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SoCalHoops HS Preview

LA City Section: Valley Mission
League Preview--(Nov. 22, 2002)

This is the second in our series of LA City Section League previews, and for the task of evaluating the teams in this year's City Section race, we've enlisted the help of Jack Pollon, who is one of those guys who knows the players and teams in the Section, especially the San Fernando Valley, as well as the surrounding regions,  about as well as anyone does.  We may not always agree with his assessments of how good a team is or who the best players are on a team, but Jack's views are usually interesting and spark some interesting discussion because he sometimes knows things about players that not a lot of other people do considering that he's coached, written about players, and also now runs tournaments and events. 

This year, at SoCalHoops we're going to continue to focus our efforts on the CIF-SS as well as the LA City Section, but we've also got a surprise in store when it comes to San Diego:  Starting next Monday or Tuesday morning, we'll also have a very comprehensive view of the entire San Diego CIF Section, it's leagues, teams, top players, and just about everything you ever wanted to know about San Diego CIF basketball (including a very interesting "where are they now" feature).  But given the additional breadth of coverage this year, we needed some assistance getting back to our own roots covering LA City Section hoops, as well as writing the previews and profiles, so Jack Pollon agreed to help out.

If you want to get an idea of how large the LA City Section is, take a look at this link, and you'll clearly see how many teams there are.  Sure, in comparison to the CIF-SS, it's miniscule, but 60+ teams (not everyone in the Magnet Conference actually fields a team, and none of the Magnet teams are eligible for the City Championship) is still quite a chunk to break off, so you'll understand why we enlisted Pollon's support.  We can't promise to feature every team and every league within the City Section, but that's the goal, and the goal is, of course, to have this finished before the season gets too far along.  We'll try to get it done, but no promises.

Here's Jack's first crack at a preview (with a slight bit of editing), this one of the LA City Section West Valley League. 

Pollon's Previews: 
LA City Section Mission Valley League
Sylmar Still Top Dog?

The Valley Mission League over the years has been dominated by Sylmar, and the league typically only places the league champion in the top bracket of the City Section playoffs, the City Championship [Ed:  the City Invitational, which is the "lower" of the two City Section playoff brackets, is reserved for teams 17-32; the winner of the Invitational  bracket does not compete in the State Tournament, whereas the winner and runner up of the City Championship do]. Valley Mission gets an automatic bid to the City Championship and Sylmar has been that team for the past 5 or 6 years.  In other words, the league has not been particularly tough, top to bottom, in the past half-decade, at least not in comparison to other City Section leagues like the West Valley, or Western, or Coliseum.  Indeed, the power has rested with Sylmar for so long that most observers overlook some of the other teams in this league each year.  Sylmar nearly upset Crenshaw, at Crenshaw in the second round of the City Championship bracket, losing at the buzzer in a packed and over-heated gym, and it was a defining moment for a Sylmar team that deserved a lot of respect.  Last year, they had one of the most talented teams in the San Fernando Valley, featuring Louis Darby (now at Long Beach State) and Frank Robinson (now prepping at MCI).  But this year, it seems as though the league power has shifted slightly, and there are a few other contenders, with Monroe being one of the pre-season darkhorses with a shot to undo Sylmar's stranglehold on the league title.  

Sylmar is very deep this year but lacks varsity experience. The team is mostly made up of juniors. Three seniors figure to make themselves known however. They are transfer Rico Marshall from Taft, Eric Joseph, and big man Luis Solis (6'-6" 275lb.). The talented juniors include forward Rodney Barnes,  forward Tommy McNutt, guard Joseph Dickson, guard Julio Marshall, forward Justin Lampley, guard Michael Smith, guard Andrew Berry, and Corey White. One intriguing prospect is junior Dominique Lewis. We don't know where he came from but looked impressive at the Valley Sports Foundation Fall L:eague. All of these players have similar talent which will make for heated practices to determine playing time. The bottom line is that Sylmar will once again have a very nice complement of guards and post players, and while they're not yet battle-tested, they have the talent to repeat again if one of their league rivals should falter. And as always head coach Bort Escoto is not backing down from anyone this season, and he has scheduled Taft and Long Beach Millikan with their talented wing players, both in non league games. He has also scheduled Sylmar to be at the always very competitive Mission Prep Holiday class, the Winter Slam Jam Tournament, and the Modesto Holiday Hoop Classic.  Sylmar will no doubt finish at or near the top of the league, and will look for another top 16 seed, possibly even top 8, when the City Section's seeding committee sits down to do their business on Saturday, February 15, 2003.

