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Star power has been the determining factor for Foothill League basketball champions recently.
Hart will tell you, with back-to-back titles keyed by eventual NCAA Division I hoops players Lewis Stallworth and Myles Franklin.
West Ranch before that, with Ako Kaluna and Kevin Harris, rode elite players to the promised land.
Foothill basketball 2016 is different. Coming into the season, team play and depth appears to be what will determine a champion. That doesn't mean there aren't stars. However, those players are more emerging stars than the established
As to who emerges the champion, more than at any time in at least five seasons, it really is anyone's guess.
The Indians don't have the superstar guards anymore, but they have a 6-foot-9 center in Cameron Fuller who has already signed on with Army. They also have a defensive specialist in Ryan Kaneshiro, an experienced guard in Chad Donohoe and a scoring threat in Preston Dominguez. Hart had early problems this season with shooting, but defense and rebounding continues to be Indian staples. "We play so well together. We're tough. We're balanced," said Hart head coach Tom Kelly. "The other side of the coin, not having an [established] star this year [might be a positive] because we don't have a star who you're going to key on."
Let's not forget, the Vikings were co-league champions last year in the return season of highly-respected head coach Chad Phillips. But the Vikings were hit hardest of any Foothill team by graduation. Valencia is the only league team without a returning starter. However, Isaac Davis developed last season into one of the most exciting point guards we've seen in a while, complete with ball-handling skills and an awe-inspiring passing ability. This could be a development season for Valencia. It will lean on sophomores C.J. Finley, Connor Ruffner and Zach Hawkins and junior Kyler Motoyasu to produce. "We're not going to give up on that hope," Phillips said of being a league title contender. "We're going to get better. I don't see us getting worse."
The Cowboys come off the rare season in which they didn't make the postseason. If they make it this season, it will have to be with a young group.
There are two freshmen and three sophomores on the varsity. Seniors Luke Edwards and big Selom Mawugbe, an Azusa Pacific commit, will lead the group. We'll find out a lot about sophomore Brandon Wilson and juniors Josue Valencia and Stevie Aguirre as the season goes on. "It has the potential," said head coach Sean DeLong of his group. "With inexperience and a lot of teaching going on, we have a long way to go before thinking playoffs."
The 2015 team squeaked into the CIF-Southern Section playoffs under first-year head coach Bill Bedgood. But now in his second season, players are more comfortable with his uptempo style, so expectations are higher for the 2016 group. The team's second-leading scorer from last year, Zach Phipps, is back and is still only a junior. The returning guard tandem of Cameron Smith and Ryan McClenahan will push the tempo for the Cents and Saugus will look for new faces Micah Tobon, Anthony McIntyre and 6-foot-4-inch freshman Andrew Austin to contribute immediately. "My outlook this year is night and day from last year," Bedgood said. "We expect to win."
The Wildcats had the best freshman in the Santa Clarita Valley last season in guard Austin Galuppo. Now the sharpshooter enters this season as a Player of the Year candidate. "The scary thing is he's gotten a lot better and he has more to go," said Wildcats head coach Shant Bicakci. "His ceiling is pretty high." Hart transfer Chris Kodama, junior Suren Aghazidian and seniors Alex Morales and Kevin McQuillen should help keep the Wildcats in CIF-Southern Section postseason contention and maybe more.
Coming off a football season in which the Grizzlies were the surprise team of the Foothill League, the basketball team is primed to be the same thing.
New head coach Larry Keys arrived with a stocked cupboard. Guard Bryce Tyler-St. Clair is an exciting scorer and junior Milan Taylor is wowing a lot of people with his multi-dimensional ability, most notably his finishing skills around the basket. Noah Henizman and Jonathan Delgado are part of a senior-heavy team. But there is a freshman who is expected to contribute in Richard Kawakani. "Having a lot of seniors at least gives us the leverage to feel like we can come in and make a dent right away," Keys said. "There's a sense of urgency."