenty of recruiting interest. His older brother, Devon, is a versatile senior. Johnny Vassar, a 6-foot junior who transferred from the East Coast, could be the best point guard in the Trinity League, Gardner said. And Gardner said 6-8 Dylan Osetkowski reminds him of Kevin Love as a high school player.
4. Orange Lutheran: The Lancers won the CIF-SS Division 1A championship, beating Mission Viejo in the finals, and finished 21-11 overall. They finished third in the Trinity League, having defeated JSerra in a third-place playoff game after the conclusion of the regular season. Lutheran brings back two starters from last year's team. Payton Banks, a 6-6 senior guard who signed with Penn State, was All-CIF and was named to the second team of the All-Orange County team. Antwon Johnson, a 5-11 senior guard, also started every game in 2011-12. Kendall Lauderdale, a 6-7 sophomore forward, played significant minutes last year. Another sophomore, 6-4, Rogers Printup, can shoot. He made four 3-pointers in the league playoff victory over JSerra. And the team got stronger when 5-9 junior point guard Brian Beard transferred from La Verne Lutheran, which he helped win the CIF-SS 4AA championship last season.
5. Tustin: The Tillers have an excellent core of returnees from last year's team that went 12-0 in the Empire League, advanced to the 3AAA quarterfinals and finished 22-7 overall. Deondre Bryant and Nick Hornsby, both 6-6 seniors, were league co-players of the year last season. Rob Nelsen was all-league. Tustin coach Ringo Bossenmeyer said Bryant, Hornsby and Nelsen can score equally well inside or outside. The Tillers figured Qunnton Roberson would be their best defensive player, but Roberson tore an ACL playing football as the school's starting quarterback and won't be able to play basketball this season. The guy who replaced Roberson at quarterback, sophomore George Wilson, probably will replace Roberson as the Tiller who guards the opposing team's best guard. "We have a lot of experienced guys who know what it takes to be successful," Bossenmeyer said. "But we do have a lot of young guys coming off of the bench, and those guys are going to have to grow up in a hurry."
6. Mission Viejo: The Diablos lost in a CIF-SS championship game for the second year in a row, last season. They were beaten by Orange Lutheran in the 1A championship game. Mission Viejo tied Capistrano Valley for the South Coast League championship, and is favored to win the league this season. The Diablos were 28-5 overall. Among the returnees is Evan Zeller, who was all-league first team and All-CIF last year. He is a senior, and has been a starter since this freshman year. Also returning are 2011-12 all-league selections Max Redfield and Sage Stone. Redfield was one of the county's better football players this season, but he can shine on the basketball court, too. He scored 14 points with a game-high 11 rebounds in the playoff loss to Orange Lutheran. Stone, at 6-8, gives the Diablos a good inside presence. Mission Viejo has an athletic and experienced team that makes the Diablos the favorites in the South Coast League and a team to watch in the playoffs, too.
7. El Toro: The Chargers might do some living-and-dying by the 3-point shot. But they do have some terrific outside shooters. Senior guard Liam Skelly used his unorthodox shooting style, with its behind-the-ear release point, accurately enough to make 40 percent of his 3-point tries last year. Cody White, one of the county's top receivers in football, averaged 12 points a game on the basketball floor last year and was named All-South Coast League. Another guard, Ryan Roberts, averaged 10 points a game. Junior point guard George Buaku will distribute the ball to these shooters, and is capable of making a few outside shots himself. This will be a challenging team for any opponent to guard, and at the end other end of the court El Toro will be one of the county's better defensive groups, too.
8. Ocean View: Last season was a difficult one for the Seahawks. Jim Harris, who coached Ocean View for the first 33 years of the school's existence, died of cancer only weeks before the opening game. Harris' loss remains in the hearts of every player on the roster and of every coach, including son Jimmy who was co-coach with his father and now is co-coach with longtime assistant Tim Walsh, the school's athletic director. This team has two of the county's better sophomores, 6-5 Tyler Burch and 6-foot Kendall Small. Both played a great deal as freshmen on last year's team that went undefeated in the Golden West League and was upset in the second round of the 2AA playoffs after being the division's top-seeded team. Junior guard Dillon Reise and senior guard Josh Mishler are expected to make significant contributions, too. Harris said if the Seahawks emphasize sharing the basketball, they will be successful. "The category of 'team assists' will dictate how good we will be," he said. "I love our guard play. That's what makes us go."
9. Sonora: The Raiders were 14-15 overall last year when they finished fourth in the six-team Freeway League. This could be one of the county's more improved teams this year. Leading the way is 6-5 senior guard Jimmy Golden, who was all-league first team last season. "Jimmy's a scorer, a guy who can really shoot it," Sonora coach Mike Murphy said. The Raiders have two good sophomores, too. Josh Garcia, a 5-8 point guard who transferred from Foothill, and Ben Rico, 6-4 whose brother Christian was a good one for Sonora a few years ago, will start. "Josh Garcia is the best passer I've seen in years," Murphy said. Another returning all-league player is 6-3 senior center Travis Ryal. Adam Marlow, a 6-foot junior guard, might be Sonora's most athletic player. Murphy said the Raiders could be an entertaining team to watch. "We can really run, push the ball upcourt and score," he said. And the potential deficiency? "We've got to become a way better team defensively," Murphy said. If the Raiders can be strong at that end of the floor, they could win many more than 14 games this season.
10. Canyon: This team still is good, and it still has an Anderson. Nick Anderson, a 5-10 point guard, is the youngest brother of former Canyon All-County standout guards Jerime and Chris Anderson. The Comanches have a couple other outstanding guards, and they are brothers. Junior Anthony Ballestero led Canyon in assists last year when the Comanches finished 21-8 overall and were third in the Century League with an 8-4 league record. Senior JoJo Ballestero is one of the county's better 3-point shooters, and he often makes them from NBA range. This is a young team, with JoJo Ballestero the only senior expected to play a lot. And the team lacks height. Chandler Digham, a 6-3 sophomore, is the Comanches' tallest starter. "We're very talented, and we have some good guards," Canyon coach Nate Harrison said. "If we can rebound, we should be OK."