Hoop Talk
2011 Boys Basketball Preview
February, 2011 - Issue #76
Talk to Canyon's Chad Phillips about the Valencia boys basketball team's chances of repeating as Foothill League champs and he sounds more like a fan than opposing coach.

"Obviously, if anybody is going to pick one team from this league, they're going to have to say Valencia," he says. "They've got probably the best player in the valley's history and they're probably the deepest team in the league. They seem primed for a repeat."

That "best player" is the dynamic Lonnie Jackson, the Foothill League's reigning MVP. The Boston College-bound senior scored a league-best 23.6 points per game last season.

The 6-foot-4 senior alone makes the Vikings a scary matchup.

"Teams expect us to be good because of him," says Valencia head coach Rocket Collins. "They try to beat him up like crazy. They double team him; teams will try everything."

The really scary thing is that all of those things rarely do any good.

The fact that the Vikings will surround Jackson with an even deeper squad than the Vikings featured during their Foothill League championship run of a season ago - returning talented guards Jake Kelfer and Troy Hammel as well as forward Max Sommer and talented 6-foot-5 big man Zach Davis in the middle - makes them that much better.

On paper, Phillips is right. The Vikings are the favorites to repeat.

That's why Canyon is more than a little bit pumped up about its team's 59-58 win over the Vikings on December 11 in the championship game of the Canyon High Classic.

That's the day the one-team race for the title became at least a two-team race.

"I told people, just getting to play against them in a non-league game, I felt like I was playing with free money," Phillips says. "It gave us a chance to see Valencia, to find out if there's a way to beat them. Now we at least know we can compete against them."

The Cowboys pulled it off without their leading scorer, junior Clay Kasdorf, who was nursing an ankle injury. Kasdorf has scored 43 points and 35 points in games this season.

Canyon returns just four varsity players from last year's third-place team, but these returning players include All-Foothill League junior guard Coley Apsay as well as senior forward Darnel Haggerty, who Phillips says, "can score from everywhere on the floor."

Two rematches between Canyon and Valencia could determine the champion. Of course, there are four other teams that would disagree, starting with last year's co-champions.

Golden Valley Grizzlies
Last Year's Record:
Last Year's League Finish: 8-2 (tied for first)
The Good News: Unfortunately, there isn't much good news for the Grizzlies. Winners of two straight Foothill League championships, Golden Valley is in rebuilding mode, working with a new head coach after the resignation of Chris Printz and having graduated 10 seniors including Foothill League co-Player of the Year Trevor Wiseman. The team has struggled to start the season, losing its first five games and seven of its first nine.

Hart Indians
Last Year's Record:
Last Year's League Finish: 0-10 (last place)
The Good News: It doesn't only happen in sports movies. Worst-to-first turnarounds do exist in real life. It's been done in the Foothill League as recently as two seasons ago by Golden Valley. The better news? The Indians share one very important thing in common with that particular turnaround story: a ton of returning players. Yes, they struggled a season ago, but last year's young Indians team is now one full year older and should be competitive, led by senior point guard Roman Delgado and senior forward Cole Preston.

Saugus Centurions
Last Year's Record:
Last Year's League Finish: 4-6 (fourth place)
The Good News: The Centurions' leading scorer from a season ago, senior guard Brad Buchignani (12.8 per game), is back. Also returning at guard is talented junior Jeremy Gatewood, giving the team a solid backcourt. Though Saugus wasn't able to earn wins against any of the top-three teams a season ago, the Cents had a strong postseason and built on that early this year, winning their first four games and seven of their first 10.

West Ranch Wildcats
Last Year's Record:
Last Year's League Finish: 3-7 (fifth place)
The Good News: The Wildcats boast a strong inside-outside game with a deep stable of shooters as well as a great young post player to build their team around in sophomore Ako Kaluna. The 6-foot-6 10th grader might be the Foothill League's best big man and should be in for a strong season after a freshman year in which he led the Wildcats in scoring (11.5 per game) and rebounding (7.0 per game). Says Phillips of the challenge of facing Kaluna: "He can take it inside, take it outside. He can beat you from any position."
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