Valencia boys hoops set narrative for future teams

Valencia's Richard Kawakami (1) drives past Saugus defender Stephen Tampus (32) at Valencia High. Dan Watson/The Signal

On Saturday night at Los Osos High School, the Valencia boys basketball team was eliminated from the CIF State Championships. It was the second time in two weeks that the Vikings were ousted by Rancho Cucamonga in a CIF tournament.

The aftermath of the game was clouded with sadness, but Valencia head coach Bill Bedgood assembled his players in the locker room and reminded them of all they accomplished this past season.

The 2018-19 Vikings boys basketball squad broke numerous records on its way to a 26-8 overall record, with the 26 victories marking a program-high win total, surpassing the previous record set in the 2014-15 season by four games.

“This is the best season Valencia has ever had. The furthest we’ve ever gone, the most wins, you name it,” Bedgood said. “It’s been a great ride, an incredible ride. To achieve what these guys achieved, I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

On Dec. 1 against Burbank, Valencia scored 104 points in a win, the most points scored in a game in school history.

Between Dec. 7 and Jan. 11, the Vikings set a record with 11 consecutive wins, including four wins at the Classic at Damien which resulted in Valencia taking home the title in the gold division.

Valencia was undefeated at home (9-0) and undefeated in the Foothill league (10-0), both firsts for the program.

The two wins against Gardena and Cathedral Catholic in the state tournament were also a first, as the Vikings reached the regional semifinals.

“I feel like we’re a little behind because we played so long. I know there are a lot of teams that are already training for next year and getting ready. I think we need to collect ourselves a little bit and take a deep breath, this has been a long grinding run,” Bedgood said. “I told them, ‘You guys are the best team in Valencia High School history. You set so many records. Everyone will always think about this team for years to come and will be comparing future teams to this team.’ That’s exciting, they have a legacy.”

The Vikings graduate seven seniors, including All-Foothill League Player of the Year and starting point guard Richard Kawakami. Three other starters: Josh Assiff, Jayden Trower and Nick Jenney, plus three key members of the bench: Nader Hussein, Ben Hanvey and Ahmad Loving are all moving on.

Still, the future is promising.

Sharpshooting guards Jake Hlywiak and Noah Veluzat will return to form one of the most dynamic backcourts, not only in the Foothill League, but in all of Southern California.

The duo is so impressive, Assiff believes both have a legitimate shot of playing at the Division 1 level, possibly even reaching the NBA as long as they continue to put in the work.

“Valencia in these last two years might have three NBA players and I think Jake could end up playing in the NBA because of how well he can shoot,” Assiff said. “I think Noah might play in the NBA. It’s about us putting in the work. It’s possible, we can do it, it’s just on us. At Valencia, we have talent.

“Hopefully people will start to respect Valencia. Nobody respected us last year after our run, they thought we were going to be a joke this year too. We proved a lot of people wrong.”

Also set to return are crucial bench contributors from this year: Kevin Konrad, Grant Kim, Ryan Hoffman and Eli Brill.

Konrad was a dominant force in the post all season, crashing the glass with intensity and scoring on the block. Kim was an essential defensive component and used his speed to get into the paint with ease.

Hoffman and Brill brought energy off the bench, with both playing critical roles throughout the season.

“We’re excited about what we have coming back. We lose a lot of height and some great experience, but we got two great shooters coming back. We got Kevin, who is a physical big coming back. Kevin is going to be a 20 and 10 guy next year I really believe that. He’s going to play a ton of minutes,” Bedgood said. “The future is bright. We should be one of the perennial teams in our area and in basketball in general. We’re excited about the kids coming back and hope they’re excited to make another run because that’s what we do now.”

“I feel like it does motivate us. I feel like next year we got a great shot,” Kim said. “We got a strong core of young guys who know how to play basketball really well.”

While this team was a record-setting one, and each player will have his name etched in history, next year’s team has the potential to rewrite the books yet again.

Just like this year’s squad did.

“I think next year they might do better than us, all considering. They’ll have a great record again, we have a great coach, love him, a great coaching staff,” Assiff said. “We have a whole bunch of other pieces that no one really knows. We’ve raised the bar and we’ve given them something to go after and chase to be great. The goal for them now should be to get to a regionals in state, get to the CIF championship. I think they have a good chance to do it.”

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