This could be a big week for Mater Dei's Stanley Johnson, left, Sonora's Travis Ryal and Canyon's Nick Anderson, right.

Inside O.C. basketball this week (12-18-12)


Twas the week before Christmas and all through the county, sounds of sneakers squeaking filled the gyms and whistles chirped from the referee.

Holiday tournaments and showcases are up and running this week. Next week, there will be even more.

This is a fun time of the year, so sit back relax, sip some Egg Nog and take in the Christmas-edition look inside the O.C. basketball scene:

10. Finally, I can write about Mater Dei
Last week, I didn’t mention Mater Dei since the Monarchs had the week off. This week, the top-ranked Monarchs are in Las Vegas for the Jerry Tarkanian Classic. The 24-team tournament runs from Wednesday-Saturday. There is a 16-team Platinum Division and an eight-team Gold Division. Mater Dei is in the Platinum group and opens up Wednesday against Ribet Academy. When talking about Mater Dei, it is safe to start with seniors Elijah Brown and Jordan Strawberry. Brown is averaging 23.8 points a game, 3 assists, 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 steals. Strawberry is averaging 9.2 points, 2.8 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals. Good, solid senior foundation.

9. Sorry coaches, but Stanley Johnson is only a junior
Yes, Mater Dei’s Stanley Johnson is only a junior. I know the Trinity League coaches are counting down the days until Johnson graduates. Good luck, guys. Heading into this week, Johnson is averaging 20 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game. Look for him to have a big week as Mater Dei tackles the competition in Las Vegas.

8. South Coast League on Zeller alert
Opposing South Coast League coaches only have to deal with Mission Viejo's Evan Zeller for the rest of this season. By the looks of how Zeller has started, it could be an extremely long season for the rest of the league. Zeller enters the week leading the county in scoring (278 points). He is averaging 25.2 points a game. Last week he had nights of 50, 27, 23, 26 and 35 points. The most impressive stat of his week was the one 3-point field goal he made in his 50-point night. Zeller and the Diablos have one game this week, Saturday against Canyon at El Toro at 8 p.m. Are you going?

7. The 3-point King has taken over
Last week, Canyon’s JoJo Ballestero was six off the lead in the chase for the county 3-point race. This week, the senior guard is sitting in first place. Ballestero enters this week with 46 3-point field goals made. He is shooting 45 percent (46 of 102) from beyond the arc. Sunny Hills' Elijah Kim (36) and Max Thurman (35) are the closest to Ballestero. Good luck trying to catch him. Ballestero and Canyon start Century League play this week, including a game with Brea Olinda on Thursday and a nonleague date with Mission Viejo on Saturday.

6. Sunny Hills preps for Freeway League opener
The Lancers are off to a good start at 9-2. Their only losses have come to St. John Bosco (94-67) and Colony (75-69). Now the Lancers will take their frenetic pace into the Freeway League. Sunny Hills will open play Thursday against Troy. By now, these teams know a lot about each other. When dealing with Sunny Hills, you better get out to the 3-point line. Sunny Hills has made 123 3-point field goals this season. As a team, the Lancers are shooting nearly 40 percent from the land of 3. The trio of Max Thurman, Ryan Tan and Elijah Kim has combined to make 90 3-point field goals. Get ready Freeway League … Sunny Hills is coming for ya.

5. The Freeway League should be interesting
We’ve already discussed Sunny Hills, but the Lancers are not the only team to watch in the league. Troy is 10-3 heading into the week. Sonora, fresh off of winning the title at the North O.C. Championships, is ranked eighth in the county. Jimmy Golden was the MVP of the tournament. Keep an eye on the Freeway League. Should be an interesting race and it all gets started this week.

4. The North vs. The South, part 1
No, we’re not talking about the Civil War, but this week is the annual O.C. North-South Challenge, a two-day hoops-palooza at El Toro. Friday’s schedule (let’s hope they stay on schedule: San Juan Hills vs. La Habra, 3:30 p.m., Capistrano Valley vs. Brethren Christian, 5 p.m.; San Clemente vs. Huntington Beach, 6:30 p.m., and the nightcap is a good one: Tesoro vs. Ocean View.

3. If that’s not enough, Day 2 is for you
I think it might be a violation to have this many games scheduled for one day in the same gym. But Day 2 of the North-South Challenge at El Toro starts at 11 a.m. with Dana Hills-Marina. The rest of the schedule: Laguna Beach-Corona del Mar (12:30 p.m.); Laguna Hills-Edison (2 p.m.); Aliso Niguel-Fountain Valley (3:30 p.m.); Woodbridge-Brea Olinda (5 p.m.); El Toro-Los Alamitos (6:30 p.m.) and then there is the finale: Mission Viejo taking on Canyon at 8 p.m. If you attend all seven games … congrats.

2. City rivalry on the courts
You will probably see the best game of the week Saturday night at Foothill. That’s when sixth-ranked Tustin faces No. 5 Foothill. The Tillers are off to a 9-0 start, and six of those victories have come by nine points or less. Last week, Tustin defeated El Toro, 64-61, and then Dana Hills, 52-50. Since losing to Mission Viejo on Dec. 1, the Knights have won four consecutive games. If this is anything like the football encounters between the two schools, this game will probably go down to late in the fourth quarter. In fact, we all know that it will. In fact, it might go into overtime. The challenge is being thrown out to both student sections: Who will support their team on a Saturday evening? What else is there to do on a Saturday night?

1. My top 10 vote
Each week I will give you a look at my ballot for the county’s top 10. Full disclosure: I don’t have anything to hide. Here it is: 1. Mater Dei; 2. Mission Viejo; 3. JSerra; 4. Orange Lutheran; 5. Tustin; 6. Tesoro; 7. Foothill; 8. Aliso Niguel; 9. El Toro; 10. Sonora. My thoughts: I think I voted Sonora too low. I also think I nailed the top six.

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