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2013 Foothill League Boys Hoops Preview: Boy, are we in for an eventful season

Every single Foothill League team has a story going into today’s openers

Posted: January 8, 2013 1:55 a.m.
Updated: January 8, 2013 1:55 a.m.

Junior guard Lewis Stallworth has helped Hart to a 14-0 start this season.

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A series of happenings lead us to tonight’s Foothill League boys basketball openers.

Things that make us believe this could be a season to remember for a long time.

Nothing was bigger than a basket that didn’t even count.

On Dec. 6, arguably the Foothill League’s most dominant force ever Ako Kaluna shattered a backboard at Santa Monica High on a dunk after a whistle in a preleague tournament.

It was the moment where West Ranch became known around Southern California as a team to look out for.

Not to be outdone, Hart finished its preleague at a perfect 14-0.

Good luck finding the last time that happened for a Santa Clarita Valley team.

Meanwhile, very quietly, because it didn’t have one home game in the preleague season, Valencia went 11-2.

Saugus went a deceptive 10-7. Deceptive because the Centurions have a nice balance of size down low and quick guards in the back court who could make league favorites Hart and West Ranch’s roads very difficult.

Canyon seemingly was to be a similar pest until a December car accident derailed its top returner Dean Hendrix-Davis’ season.

Then there’s Golden Valley.

Its new head coach Al Vanhook took over the program in late summer, which provided one challenge.

Then its top talent, senior transfer Leon Jacobs, decided to give up basketball after six games, only to come back to the team last week.

Now the Grizzlies are the league’s wild card.

Interesting season ahead?

You bet.

And it gets started today with all six teams in action, but a marquee matchup taking center stage — West Ranch at Hart.

West Ranch
Every conversation about West Ranch (10-4) begins with the 6-foot-7-inch, 275-pound Kaluna — an anomaly.

No one has what he has — size, strength, range, an inside game, the ability to create his own offense, defensive skill, agility. We can go on and on.

But the conversation continue with Kevin Harris.

The 6-foot guard can score in bunches with his athleticism and range.

The question is will these two get bored?

If a team can frustrate Kaluna or get him in foul trouble and somehow get Harris out of the offense, it has a chance.

Second-season head coach Shant Bicakci is not counting on that happening because he feels there’s a surrounding cast that will create opportunities for his duo.

“There’s no secret we’ve got these two guys, our best players. Teams will double and triple team Ako and keep the ball out of Kevin’s hands,” Bicakci said. “When other guys step up, it makes us better and hard to guard.”

So the conversation continues with sophomore point guard Ryan Beddeo.

Bicakci, a former point guard at Saugus, speaks highly of his young player.

The old “ice water in the veins” cliche could be made about him.

Bicakci insists there’s no way Beddeo will buckle under pressure, even if that means he has to take the big shot instead of Kaluna or Harris.

There’s some depth, too.

The team can go with 6-foot-4-inch senior Kyle Williams at center if it wants to go small and fast.

Hart transfer Ben Johnson and fellow guard Cody Sanders are glue guys, who will do the small things.

And Zac Nuttall gives the Wildcats some varsity experience and the ability to score some points.

On top of all this, West Ranch is battle tested, having played some of the top teams in the state in the preleague.

The Wildcats have their sights on something bigger in 2013.

In 2012, they won a co-league championship with Canyon and made it to the CIF-Southern Section Division IA quarterfinals.

The Wildcats enter today the No. 2 team in their division.

Hart
This marks Tom Kelly’s 13th season as Hart head coach and the greatest memory of that tenure is taking a wild card team to a CIF championship game in 2005.

Since then there has been success, but nothing close to that team.

Now Hart (14-0) comes into league play as the No. 1 team in Division IIIAAA.

This, Kelly said, is the most athletic team he has coached.

The Indians’ backcourt is ubertalented with junior guard Lewis Stallworth and sophomore guard Myles Franklin.

Both are scorers, both want the ball and both are hard to stop.

The question is, with all that athleticism, can they stay under control.

Both have to recognize when to take the reins and when to let forwards Nico Cruz and Davis Koppenhaver — two 6-foot-4-inch forwards — take over.

Kelly acknowledged that with all this athleticism, there will be games where not everyone is on and Hart will have to do something different.

That different thing is a Hart staple.

“There are going to be nights where we miss shots, but if you have a defensive commitment, you keep yourself in every game,” Kelly said.

Few basketball teams turn the defense on like Hart.

The Indians do it with a timeliness and precision that makes defense fun to watch — almost like a swarm of jetfighters ganging up on an enemy and taking it out.

And back on offense, if those four guys miss the shots, Hart also has some depth at the guard position with sharpshooters Chase White and Frank Lonsinger.

Saugus
One can look at Saugus (10-7) and misjudge.

No superstar, though veteran guard Chris Lockwood would argue that point.

Four straight losses going into league.

