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Foothill League Boys Basketball Preview: Can the league catch Golden Valley?

The up-tempo Grizzlies will keep running as several teams try to slow the games down

Posted: January 11, 2010 8:26 p.m.
Updated: January 12, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Golden Valley will count on senior point guard Trevor Wiseman as it tries to defend the school's first Foothill League title in any sport.

 
In a time when basketball is speeding up, half the Foothill League has decided to slow it down.

For different reasons, three schools have all swung their strategy toward the half-court game this season.

They’ve decided their best approach is to play with an unhurried pace.

The defending league champions, however, have not.

And neither has one of their chief competitors.

Golden Valley and Valencia boast two of the best players in the league in Trevor Wiseman and Lonnie Jackson, and both teams play an up-tempo style.

The Grizzlies lost four of their five starters from last year’s team, a CIF-Southern Section Division IIIA semifinalist that finished 27-4 and won the school’s first Foothill League title in any sport.

So how can Golden Valley prove that last year was not a flash in the pan?

“I think you just have to go out and prove it on the court,” said head coach Chris Printz. “Nothing’s changed for us. Our offseason workouts and practices over the summer, everything’s the same as it’s always been. That continuity still has success.”

Golden Valley enters league play ranked No. 8 in the CIF-SS Division IIIA poll and owns a 13-3 record. The Grizzlies dropped a game to perennial power Clovis East and two games during a four-game stretch when Wiseman was sidelined with an ankle injury.

Wiseman is now healed, and although the up-tempo Grizzlies have several different weapons, it’s Wiseman that makes them go.

The 6-foot-8-inch, 195-pound senior is the team’s leading scorer and the league’s most gifted athlete.

He played point guard as a sophomore but relinquished most of his ball-handling duties on last year’s team because of the talent level. This season, Wiseman has returned to the point and expanded his shooting range to go along with his abilities in the post and off the dribble.

Printz also praised his development off the court.

“He’s much more focused in practice and in pregames to details,” Printz said. “He now understands how important every little detail we cover in practice and in games is to our success on the court.”

Forward Erick Serrano, who was a starter last year, left the team for personal reasons toward the beginning of the season.

The only other rotation player back is senior guard Khatari Price, whose contributions as a distributor and defender were magnified when Wiseman missed four games earlier in the season with an ankle injury.

But Printz said this year’s squad is much deeper than the past. One of the players who has stepped up is junior forward Taylor Statham, who is the team’s second-leading scorer in his first varsity season.

Shortly before Christmas, reserve guard Erik Gould was severely injured in a car crash, and Printz said the team’s biggest focus is on his health.

“For us as a team, it’s been a great life lesson, how precious every single day is and how lucky we are to do what we do,” he said.

One of the highlights of the Foothill League season will be the two showdowns between Golden Valley and Valencia, if for no other reason than the individual matchup between Wiseman and Jackson.

Valencia’s star off-guard exploded onto the scene as a sophomore by averaging 23 points per game, but the team finished third in the league.

Now, the junior has become a better overall player and leader according to head coach Rocket Collins.

The key for the Vikings, who are No. 8 in the CIF-SS Div. IA poll, will be the supporting cast.

“Everyone else needs to pick it up,” Collins said. “They need to be playing that way no matter how (Jackson’s) playing.”

The Vikings were dealt a blow when returning senior Brennan Bernardino decided to quit basketball for personal reasons two weeks ago, but there are plenty of others who can pick up the slack.

Senior guard Brandon Bennett is back for Valencia, along with junior guard Jake Kelfer. Collins said senior forward Tanner Tredick will make an impact with his defense and hustle. Tredick has been with the program for four years but has struggled with injuries.

Another impact newcomer is junior forward Max Sommer, who starred for Valencia in summer ball, and senior guard Stevie Sansone can space the floor with his shooting.

The Vikings have retained their up-tempo style in which the offense feeds off the defense.

“They play their roles,” Collins said. “We have two or three guys that can shoot the ball decently. They play as a team.”

Valencia has demonstrated that ability several times already, having finished as runners-up at the Simi Valley Tip-Off Classic.

Jackson has also shown what he can do when given the opportunity. He broke the school record for most points in a game with 38 against Grant during the Canyon Classic.

The hosts of that tournament turned in a good performance, too.

Now they’re hoping it helps them turn around in league play.

Last season, Canyon finished tied for last at 2-8 in the Foothill League after adopting a four-out offense, which relies on talented perimeter players spreading the floor and picking their spots to attack.

It was a departure of sorts for the program, which will return to its more controlled tempo and half-court game this season, according to head coach Chad Phillips.

“We went back to basics,” he said. “You play defense, you rebound the basketball and you make free throws. If you do those three things, you should be successful.”

So far, the switch is paying off, as the Cowboys have surpassed their total of eight wins from last season.

“Just the fact that these guys have found success has been important,” Phillips said. “Six of our 10 Foothill League games will be against teams that try to push the ball.”

Canyon’s strength is its starting five, which will consist of sophomore guard Coley Apsay, senior center Brian Nnaoji and senior forwards Darnel Haggerty, Wesley Bartole and Tere Adams. All five are averaging at least 5.3 points per game so far.

