Zach Phipps’ goal entering the season was nothing out of the ordinary.
His perspective at season’s end was nothing but exceptional.
Shortly before Foothill League play began in early January, the Saugus High senior stated he wanted to win a league title.
That, of course, is the hope of every competitor with an 0-0 record – a clean slate allows teenagers to dream.
Saugus, though, took solid steps toward making it a reality, slipping past Hart and West Ranch on the road for a 2-0 start.
But despite Phipps’ efficient scoring, improved defense and more vocal leadership approach, the Centurions went 4-4 the rest of the way and finished third.
Asked about leaving school without a title, Phipps didn’t sound disappointed.
“I feel we’ve gotten a lot closer to that goal as a program,” he said.
Indeed. And the 2017 All-Santa Clarita Valley boys basketball Player of the Year had a lot to do with that.
The Signal’s annual top honor could have gone to several other players: Phipps’ teammate Anthony McIntyre, or Hart’s Ben Kaufman and Whitten Dominguez.
To sort it out, Signal Sports took a vote of its two staff members and two of its basketball contributors, asking each to rank their top three preferences in order.
A first-place vote earned a candidate three points, second place earned two points and third place one.
Phipps finished with seven points, Kaufman had six and Dominguez and McIntyre each had five.
It was close. But, ultimately, it was Phipps, who averaged 20 points per game and, coach Bill Bedgood says, shot close to 60 percent on two-point field goals.
Phipps totaled 554 points on the year, giving him 1,443 for his three-year varsity career and vaulting him over BJ Willkomm (1,261 points) as the school’s all-time leading scorer.
It wasn’t just the quantity of points, though, that set Phipps apart. It was when he scored them.
Phipps, an All-CIF and All-Foothill League first-team honoree, averaged 22.5 points in two Foothill League games against four-time defending champion Hart.
He scored 33 points in Saugus’ CIF-Southern Section Division 2A first-round win over Mark Keppel High of Alhambra.
“You can’t ask for anything more than that,” Bedgood said of Phipps, who has received interest from a handful of NCAA Division 2 schools but hasn’t yet committed. “Every time we asked him to take his game to another level, he continued to rise to the occasion.”
Bedgood’s and Phipps’ first year with Saugus’ varsity coincided in 2014-15. The Centurions were coming off an 0-10 Foothill League season and skies weren’t clearing anytime soon.
But Phipps steadily improved over his sophomore (All-SCV honorable mention, 3-7 in league) and junior (17.5 points a game, 3-7 in league) seasons.
There was light at the end of the tunnel, and Saugus needed Phipps to serve as the engineer.
After a tumultuous 2015-16, with Centurions arguing over playing time, Phipps spoke up more as a senior. He took an increased interest in the squad’s chemistry, hosting teammates at his house over the summer to shoot hoops, eat pancakes and bond.
The result was Saugus’ best Foothill League season since 2008 and its most harmonious in the last several.
Case in point: Saugus featured two of the league’s best scorers and, apparently, best sharers.
“If I’m having a bad night, (McIntyre) picks up his offense,” Phipps said. “If I’m having a good night, he passes me the ball more and I get more points that way.”
It wasn’t all about scoring for Phipps, though. According to Bedgood, Phipps improved at guarding players off the dribble, skying for rebounds and playing sound help-side defense.
“This year,” Bedgood said, “he went out of his way to work on challenging himself to stay in front of guys.”
Those guys only wish they could’ve stayed in front of him.
All-SCV First Team
Dexter Akanno, Valencia, Junior
The 6-foot-2 point guard came into his own as a junior, averaging 11.3 points, four rebounds and 3.6 assists on Foothill League co-champion Valencia, the league’s most balanced team.
Whitten Dominguez, Hart, Junior
Employing arguably the Foothill League’s smoothest jumper, Dominguez averaged 19 points per game in a truncated season. He missed 10 games due to a hip injury, but recovered in time to lead Hart to a share of a fourth straight league title.
Austin Galuppo, West Ranch, Junior
Galuppo’s best game of the season, obviously, came when he broke the school and Foothill League record for points in a game with 51, a stat that included nine 3-pointers. In league play, he averaged 18 points per game.
Ben Kaufman, Hart, Senior
Hart thrust a far larger role on Kaufman in his final prep season. And the broad-shouldered wing was up to the task, averaging 17 points and five rebounds. No one was better at getting to the free-throw line.
Anthony McIntyre, Saugus, Senior
His borderline-acrobatic shots and movements made McIntyre fun to watch. Despite what some may say, “Mac” has bounce. He averaged 17.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists.
Renz Brual, Hart, Senior
When Hart’s offense stalled, Brual asserted himself and scored. His greatest skill, according to one rival coach, might have been his midrange jumper: “(He had) the ability to kill you at 15 feet.”
Richard Kawakami, Golden Valley, Sophomore
“Showtyme” Kawakami proved his nickname true, averaging 15.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists. He was one of the Grizzlies’ most dynamic, well-rounded players.
Chris Kodama, West Ranch, Senior
Kodama was a reliable shooter for the Wildcats all year long and was very comfortable around the perimeter. He averaged 18 points and 5.5 assists in Foothill play.
Jayden Trower, Valencia, Sophomore
Before the season started, we weren’t sure what Jayden Trower was going to offer. The 6-foot-6 forward delivered, averaging 11.4 points and 5.8 rebounds, with a total of 50 blocked shots.
Yvan Yomba, Canyon, Senior
The 6-foot-6 center proved to be one of the Foothill League’s best shot-blocking presences this season. He also produced at the offensive end, averaging 12 points a game.
Canyon – Josue Valencia, senior
Einstein – Justin Kreisberg, junior
Golden Valley – Milan Taylor, senior
Hart – Tre Harrill, junior
Saugus – Luke Bodeau, junior
SCCS – Justin Collins, sophomore
SCVi – Matt Rubinowitz, senior
Trinity – Koby Schafer, senior
Valencia – Zach Hawkins, junior
West Ranch – Suren Aghazadian, senior