Since 2007, the first year Foothill League boys basketball featured its current six schools, there had never been as many as five teams tied for first place after five games.
Then 2017 happened.
Behind Austin Galuppo’s league-record 51 points, West Ranch toppled 3-1 Golden Valley on Tuesday night. Across town, Hart’s steady resilience did the same to 3-1 Valencia.
The wins lifted West Ranch and Hart to 3-2, and Saugus joined them after a comeback win over winless Canyon.
Runners return to your marks. The title chase is basically starting over.
The average margin of victory across the league rose from five to seven points on Tuesday, but the teams, for all intensive purposes, are closer than ever.
Coaches are surely scouring film, looking for any slight advantage for the home stretch, any possible way to out-do their counterparts in the league’s final five games.
One edge they aren’t looking at — because, well, it’s impossible — is bringing back a senior from last year.
Yes, it’s absurd. Not going to happen, no way, no how. It’s a violation of roughly 50 CIF rules. But, it might be fun to think about.
Here’s a look at which 2016 graduate would most help their respective program:
The Grizzlies have the Foothill’s best front line in Josh Jehnings (6-foot-7), Milan Taylor (6-6) and Richard Kawakami(6-5). Golden Valley’s backcourt, though, could use a scorer like 2016 grad Bryce Tyler-St. Clair. The guard scored 17.3 points per game on Golden Valley’s second-place team last season. He’d also come in handy defensively, when the Grizzlies face nimble scorers like Hart’s Whitten Dominguez or Valencia’s Dexter Akanno.
The obvious choice seems to be Chad Donohoe, the 2016 Foothill League Player of the Year. But, frankly, the Indians don’t need another shooter or another guard who can get to the basket, i.e. Dominguez and senior Ben Kaufman. No, Hart needs a shot swatter and rim rattler. And while 2016 grad Cameron Fuller wasn’t as dominant as his 6-8 frame and athleticism suggested, he’d be a welcome post presence.
The Centurions’ best player last year (Zach Phipps) is still on the roster, and the 2016 team, like this year’s squad, lacked height. So, the pick is guard Ryan McClenahan for one simple reason: He nailed a nearly half-court shot (that may or may not have beat the buzzer) to defeat Valencia by three. With all the close games this season (four Saugus games have been decided by five points or less), a knack for desperation heaves could come in handy.
The choice for Valencia has nothing to do with filing a position of need. The Vikings could have five dominant post players, and this guy would be the pick. Chibuzo Ikonte competed in all of 11 games as a senior, but the 6-7 forward lifted Valencia’s level of play across the board.
Ikonte alongside star-to-be Jayden Trower (a 6-6 sophomore who blocked Hart’s Dominguez three times on one sequence Tuesday) would provide a formidable front line, and Ikonte would take pressure off of Akanno and Zach Hawkins to create offense.
The Wildcats returned standouts Galuppo, point guard Chris Kodama and forward Suren Aghazadian from the 2016 team.
So the pick for West Ranch isn’t a star but one of the league’s best role players from 2016. Guard Kevin McQuillen picked up the slack when Galuppo had an off shooting night, possessing 3-point range and a fearlessness attacking the hoop. A guy like that is always an asset.
One candidate stands above the rest — literally. At 6-9, Selom Mawugbe was a low-post force as a senior, scoring 17.6 points and pulling down 10.5 rebounds per game. The Azusa Pacific University freshman would bolster a Canyon defense that’s allowing 59 points per game in league (he blocked 113 shots last year) and provide the go-to scoring option a solid but hardly spectacular Canyon team needs.