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Prep boys hoops: The anti-Vikings

Valencia is changing its reputation with a team-oriented attack

Posted: February 1, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 1, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Valencia looked like a team full of role players when the season began. But the Vikings, led by Garrett Mike, left, and Riley Honaker have put themselves in a position to compete for a league title with three games remaining in Foothill League play.

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These are the anti-Valencia Vikings.

For years, the Vikings have had this reputation — transition team, athletic team, defense comes second, led by a star.

“I laugh at that,” says veteran Valencia head coach Rocket Collins, acknowledging that he’s heard the label.

This season’s Valencia team is nothing like that — it’s a team that will beat you on the perimeter, beats teams with its diversity, is committed to defense and is a collective unit.

That makes it difficult to separate the players on the team, yet there are a couple of players who step to the forefront who fully describe what kind of team Valencia is this season.

“People look at him walking into the gym and people think we can’t play,” says Collins of his guard Riley Honaker. “They know now.”

He continues.

“And in my mind Garrett Mike,” Collins says on who has been his team’s most valuable player. “Because he plays four different positions for us. ... He’ll play wherever I put him.”

Honaker is a fearless point guard. Just 5 feet 10 1/2 inches tall and 138 pounds, he attacks the basket with little regard for his body and full intent of making things happen.

“If he has a first step on someone, I know he’s going to attack. ... He’s not afraid of contact,” Mike says.

Mike is a 6-foot-1-inch forward who can shoot from the outside and defend big men inside.

“He really can do it all — rebound for us, dribble up the court, handle pressure. He could shoot from anywhere. He’s a great all-around player.”

The thing about these two that makes them so representative of the Valencia basketball team is they are reflections of the Vikings’ story this season.

But the story begins last season.

Valencia was blessed with size up front and had a guard who could score at will in Troy Hammell — he ended up leading the team with 21.9 points per game.

With that mix, Valencia was a preseason contender for a Foothill League title.

By league season’s end, the Vikings were 3-7 and missed the CIF-Southern Section postseason for the first time in Collins’ 12 years at the helm of the Vikings.

What was left coming into this season was seemingly a group of role players, short on stature, low on expectations from outsiders.

Honaker and Mike combined to average 9.4 points per game last year, and neither were on many radars coming into this season.

Yet the Vikings jumped out to an 11-2 start this season before the first Foothill game of the season, all in road games.

Honaker created offense and directed traffic and Mike scored in bunches and held his own defending bigger opposing players.

Once the lid came off of Foothill League play, the Santa Clarita Valley got a view of Honaker’s quickness and Mike’s scoring ability.

But it also got a look at how others were contributing — junior guard Angel Cardenas was hitting threes, junior guard Jaleel Howard’s midrange game added another dimension and the tallest kid on the team, 6-foot-3-inch senior Kayode Wellington was playing above the rim.

And after three Foothill League games, the Vikings were 3-0.

“We know we’re not the biggest team or most athletic team, but we have the talent to play with just about any other team,” Mike says. “It’s been great. A lot of teams underestimate us. We take advantage of that.”

Hart, a preseason Foothill title favorite, didn’t and turned the Vikings away in a 73-56 win on Jan. 18 in which the Vikings looked like another team.

The Vikings battled the other preseason favorite West Ranch to a 70-63 loss on Jan. 22, bringing Valencia further down to earth.

In the next two games, Valencia had even more character testers.

They were both Valencia wins, but could have easily gone the other way.

And though they were both team efforts, Honaker and Mike were vital in the victories.

On Jan. 25, Valencia trailed Saugus 45-42 with 10 seconds to play.

Cardenas hit a three to tie the score, but Saugus had one last chance.

Saugus guard Chris Lockwood dribbled up court and hit a would-be-game-winning jumper near the free-throw line.

But he was whistled for an offensive foul on the play.

Honaker took the charge.

Valencia went on to win 57-53 in overtime.

On Tuesday, Valencia built a 16-point first-quarter lead on Golden Valley before holding off the Grizzlies 67-64.

Mike, who slumped during the Vikings’ short losing streak, hit five 3-pointers en route to a 21-point performance.

Now the anti-Vikings are in a place that few expected them to be in.

It’s this simple, with Hart and West Ranch still on the schedule, if Valencia wins out, it would at worst share the Foothill League title.

“I think we all believe we can pull that off,” Honaker says. “I don’t think West Ranch or Hart believe we can. I think we can. We never give up.”

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