Senior-laden Valencia boys basketball team eager to prove itself

Valencia’s Dexter Akanno (10) tries to break through the defense for a shot during a home match against Bishop Alemany on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal
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Yes, Valencia boys basketball wants to win a Foothill League title this year. Yes, they want to make a deep run in the CIF-Southern Section playoffs. Pretty standard prep basketball goals.

On top of those objectives, though, the Vikings (2-2) want to change their image – and the image of the Foothill League.

“We have like, the stigma, the misconception that the foothill league is soft,” said senior Zach Hawkins. “Not very good. We can only compete with Foothill League teams. We want to show that we’re more than that.”

Valencia’s Jayden Trower (23) looks for an open man to pass to during a home match against Bishop Alemany on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

With a stable of talented upperclassmen and a new head coach, there’s no better time than this season to accomplish that task.

Bill Bedgood stepped down as the Saugus coach over the summer after accepting a full-time teaching job at Valencia. He wanted to be involved in the basketball program, but he wasn’t sure what his role would be.

When former Vikings coach Chad Phillips resigned, opting for a teaching job in Georgia, Bedgood’s role became pretty clear.

But taking the reigns of a successful, senior-heavy program that accustomed to a specific playing style, coaching style and overall team identity is easier said than done.

“I think in the beginning it was kind of slow moving,” Bedgood said. “It was about building trust, building relationships with the players and then I feel like once we were able to gain the trust, once we were able to build some foundation to our relationships, then it was a lot easier to coach the guys once we kind of had that set.”

Dexter Akanno agreed that the transition wasn’t easy, but noted that players just needed some time to understand their new coach and his style.

“Last year, coach Phillips, he was more like, micromanaging the team in a way,” said the point guard. “But then now it’s with coach Bedgood, he’s more of get up and down, more like freedom to pay and stuff like that.”

Akanno, one last year’s Foothill League co-players of the year, is one of 10 seniors on the team that quickly impressed Bedgood. CJ Finley, Josh Grant and Luke Ballard are returning as well in addition to Jayden Trower, a junior big.

“I kind of joked with him, ‘You cost me a Foothill League championship last year,’” Bedgood said. “You owe me one.”

Valencia’s top newcomer looks to be sophomore shooting guard Jake Hlywiak, who racked up points last season on the freshman team with his confident shooting. He’ll be a major contributor off the bench this season.

Grant Kim also joins the group after transferring in from West Ranch.

“Great, gritty defender,” said Bedgood. “High energy guy who has a very high ceiling.”

The Vikings begin the Foothill League season at home on Jan. 9 against Saugus.

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