SCROLL DOWN FOR PREVIEWS FOR ALL THREE AREA TEAMS
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
A year removed from a Freeway League championship, the Sonora boys basketball team has some crucial pieces remaining to make another run at the title this season.
Though Head Coach Mike Murphy believes that this year’s Freeway League race will be much tougher than it was last year, he does have two returning starters and two bench players from a year ago who will be big contributors this season.
“We have a lot of guys back that were all factors in that final game last year against Servite,” Murphy said. “We knew that we were better, but that night they beat us, it was hard to take. We’ve changed our schedule and made it much more difficult. We don’t have a weak team on there, we want to be ready for playoffs and our league is much better. Last year we sailed with the exception of Sunny Hills, this year that won’t be the case.”
The junior class is strong for the Raiders this season, led by guard Josh Rodriguez and wingman Ben Rico, who will lead the team in scoring.
Then there is 6-foot-6 center Steven Murphy, who Coach Murphy believes is due for a breakout season in quite a few matchups.
But the man that Coach Murphy described as the glue that holds the team together is senior point guard Adam Marlow, returning as a third-year starter. Marlow will make an impact on the defensive side and has a knack for finding the open man.
“He’s the head of our team, he’s our leader, the other guys look to him,” Coach Murphy said. “He really holds us together. Josh is just so gifted, he’s very good and so is Ben, both of those guys will be recruited. The wild card will be Steven Murphy, he has a long wingspan, he’ll block a lot of shots and he’s a good rebounder. We just need him to play with more energy and more tenacity. I don’t know if he even realizes how good he is.”
Senior forward Roy Saucedo rounds out the starting lineup and forwards Jacob Rosander and 6-foot-7 sophomore Scott Riley will make major contributions off the bench.
But Christian Rhodes will be the team’s sixth man and a junior that Murphy will call upon when the Raiders are behind and need to go with a smaller lineup.
Like Sonora teams of recent memory, the Raiders quickness and ability to make jump shots will be a contributing factor when it comes to having success, but Coach Murphy would like to see the Raiders use Steven Murphy more often inside.
“Last year, we had so many guys that could score,” Murphy said. “This year, we have two guys that will lead us, but we need Steven to contribute more offensively. We have a tendency to start the game by taking a lot of 3-pointers, which can either help or hurt us depending on how many we make. I would like to see that change. We need to get better at getting Steven the ball inside.”
A season ago, the Raiders felt the effects when leading scorer Jimmy Golden went down with an ankle injury and was not the same when he returned, which led to a second round exit in the playoffs.
Because that finish was a slight disappointment for a talented Raiders team, Coach Murphy ramped up the nonleague schedule with the hope of giving his team the best challenge possible to not only prepare for the Freeway League, but the playoffs as well.
In addition to the El Modena Canyon Kickoff Classic and its own North Orange County Championships, Sonora will also upgrade its San Diego tournament to the Torrey Pines Tournament.
The Raiders also play nonleague games against Woodbridge, Servite, La Mirada and Dana Hills.
“We’ve upgraded our tournaments this year, ours is always tough and it’s easy to go 1-4 in that tournament,” Murphy said. “We upgraded from the Mt. Carmel Classic to the Torrey Pines. That will give us four really good games right before we get into league. We’re doing everything we can to prepare for our league, which will hopefully prepare us for playoffs.”
The tough nonleague schedule is put in place to get the Raiders ready for the Freeway League schedule, which Coach Murphy believes will be much tougher this year than in years past.
“Everybody in our league has improved, there’s not a single team in this league that is not better than they were last year,” Murphy said. “Sunny Hills has everyone back, I have to think they’ll be toward the top, but even teams like Buena Park and Fullerton will challenge this year. It’s going to be fun.”
After battling adversity a season ago in a number of ways, the La Habra boys basketball team is ready to step back into the Freeway League race in the 2013-14 season.
Last year, the Highlanders brought in a new head coach in Dave Ploog and returned just two players. This season, an all-junior starting lineup returns for its senior season.
On top of that, the Highlanders have some depth, as plenty of bench players earned playing time a season ago.
“We have a really good core group of seniors who played significant minutes last year,” Ploog said. “On top of that, they’ve played 40 or so games in the summer and fall leagues, so they’ve really played a lot of basketball together and that makes a big difference.”
Senior guards Justin Jaimez and David Desatoff return for their third season on varsity, while forwards Alex Evanoff, Adam Cooley and guard Zach Gray return for their second season as starters.
While Ploog has scoring talent on the offensive side, the main focus for the team is playing solid team defense, which was the program’s primary focus in the offseason.
“We really tried to focus on finishing games, finishing plays,” Ploog said. “I think we’ve done a lot better job over the course of the summer and fall of focusing on situational basketball so that we’re on the same page, especially on defense. We’re going to be a defensive team that focuses on those types of strategies this year.”
Ploog went on to say that he would like to see the defense as more controlled, but if the team can force a turnover, he wants to see the team push for more fast break points.
Cooley and Gray look to be the top two in scoring and both have the ability to drive inside and find the basket or get to the free throw line.
Evanoff provides a big body inside and will contribute most with his rebounding, while Jaimez will run the offense from the point guard position and facilitate the offense.
However, the Highlanders will be without Desatoff until mid-January due to a medical condition. Instead, senior Anthony Sciacca will start at the small forward position.
