By Dan Lovi and Diego Marquez
Signal Staff Writers
The 2018-19 boys basketball season is already underway, with each team having competed in its first league game this past Friday.
Hart, Valencia and West Ranch all notched a win and Canyon, Golden Valley and Saugus lost, but the season is just beginning and a lot can happen in the coming weeks.
The Indians are the defending Foothill League champions, finishing the 2017-18 campaign with an 8-2 league record.
Hart got off to a slow start in preleague, going 1-8 in non-conference play, but opened Foothill League with a 30-point trouncing of Golden Valley.
“We knew that preseason was going to be a really big challenge,” said Hart coach Tom Kelly. “We feel as coaches that we have closed the gap in every game. Even though we went 0-4 in The Warrior Classic we led Alemany, Calabasas and Viewpoint late in the game.”
Seniors Julian Verrier and Joey Harand have contributed greatly to begin the season as Harand can slash and knife his way into the lane while Verrier has good footwork down in the post and can step out and knock down the occasional 3-pointer.
Newcomers Ryan Burcham and Isaac Deedon provide explosive scoring from anywhere on the floor and will be relied on to do so.
Brothers Ty and Jaden Penberthy, who transferred from Santa Clarita Christian School, will factor into the rotation and will have key roles for the Indians moving forward.
“We just got Ty eligible because his transfer paperwork went through,” Kelly said. “He and his brother Jaden will be really good players for us this year and moving forward. We have a solid core of players this year and will factor to become better with each year that passes.”
Valencia will look to make a run at the Foothill League crown this season, boasting a trio of talented seniors: Josh Assiff, Richard Kawakami and Jayden Trower.
Senior Nick Jenney and junior sharpshooter Jake Hlywiak round out a starting lineup that is arguably the most athletic in the league.
The Vikings started league play with a 20-point win against Saugus, a victory head coach Bill Bedgood said was vital to his team’s success for the rest of the season.
“For us it’s a good feeling to get off to a good start. We were really focused on getting a tough one on the road. This is always a tough place to play,” Bedgood said after Friday’s win. (Alfredo) Manzano does a great job. He gets a lot of out of his guys, so we had to get this one and now we’re focused on Hart on Thursday. That’s a big one for us as well.”
Kawakami has been leading the Vikings as a do-it-all point guard.
Whether its crashing the boards, hustling on defense or leading the fast break, Kawakami is the conductor of the Vikings team.
“Richard is orchestrating the offense. When he’s on, everyone else plays well,” Hlywiak said.
Despite losing the first game of league, Saugus has shown it can compete with some of the best, playing several close games against tough competition in preleague.
Led by junior Adrian McIntyre, who scored 39 points in an earlier contest, the Centurions have a potent and multidimensional offense. Freshman Nathan Perez has shown an innate ability to score from range and center Camron Nale has been contributing significantly down low.
“He’s special and I don’t think he realizes how special he is,” Manzano said of McIntyre after the game in which he scored 39 points. “If Cam can play consistently like that it’s huge because it opens up the game for the perimeter guys,” he added about Nale’s performance.
Senior Justin Espinoza and junior Alex Phan will look to continue doing the dirty work, diving for loose balls, taking charges and playing smothering defense.
Hoping to build on its fifth-place finish in 2017, Golden Valley opened this season with a 64-61 win over Palmdale, but has stumbled since, losing five of the next six games.
With a young team, Grizzlies head coach Larry Keys understands that there will be some bumps along the road, but through hard work and passion, they can be a Foothill League contender in 2018.
“That’s kind of been the character of this team, we really get after it. We’re young so we’re going to put ourselves in tough situations from time to time, but our weakness is our strength in that sense because they just believe,” Keys said after the win against Palmdale.
The Grizzlies will rely on senior guards Kenan Quila and Joshua Martin to provide stability, scoring and the ability to distribute the ball to make up Golden Valley’s starting backcourt.
Sophomore Josiah Gatewood returns and brings some undeniable athleticism to the lineup while Braxton Williams provides a post presence for the Grizzlies.
“I would be curious to find a better athlete in this league than Josiah,” said Keys. “Braxton is a skilled big man. We have a complete big man in terms of being able to control the post, rebound, challenge shots and also get out on the wings and the elbows and knock down shots.”
Under first-year head coach Ron Manalastas, West Ranch played a tough preleague schedule, losing to Loyola and Camarillo, but came away with something more valuable than a win: how to compete.
“We are learning to compete,” Manalastas said. “There are certain teams that we played that we needed to learn from in terms of how they execute and the effort that they exert on both ends like Loyola and Ventura who are just balling out fundamentally.
“For us to learn how to compete against those teams and then do well against them will help us do well in league.”
Seniors forwards Robbie Myers and Alex Grant add some toughness and height down low with Myers’ big, bruising body and Grant’s long 6-foot-5 frame, who can also step out and knock down 3-pointers with regularity.
Deaken Stangl and Carter Williams’ scoring and distributing ability will be relied on more this season as they take on bigger roles in their final year at West Ranch.
“Deaken understands that it’s his senior year and this is it. We asked him to be more aggressive on the offensive end and he has really listened,” Manalastas said. “Carter is a returning point guard and a senior and he is the glue that makes our team stick. He holds up together and it’s good to have a solid senior point guard running the show.”
West Ranch defeated Canyon in its league opener 61-58, but despite the loss, Cowboys head coach Sean DeLong was pleased with his team’s overall performance.
“The first game was good and bad. We were proud of a lot of things we did, but we still have moments of being kind of an inexperienced at times,” DeLong said. “We’re working on playing hard and playing smart. We are really proud of the way we played and competed.”
DeLong returns to the helm after taking a couple of years off from coaching. While he knows his team still has a lot of growing to do, he’s happy to be back helping teach young players how to work hard and get better each day.
His move back into coaching was made easier by having JV head coach and varsity assistant Ali Monfared on his staff.
“Ali Monfared has been a great guy to have. He’s been around for all these years and he knows the guys, so it made my transition easy. He loves the team and the program,” DeLong said. “For me, it’s been great getting back into it. I have such great guys this year. I have great relationships with them. Watching them grow is so much fun.
Seniors Willie Yomba and Aaron Berko are the elder statesmen, along with Cole Sy and Ryan Sloan, but Canyon has a number of younger players who are looking to make an impact this season.
Junior Connor Cooper mans the paint along with sophomore Corwin Daugharty, who is returning from injury.
Junior guards Anthony Regalado and Anthony Gallo will also be relied upon heavily.
Gallo was named team captain, which is rare for a junior.
“Anthony Gallo is one of our guards, he works his butt off and he’s a very knowledgeable basketball player,” DeLong said. “He’s a captain and we don’t do junior captains very often. He was voted by the team and I agreed with their vote. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached and he’s just a great person on top of that all.”
Next up, Saugus will play West Ranch on the road, Valencia will be at home against Hart and Golden Valley and Canyon will face off at Golden Valley.
All games are scheduled to tip-off at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.