As the community college basketball season gets under way this week, the ones who got away may play as big a part as the people on hand for El Camino and Harbor colleges.
When dreams of another state basketball championship fell apart for El Camino last March, thoughts of the coming year may have looked equally distasteful to Coach Paul Landreaux.
The Warriors, who lost in the first round of the playoffs to Ventura College and finished 25-5, had only two players returning. And their top recruit, Steve Florentine, suddenly left for UC Irvine when a scholarship opened up.
But one of the best community college point guards in the country, Otis Livingston, as well as a formidable group of freshmen, have the coach excited about the season, which starts today with a home contest at 3 p.m. against Trade Tech.
Harbor Coach Jim White would probably trade places with Landreaux. White, who won a state title in 1975, took over the team again this season when Coach Donny Daniels left, uncertain the school would have a program. He was discouraged enough knowing that he had only four players returning.
Then things really got tough.
His best player, 6-7 all-state center Kelvin Tyes, was arrested last month on a grand theft charge and is lost for the season. So White now has just three reserves from last season. His leading letterman is Jerry Naulls, who averaged five points a game.
White's patchwork team opened with a 79-62 victory Tuesday against San Diego City College. The Seahawkscompetes in the Citrus College Tournament tonight through Saturday.
Landreaux remains confident, largely because of the impressive freshman crop he recruited. "The one thing about the crew is they are talented and have been very exciting to watch," Landreaux said. "And Otis is such a fine point guard that he might be able to pull this team together."
Regardless, the coach remains realistic about the prospects of a team with 10 new players. "Any time you've got four new people starting, you're always presented with new challenges," he said."
The youth has shown on defense. Landreaux said, "Our program is based on its defensive reputation and it's the difference between winning a championship and not. But they're making three times more progress than they did the whole time in high school."
Landreaux has had to make adjustments in his defensive strategy, too, with the addition of a three-point shot circle. The coach is planning a match-up zone defense that would prevent opponents from casting the 19-foot, 9-inch shot. "That is a very easy shot to make," Landreaux said. "We want to stay close to the guys who can shoot the three-pointer."
Offensively, the Warriors will be a quick, high-scoring team, Landreaux predicted. Behind Livingston, the coach expects support on both sides of the court from the freshmen: Kirkland Howling, a 6-4 guard from St. Bernard High School who Landreaux says "really shoots the ball well"; David Lee, a 6-7 center from Banning ("He's a strong kid who has good vision and he's an excellent passer for his size"); Charles White, a 6-6 forward from Monrovia High who is "an outstanding offensive player. He can come in and make an immediate impression on the program"; and Zlatko Josic, a 6-3 forward from San Pedro whom Landreaux calls a "very exciting open-court-type player."
Others Landreaux expects to play include sophomore Mark Hartman, who will back Lee; Arlandis Rush, a freshman point guard from Denver, and Eric Dunn, a freshman forward from St. Bernard.
Landreaux will need strong performances from all if he wants his fourth straight conference title--especially as El Camino joins the South Coast Conference. "We kind of dominated the Metropolitan Conference," said Landreaux, who won state championships in 1981 and 1985. Landreaux predicted that Fullerton, Cerritos, Compton and Mt. San Antonio will be contenders.
So now it's time to concentrate on a conference title and another shot at the state championship, Landreaux said. The early loss in the playoffs last season could be an incentive for Livingston.
"I think he, along with the other guys, took it really hard," Landreaux said. "When we're ranked fifth (in the state) and they (Ventura) are ranked 15th, it's even worse. Everyone was looking at us competing in the final eight, and we didn't make it out of the final 32.
"Now we've got 10 new players and we're hoping things work out. Hopefully we can vie for the championship this year, but when these kids are all sophomores we'll have an outstanding team next year."
At Harbor, White is thinking more along the lines of survival. "They're awfully young," said White, who as an assistant helped guide the Seahawks to a 21-12 record and a berth in the state tournament last season. "It's going to take a while to get the kind of experience it takes to win."