Los Angeles Preps: basketball preview

O.C.: Boys' basketball Top 10

December, 6, 2011
It's generally accepted that the third-best team in Orange County to begin the season is Capistrano Valley. Well, the Cougars have already played Mater Dei, and were beaten 91-55. That's the kind of disparity we're talking about when considering the strength of the Monarchs.

A year ago, the team was supposed to be in rebuilding mode, but the talent took over and though the Monarchs did not win a Southern Section title, they did go on to win the state title. That's a state record-tying eight banners for coach Gary McKnight, and he should get his ninth with this group. If he doesn't, it will be a surprise to everyone. Mater Dei opened the season ranked sixth in the nation by ESPNHS.

McKnight comes into the season with an 860-79 record in a 28-year career. The Monarchs have won 19 section titles and eight state titles. Come March, that should change.

1. Mater Dei (32-3 in 2010-11)
Who’s coming back:
Nine of the top 10 players from last season return, including outstanding senior guards Xavier Johnson (Colorado) and Katin Reinhardt (UNLV). Also back is sophomore Stanley Johnson, who showed last season that he is eventually going to be a star, probably sooner rather than later. Eli Stalzer is also one of the top seniors in Orange County. The Monarchs are loaded.
Key additions/losses: In theory, David Brown is a big loss. He made plays when it counted last season, but the reality is that there is so much returning talent, Brown’s absence might hardly be noticed. Entering the program is another Brown who is no relation: Elijah Brown, the son of new Lakers coach Mike Brown.
Last season: Mater Dei was young last year and were beaten in the Division 1AA semifinals by Corona Centennial, 60-58. The Monarchs avenged that loss and went on to win the Division I state title.
Why they will be good: Mater Dei has all the talent. They have playmakers, they have depth, and they have experience. Although you hate to put this kind of pressure on high school boys, anything short of a state title and this season is an absolute failure. Seriously.

2. Orange Lutheran (27-7)
Who’s coming back: Senior guards Gabe York (6-2) and Payton Banks (6-5) are among the most skilled players in the state at their positions. York, who has signed with Arizona, averaged 19.2 points, and Banks 11.6. Junior forward Darien Williams (6-8) also returns to the starting lineup.
Key additions/losses: Lutheran is going to miss guard James Douglas (Northern Arizona), who averaged 17.3 points, 4.8 assists and was terrific in the playoffs. Freshmen Kendall Lauderdale (6-6) and Jonathan Ross (6-7) should be able to contribute right away.
Last season: The Lancers finished second to Mater Dei in the Trinity League and won the Division 4AA championship.
Why they will be good: One of Lutheran’s most memorable performance last season was a 59-56 victory over Mater Dei in the first round of Trinity League play. Let’s say that again: OLu beat Mater Dei, and three starters are back from that team, including York.

3. Capistrano Valley (24-8)
Who’s coming back: The cupboard isn’t bare this season as guards Nick Thomas (13 points) and Aleks Lipovic (10.4 points, 40 three-pointers), forward Stephen Short (7.6 points, 4.4 rebounds) and 6-9 center Chris Bench (4.1 points, 7.1 rebounds) return this season.
Key additions/losses: Make no mistake, the graduation of Taylor Hamasaki (13.3 points, 84 three-pointers) hurts; the guard -- now at Chapman -- was the go-to player when the season was on the line.
Last season: Finished second to Mission Viejo in the South Coast League; lost in the Division 1A championship to top-seeded Loyola, 74-58.
Why they will be good: As good as Hamasaki was, he didn’t truly assert himself until the stretch run and the playoffs, meaning his teammates got plenty of experience on their way to the 1A title game.

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