“JJ is going to be our defensive specialist and he’s one of our captains, so we’re really relying on his and David’s leadership,” Ploog said. “Adam has become a great offensive player, he’s really worked on his game offensively, so he and Zach will lead in that regard. Michael [Banks] has stepped up his defense and has done a great job of figuring out ways to use his body in the paint. Those guys will all get significant minutes and we’ll have others who will compete for spots which will make us better in the long run.”
Forward Banks and guards Josh Garcia and Peter Hutchison will provide plenty of help with scoring off the bench. Banks and Hutchison received plenty of playing time last season.
Forward Devin Melendez will provide another inside presence for Evanoff.
This year’s team employs all seniors except for guard Michael Liscari, who is a threat from three-point range and Edrick Flores, who will be tough to deal with in the paint. Both Liscari and Flores are juniors.
The Highlanders will again participate in the Coyote Classic and the Whittier Holiday Classic, but adds the Valley Christian Tournament, which takes the place of the Loara Tournament.
“The Coyote Classic is great because we get some nonleague games in a league opponent’s gym,” Ploog said. “What I like is that we play eight games within the first two weeks of the season, so it gives us a chance to analyze where our game is early and make adjustments. The things I want to see most is for us to work together on defense and to see us play with intensity, knowing that we’re playing for a common goal.”
When it comes to the Freeway League, Ploog is confident that if the Highlanders continue to have success on the defensive end, they could be a factor in the playoff race.
“I think that we can be there or close to it based on what we saw in the summer,” Ploog said. “I’m looking for us to take the next step this year and the guys know that. I think if we play good basketball, it could be there for us to fight for it.”
Hindered by injuries a season ago, the Whittier Christian boys basketball team did not have quite the season it was hoping for, finishing fourth in the Olympic League and falling to a top-ranked team in the first round of the playoffs.
This season, Head Coach Sherwin Durham has the luxury of having most of his players return and a bonus in two transfers from Servite that should contribute in a big way this season.
“It just happened that they will be eligible right away, so we’re excited about having all the kids at the start of the year,” Durham said. “We have a good make-up this year with some returning outsides and a good inside presence. I’m hoping we can make a deeper run in the playoffs this year.”
Those transfers, Christian Labadie and Jake Rivera, will make an impact immediately on this year’s team.
Labadie will start at the point guard position, with long-range threat Kaipo Villeza beside him as shooting guard.
“Labadie is a sophomore and he’s talented, he’s going to run the show,” Durham said. “Kaipo may be small in stature, but he’s got a great perimeter shot that I think will help open things up for our bigs by knocking down some threes. Hopefully Stephen and Shawn will do what they need to do in the middle. Jake Rivera should be able to score from the perimeter as well.”
Ryan Esslinger, who was the team’s leading rebounder a season ago, will move from the guard position to start at small forward.
But the advantage that Whittier Christian has this year is size with 6-foot-6 Rivera at power forward and 6-foot-8 senior Stephen Nolin at starting center.
In addition, the Heralds have Shawn Stolt, who ended last season with a flurry, and Jimmy West, both of which can step inside and battle for rebounds.
“Ryan and Stephen will most likely be our captains this year because they’ve tasted that playoff experience,” Durham said. “We have a lot of guys that can contribute for us, so we’re going to try and spread it out. I like how we get after it defensively, I think easy buckets will start from the defensive end. We have great on-ball coverage and Shawn Stolt is a great shot blocker, which is a nice security blanket if someone gets beat.”
All-in-all, the Heralds have four players who check in at 6-foot-5 or taller.
Because of that size inside, Durham is hoping to see more balance in scoring this season. Villeza, Esslinger and Labadie have the ability to hit outside shots.
The Heralds will also call on Reid Winans, who earned experience last year, to help off the bench, along with guards Trevor McGee, Branden Osborn and forward Dylan Patel.
“If we get into the half-court, just to have those big guys down there a year better, coupled with our outside shooters, we’ll see what happens,” Durham said. “When you’re predominantly a perimeter team, to have that inside presence is a good thing, we just need to get them the ball on occasion and let them go to work.”
The Heralds will prepare for another run in the Olympic League by participating in the Orangewood Academy Tournament, the Valley Christian Tournament and hosting their own Leon Davis Classic.
This season, the Orangewood Academy Tournament replaces the North Orange County Championships from a season ago.
Whittier Christian also plays nonleague contests against Laguna Hills, Loara and Ontario Christian, with the latter two matchups coming within Olympic League play.
“It’s always important to get on a winning streak, so we’re going to try to get some wins under our belt and get accustomed to that feeling,” Durham said. “We weren’t able to do the NOCC because that’s our finals week, so we’ll miss that, but we’re looking to see some different styles so that we can make adjustments. Right now our struggle is guarding three-pointers, so we’re looking to improve upon that.”
In the Olympic League, Durham said that Village Christian is still the heavy favorite, but the rest of the spots are up for grabs.
“Village got even better heading into this year,” Durham said. “They got a transfer who will be another weapon. They’re the team to beat and the other teams have all improved too, so it’s going to be a battle. Last year we opened up at Village, which kind of put a downer on the league season, so we’re looking forward to improving upon that this year. We start with Maranatha in league and that will be a good test right off the bat.”