Monroe of North Hills is ready to challenge seriously for the first time in years. Coach Don Loperena has been gradually building a very good program at Monroe and might see the fruits of his hard work payoff this season, that is if super sophomore brandon james is healthy and top soph guard Dawin Whiten is eligible to play. Jmes,  one of the top freshmen a year ago and brother of Moorpark College player Josiah James, suffered an achilles injury and has been wearing a boot for the past few weeks, and whether he will be ready to return is sheer speculation, since most tears usually will require surgery and put a player out for 3-6 months.   He could come back sooner though if it's just a minor sprain.   Brandon told us doctors have advised him to "really take it easy," and that may mean that he will not suit up this season.  But we also wouldn't be surprised to see him play if he is at all able to do so.  If Brandon is at full strength, and Whiten is eligible (right now there's a snag with his paperwork, and administrators are looking at the circumstances of his transfer last year)  Monroe  could have a real shot to win the league title.   If either or both of these guys is out for a significant period of time, then probably not. Whiten is a strong guard who came in from Cerritos in the spring and is just itching to get into a real game at the high school level, having been a key player this summer for the Los Angeles Rockfish, and a standout among the young players at the Rockfish Spring League at LA City College. In short, he's a player whose best basketball is ahead of him and he's got great potential at the next level.  Monroe also has Justin Ritter, and brothers Chris and Rashaad Richards.   Coach Loperena will have the Vikings ready when they open up at the Simi Valley Tip Off Tournament on December 3, and Monroe will also play in the Chaminade Christmas Classic from December 26-30.   Monroe may not be as deep as Sylmar and there are still some unanswered personnel questions, but they have the best shot in this league to end Sylmar's run of titles. 

Reseda HS was hit hard by the graduation of Sergei Lepiashinski, the top scorer in the league who walked-on at Cal State Northridge.  Reseda also lost Eric Johnson and Keena Estrada to graduation, and thus lost 3/5ths of its starting lineup. The regents look like they might struggle this year, but it's hard to say just how much. Chris Mark, a 6'-6"  junior is coming around and Coach Mike Wagner is developing some young guards to fill the backcourt holes left with the loss of Lepiashinski.  Reseda tuned up right by participating in a few summer tournaments as well as the Summer Slam Jam Tournaments, and in the Valley Sports Foundation's Fall League, so they've not just been sitting around hoping things will get better.  But we just don't think at this point they'll have the horses ready to compete with Sylmar or Monroe, at least not as challengers for the top spot, and they look to be headed for a duel with San Fernando and Kennedy for the third place spot in the league.

Kennedy has a brand new gym that Coach Kevin Kanemura is excited about, but he's still looking for ways to fill the holes in the lineup left by the loss of three of Kennedy's top senior starters from last year who all graduated.  Kennedy will be without Gervell Byrd, Markeith Wheeler and Brandon Robinson, but they do return talented junior Marcel Sample, along with senior guard Eric Navarrete.  Kennedy also may bring up Sample's brother, a freshman, who is rumored to be good enough to start this year.  The Glden Cougars will battle tough but probably won't have quite have enough to challenge Sylmar, and might struggle with Monroe if they are healthy and everyone is eligible .  Kennedy also has another prospect in sophomore Brandon Burnside, and Coach Kanemura told us that he thinks he will develop into a very nice player with time and hard work. Kennedy opens Nov. 26 at home against Los Angeles, and is hoping to break in the new gym with a win.  Time will tell....

San Fernando HS could be the team that throws a monkey wrench into the final league standings this year. They are not the contenders they once were when they had names like Devin Montgomery and the school was a pipeline for the San Fernando CAVS club team (which one year wound up picking up their entire group of starters, and left San Fernando for the CIF-SS Mission League at Alemany, taking the Indians from last to first in one season).  No, this team is a lifetime away from that era at the school.  We are not exactly sure who the Tigers have but do know that Dante Kenkins and Terrence Calloway will be on the team and they bring energy and talent. San Fernando always has good players who come over once football is done, so there are a number of players who wind up suiting up for the Tigers who don't get seen in the fall on the court. But after Thanksgiving Coach Oscar Mesta unveils the unknowns and San Fernando always manages a few surprising wins. Matt Nevarez, quarterback on the football team is expected to join the team, and his 6'-4" 200 lb frame will be a welcome addition. The Tigers open at home Tuesday Nov. 26 against USC-Math & Science Magnet,  and then will play at the Winter Slam Jam Tourney at Cleveland HS from December 4-9.  

Van Nuys, like Birmingham in the West Valley League, has been hit hard by players transferring out, which in the case of Van Nuys is sort of a good-news-bad-news scenario.  The good news is that not many players return;  of course that's also the bad news too, because once again Van Nuys will be building from scratch. Last we heard, 3 or 4 players all went to Canoga Park including an assistant coach.  Head Coach Noel Williams, who took over for Kevin Kanemura who left a few years ago to take over at league rival Kennedy after struggling through several losing seasons at Van Nuys after winning a City Invitational title, has been keeping the program together with band aids, thread and a little glue.   The Wolves are not going to burn any barns down this season, but they just hope to be competitive. How competitive is the big question for a team that has been used to struggling for so long. It might be another long winter Van Nuys in the win column.  Remember, this is a team that a few years ago only managed two wins overall.  We hope they don't repeat that dubious distinction.

Pollon's Predicted Order of Finish

1. Sylmar
2. Monroe
3. San Fernando
4. Reseda
5. Kennedy
6. Van Nuys

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