In the offseason, sophomore-to-be Brandon Perry transferred to perennial power Taft of Woodland Hills.

But Phillips said the rest of his players are committed to being a part of the Canyon program, and that makes all the difference.

The bench was an area of concern for Canyon early in the season, but Phillips said it has grown a lot over the past two weeks.

Senior guard Kris Quant has been shooting the lights out from downtown, while senior forward Paul Nnaoji is one of the team’s best defenders.

Senior center Dylan Kawaa and junior center Kevin Wallace give the team size and rebounding off the bench, and senior forward Cody Moore gives the team extra athleticism.

“Although the starting five is a huge foundation, my bench has improved drastically,” Phillips said.

If West Ranch, meanwhile, wants to contend for an automatic playoff spot, it will have to get production from players other than swingman Martin Flowers.

The phenomenal junior has a great offensive game, from his shooting range to his slashing ability to his accuracy at the free-throw line.

Wildcats head coach Sean Legaux also likes his mental toughness.

“He’s been the focal point of our offense,” Legaux said. “He’s a tough kid. He can score inside, he can score outside. Not a whole lot rattles him.”

Otherwise, the team has been up-and-down according to Legaux. Only two players, Eli Lucas and Anthony Yumul, return from last season, when West Ranch finished fourth in the league.

The Wildcats don’t have much size, so they’re going to try to push the pace with their guard-oriented lineup.

Legaux said that senior shooting guard Luke Hangen has emerged as an offensive threat, while senior guard Mike Bello is one of the team’s best defenders and he can knock down shots.

Earlier in the fall, several players decided to leave the team for what Legaux described as “program issues” though some of them ultimately decided to return.

Although West Ranch’s lineup is smaller than usual, the lack of a truly dominant post presence in the Foothill League could help the Wildcats.

“We’ve had to play against big, strong, dominant centers and it’s given us a tough time,” Legaux said. “It enables us to play smaller and not necessarily hurt us.”

West Ranch took a trip to the Mt. Carmel Holiday Hoops Tournament in San Diego and made it to the finals.

The team went 3-1 and Legaux said his players experienced the kind of down-to-the-wire games they’ll experience in league play.

“It was a good team-bonding experience,” he said. “We had to make plays and execute down the stretch.”

That’s something Saugus is going to have to do to buck its eight-game league losing streak.

The Centurions won their first two league contests last season but dropped the rest to finish tied for last.

Second-year head coach Derek Ballard said he saw progress in that team, and this year his team is more diverse on offense.

“We’re much more balanced this year,” he said. “That was our issue last year. We’re a better-shooting team. That’s the name of the game, put the ball in the hole.”

Saugus isn’t using the full-court press like it did last year, opting instead to control opponents in the half-court game.

“We have different personnel,” Ballard said. “I think it’ll be surprising a lot of people. We had a few teams that have gone half-court this year. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out in league.”

Ballard said junior guard Jawhar Purdy is the undisputed leader of the team, and Purdy is averaging 13.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and four assists per game while shooting 44 percent from downtown.

The frontcourt has good size in senior forward Joey Frederick, and the backcourt is bolstered by sophomore guard Jeremy Gatewood and junior guard Brad Buchignani, two of the players Ballard said share the scoring load.

“We have seven, eight guys that score eight or more points,” he said. “It just changes from every game. That’s nice because we’re tough to guard because we have a few different guys who can (score).”

Saugus lost six seniors from last year’s squad, but perhaps no one in the league lost as much talent as Hart.

The Indians return just junior forward Cole Preston from last year’s league runner-up. Junior J.J. Mosolf was also set to return before he injured his knee on a non-contact play in the fall, and the injury may force him to miss the entire season.

Despite the losses, head coach Tom Kelly said the team still has big goals.

“Our expectations haven’t changed,” he said. “The results have a little bit. The goal every year is to win 20 games, win a league championship and make a run to the playoffs.”

To do so, the Indians will need Preston and junior guard Roman Delgado to play at a high level.

Kelly said Preston has been the team’s go-to guy on offense, and that Delgado has been good as the team’s primary ball-handler.

“He’s tough as nails,” Kelly said of Delgado. “He takes a beating out there and gets right back up.”

The starting lineup also includes senior forward Kevin Lamb, and Kelly said the other two spots are still basically up for grabs.

Guard Nolan Rhett is the only other senior on the junior-heavy roster, which also includes junior forwards Dillon Morris and Justyn Eddins.

Kelly said Morris does little things like taking charges and setting screens, and he said Eddins has become a solid rebounder despite not having played organized basketball before joining the team.

Hart is one of the Foothill League teams that has decided to play a half-court game.

“Last year we were pretty physically strong,” Kelly said. “We had some physically strong kids who could do a lot of things. This year we’re not as strong physically. We don’t have the firepower. We really try to slow the game down.”

As Foothill League play tips off tonight, fans will find out if the new approach works.

Hart will travel to Valencia, West Ranch will host Saugus and Canyon will entertain Golden Valley. All three games are scheduled to tip at 6:30 p.m.

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