Golden Valley's Richard Kawakami defends the ball from a teammate during a drill at practice on Monday. Katharine Lotze/Signal
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Golden Valley boys basketball wants to build off last year’s success, not revel in it.

Second-year Grizzlies coach Larry Keys sees the importance of the breakthrough 2015-16 campaign in forming a winning culture, one in which success is the standard, not the exception.

But, he said at a recent practice, Golden Valley still isn’t where it wants to be.

“Last year was a good year, but we still have the stigma of the years prior,” Keys said. “We don’t want to be a one-hit wonder.”

Golden Valley boys varsity basketball coach Larry Keys observes the team as they run a drill at practice on Monday. Katharine Lotze/Signal
Golden Valley boys varsity basketball coach Larry Keys observes the team as they run a drill at practice on Monday. Katharine Lotze/Signal

That stigma rose from five years of deep struggle. Before last year’s run to the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3A playoffs, the Grizzlies hadn’t made the postseason since 2010.

A group of 11 seniors — headlined by All-Foothill League first-teamer Bryce Tyler-St. Clair — were crucial to a second-place finish in the Foothill League (a tie with Canyon) and an increased buzz around the program.

Now the onus of turning an upstart year into tradition falls to returners like senior Milan Taylor and sophomore Richard Kawakami, a second-team all-league selection last year.

“(A key) last year (was that) we wanted to win, we just have to keep that mentality,” said Kawakami, who provides a matchup problem as a 6-foot-5 forward/wing with a varied skill set.

Keys believes most of his roster is like Kawakami in that way: a long, mostly interchangeable group that isn’t necessarily limited to a position.

MORE GV: 2016-17 Golden Valley girls basketball preview

“We can go five guys out there and nobody has a defined position, but everyone can do something to help the team,” Keys said.

That includes the 6-6 Taylor, a high-motor player and one of the league’s best athletes.

He and Kawakami will likely be joined in the starting lineup by transfer sophomores Brandon Wilson and Stephon Alla, both of whom were home-schooled last year.

Wilson is a 6-4 shooting guard with “credible” shooting range and the chance to be “very, very special,” Keys said.

Golden Valley's Brandon Wilson puts up a jump shot during a drill at boys varisty practice at Golden Valley on Monday. Katharine Lotze/Signal
Golden Valley’s Brandon Wilson puts up a jump shot during a drill at boys varsity practice at Golden Valley on Monday. Katharine Lotze/Signal

Alla is a strong defender still growing accustomed to playing point guard.

“He’s getting better every game and every practice,” Kawakami said. “He’s getting that point-guard mentality of when to attack and when to kick out.”

Other key newcomers are Ty Jones, Hasani Fields and Eric Castro, a junior who played at Golden Valley as a freshman but not as a sophomore.

“He’s a big guy (6-5) and a committed rebounder who can also step out and hit shots,” Keys said.

Another big guy who can hit shots is senior Josh Jehnings. At 6-7, he’s a big reason Keys expects the Grizzlies to be the tallest team in the Foothill League, a trait that could prove crucial because Golden Valley isn’t as deep as last year. The Grizzlies may have to rely less on transition and more on half-court offense at times.

Still, with a skilled, aggressive group, Golden Valley is likely to put pressure on opposing defenses.

“(Having guys who can play multiple positions) really opens the floor in terms of putting your defender in uncomfortable positions,” Wilson said. “Richard (Kawakami) can handle the ball and bigs tend to guard him so he can stretch out the bigs and clear up the middle for a lot of easy layups.”

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Mason Nesbitt
Mason Nesbitt is The Santa Clarita Valley Signal's Sports Editor.
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