And a 43-42 loss to Canyon in the Canyon Classic Tournament on Dec. 8.

Yet the Centurions have pieces that will make it challenging for the other Foothill teams.

Lockwood can score 20.

The Centurions have quick, little guards who will be pests.

Head coach Derek Ballard said this is a better shooting team than last year’s.

And on top of that, Saugus has a workmanlike frontcourt trio in Jacob Dawe, Amir Mirtabatabaie and Stephen Jones, which will give smaller teams fits.

Yet Ballard, who appears higher on his team than past seasons, said this is a squad that could go one of two ways.

“It’s funny because we could finish 2-8 or 8-2,” Ballard said. “It’s whether or not how our guys will respond to the crowd and certain things have to go well. We don’t have an Ako who can grab a big rebound and put it back in. We know we’ll play good defense and have a balanced attack offensively.”

Yet Ballard believes his team can compete at the top of the Foothill.

And it’s not a stretch.

Dawe, the younger brother of 2012 All-Santa Clarita Valley Girls Basketball Player of the Year Megan Dawe, is a 6-foot-7-inch improving senior.

Mirtabatabaie can score, rebound and defend, but Ballard said he has to keep the 6-foot-3-inch junior motivated.

He said that won’t be a problem during Foothill play where the games are magnified.

The main thing is will Saugus score points on a consistent basis.

Valencia
If there’s one team that’s been the biggest surprise thus far it’s Valencia (11-2).

The Vikings missed the postseason last year after a dreadful 3-7 effort in league last season.

This despite having a major scorer in Troy Hammel and tons of size.

It didn’t translate to wins in one way because when teams got tough with the Vikings, they wilted.

This year’s dynamic is different.

Head coach Rocket Collins said there is a camaraderie that has caused this squad to gel early.

“This year’s team, they’re resilient,” Collins said. “We don’t look like we’re tough. We’re small. We don’t have a lot of bulk. ... People take us for granted. One day this summer made a believer of me. We played Paramount, a huge, athletic team, and we hung in. That made me believe.”

The offense has been opened up to not just feed one or two guys.

Junior guard Jaleel Howard missed most of last season with a broken foot, but he will be counted on to score and rebound.

Senior guard Garret Mike does it all and has been playing every position but center. He’s only 6 feet, 1 inch tall.

Senior guard Riley Honaker is quick, feisty and determined.

Angel Cardenas, a small junior guard, has given the Vikings a spark off the bench with his range.

The one thing Valencia absolutely lacks is size, which puts the pressure on 6-foot-3-inch senior forward Kayode

Wellington to be the Vikings’ presence in the post.

One thing you can count on, Valencia in typical Valencia fashion will run.

Canyon
If there’s one team that defines resilience, it’s the defending Foothill champions at Canyon High School.

Gone are 200-win head coach Chad Phillips, the valley’s player of the year point guard Coley Apsay and scoring-machine Clay Kasdorf.

Canyon’s season took on another challenge when its top rebounder and scorer Hendrix-Davis was involved in a Dec. 18 car accident, where he suffered injuries that could cost him the season.

Without him, and even with him, small forward Marc Cabrera and sophomore guard Ben Taufahema have been creating the offense for the Cowboys (10-6).

With a lack of size, Canyon has had to be a perimeter offensive team, which has suited the Cowboys fine early.

But where the Cowboys will win games, first-year head coach Sean DeLong said, is on the defensive end and on the glass.

“It’s absolutely defensive intensity,” DeLong said on the key for his team. “We know we’ll play hard on the defensive end. It’s our bread and butter. It leads to offense. Teams have to hit shots and work to beat us. Hopefully we become a better shooting team.”


Canyon will also rely on junior point guard Mark Bell to provide some offense and will count on small post players senior Park Mackenzie, sophomore Steven Brotz and senior Devin Baldwin to give it some physicality.

Golden Valley
The sample size is too small to make a judgement, however one thing that Jacobs will provide the Grizzlies is excitement.

The senior transfer from Bishop Montgomery and future NCAA Division I (FBS) football player was known for his high-flying ability at his previous school.

But whatever jolt he might give Golden Valley (5-11) doesn’t account for the fact that the Grizzlies are high on varsity inexperience.

James Chevious, a senior swingman, will provide his team some veteran leadership and scoring ability.

The same can be said about senior guard Jon Antipuesto.

Around them are some promising young pieces in sophomore swingman Dominic Dully and junior center Jordan Watkins.

But first-year head coach Al Vanhook is looking at the future and said building the program from the bottom up will lead to better things down the road.

“I think the Foothill League will be tough to get this year with the talent we have on varsity,” Vanhook said. “However, starting next year we definitely feel we can start competing for a Foothill title with the talent we have at the lower levels. Our main focus is getting those lower levels competing at a high level as fast as we can. Hopefully we can get some of those freshmen and sophomores competing at the varsity level next year.”

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