The San Gabriel Valley has certainly had its share of outstanding boys high school basketball teams in recent years.
Last season, for instance, Bonita reached the CIF 3-A Division finals, El Monte advanced to the 2-A title game and Damien and Nogales made it to the 3-A semifinals.
That successful trend should continue.
In fact, with Muir, Wilson, Pomona and South Pasadena mentioned prominently in pre-season polls in their divisions, it could turn out to be better than last year. Muir is in 4-A, Pomona and Wilson in 3-A and South Pasadena in 2-A.
Going into the start of the season this week, Muir, Wilson and Pomona--which all possess outstanding size--are considered slightly ahead of the rest of the teams in the valley.
But Ganesha, Damien, Nogales, Bonita and South Pasadena are not considered far behind.
A look at the top teams:
The Top 10
1--Muir (Pacific League; 4-A Division)--Over the last three years, the Mustangs have had as much talent as any team in the valley but have faltered in early rounds of the playoffs.
They were eliminated by Santa Monica in the first round two seasons ago and lost to Newport Harbor in the second round last year.
But Coach Mike O'Conner has a good feeling about this year's team: "I think they're a little better than last year in terms of overall team attitude. I think that will really help us."
The biggest reason for the coach's optimism is 6-8 senior Stacey Augmon, who averaged only 10 points a game as a junior but rounded into one of the top college prospects in the nation during the summer.
"His personality has really changed from last year," O'Conner said. "He has matured into an outstanding player and he has turned into a leader."
Augmon, who made the Sporting News All-America team and earned high honorable mention on the Street & Smith All-America squad, averaged more than 20 points a game during the summer and will team with 6-6 junior Kirk Wagner in Muir's double-post offense.
Another standout should be 5-11 junior guard Derek Brown, an outstanding ball handler and passer who started at the end of last season.
Other possible starters are 6-4 senior forwards Michael McIntosh and Leroy McCullough and 6-1 junior forward Keyjohnna Owens. Muir has a star of the future in 6-7 sophomore Wayne Womak, a transfer from New Jersey.
2--Hacienda Heights Wilson (Sierra League; 3-A Division)--The Wildcats finished their summer league season with a 19-5 record, good by any standards.
That is even more impressive when you consider that they did it without highly regarded 6-10 center Scott Williams, who was perfecting his skills in basketball camps against the top prep players in the nation.
With the addition of a much-improved Williams, there is no reason why the Wildcats should not be better than last year when they posted a 21-5 record and won the Sierra League title but were upset by Damien in the second round of the playoffs.
"We had received a lot of publicity, and by the end of the season the team seemed like they were just happy to be there (in the playoffs)," Coach Mike Lowe said. "It was like they lost their hunger, and my key concern this year is that they stay hungry."
Lowe said Williams is vastly improved from the player who averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds and was named league player of the year as a junior.
"Even last year he was pretty gangly, and he has just matured physically over the summer," Lowe said of Williams, who has signed a national letter of intent to attend the University of North Carolina. "He's up from 190 (pounds) to 210 and he also spent the entire summer working hard at camps. He saw how good the other players were, and he has worked hard to reach their level."
Besides Williams, the Wildcats do not have much size. But they have talent in 6-3 senior point guard Dwain Daniels and 6-3 junior forward Neil Weingarten. The other starters should be 6-1 guards Paul Barriga, a senior, and Damon Owens, a junior.
3--Pomona (Baseline League; 3-A Division)--Without a doubt, the Red Devils are the most physically imposing team in the valley.
There is no other team in the valley that has a starting lineup with two 6-6 forwards, a 6-10 center and a 6-5 guard.
The Red Devils are not only tall. They are pretty talented, too. Pomona finished with a 23-4 record last year, losing in the CIF 3-A quarterfinals, and has three starters returning.
Leading the way are juniors Tyrone Greer (6-6) at forward and Derwin Collins (6-5) at guard, both starters as sophomores. The other returning starter is 6-10 center Marcellus Lee.
Collins may be the team's best player, Coach Willie Allen said. "He plays off-guard, small forward, point guard--you name it," he said. "He's a great athlete, and he plays hard every second."
Pomona also figures to start 6-6 senior Art Newsom at forward and 5-9 senior Mike Green at point guard. Two other key players are 6-5 junior forward Terry Owens and 5-11 senior guard John McGuire.