Perhaps the most striking feature of the Empire League this season is what it will not feature.
Gone are the stars. Dominant players such as Katella High School's Bob Erbst, Los Alamitos' J. T. Snow, El Dorado's Jim Sammon and Cypress' Chris Yoxtheimer have all graduated.
Gone are most of the big guys. Of the eight Empire League players listed at 6-feet 6-inches or taller last season, only one--Katella's Richard Lucas--returns.
Gone are the big scorers. The Times had 47 players listed in its Orange County scoring list last season; nine were from the Empire League. Of that nine, only one--Kennedy's Michael Keith--returns. And Keith was the 47th player listed.
What's a league to do?
"There's decent size all around the league, but no one, with the exception of maybe Lucas, is really a tall, dominating-type player," said Ron Craig, Cypress coach. "I think you'll see everyone pretty much open it up this season."
And that means everyone from favored Katella and Los Alamitos to second-division teams such as Esperanza and Pacifica. If you can't beat 'em, run with 'em
Los Alamitos, which finished third last season, is the coaches' preseason pick to take the title. Of course, what that means to Los Alamitos Coach Steve Brooks is, "absolutely nothing."
Thank you, Steve.
Katella has Lucas and Tom Danley, so it figures to challenge. Then there is rejuvenated Cypress; El Dorado, which ran its way into the playoffs last season, and Kennedy, which may have the league's top underclassman in Keith.
Whatever happens in the league, and things start soon when the only eight-team league in Orange County begins competition Dec. 17, it figures to be a blur.
Here's a closer look at the teams:
Matt Civitelli (6-0, guard), Frantz Reyes (6-5, center), Bond Weaver (6-5, guard).
Top newcomers--Matt Pekrul (6-4, center), Matt Ritter (6-3, forward).
Outlook--Cypress finished fourth and out of the playoffs last season. It was a season that tended to swing up whenever the 6-7 Yoxtheimer and his ailing knees were well enough to play. With Yoxtheimer and his 14.6 points a game gone, the future fortunes of Cypress, of course, are . . . great. Strange game, basketball. Taking Yoxtheimer's place at center will be Reyes, whom Craig describes as "a scoring machine." Weaver is as tall as Reyes but will play at the off-guard position. Weaver has a good outside shot, handles the ball well for a player his size and is adept at creating shots on the drive. With Pekrul and Ritter figuring to break into the starting lineup, Cypress has pretty good overall size.
Top newcomers--Mike Moore (6-4, center/forward), Dave Pierce (6-2, forward).
Outlook--Asked what he'll miss most about not having Sammon, El Dorado Coach Terry Conley said: "About 30 points a game." Not quite. Sammon was the second-leading scorer in the county last season, averaging 26.9 points a game. Also lost were the 16 points a game of Rob Hanna. That means the Golden Hawks have lost about 43 points a game. Conley expects Pierce to have an immediate offensive impact, but El Dorado's fortune's will probably depend on Glade, who averaged 8.6 assists a game last season. Glade's performance will be especially critical because the Golden Hawks, once again, will run for their basketball lives. "We have to," Conley said. "There is no other choice for us."
Top newcomers--Mike Kent (6-5, center), Jason Moler (6-0, guard), Dave Morrow (6-2, forward), Rob Nay (6-1, guard).
Outlook--You know all the tall jokes you hear about how Esperanza manages to get big football players each year? Well, you won't hear those about the Aztecs' basketball team, and that is definitely not funny to Coach Kurt Kersten. "You'd think we'd get a few with our football team," Kersten said. "But we just don't. It's amazing." A winning record would be amazing this season for Esperanza. The Aztecs lost nine players from last season's team that was 4-10 in league and 8-14 overall. The tallest player on last season's team was 6-4. Kent is 6-5, but he's a tight end on the football team, which is still alive in the Southern Conference playoffs.
Bon Axworthy (5-10, guard), Jerry Batcher (5-11, forward), Matt Goodrich (6-2, forward), Richard Lucas (6-6, center), John Sunu (5-9, guard).
Outlook--Relax, Katella fans, there is life after Bob Erbst. Erbst was the league's best player last season and took his 6-8 frame and 21.5-points-per-game to USC and the Trojans' starting lineup. That's great for Bobby, but where does it leave Katella Coach Tom Danley, who guided last season's team to a league championship and a 20th straight playoff berth? Just fine, thank you. In Lucas, Katella may once again have the league's best player. Last season, Lucas was an excellent complementary player to Erbst. When Erbst scored 30 against Kennedy, Lucas had 24. When Erbst scored 38 against Cypress, Lucas, who has already signed to play at Oregon, had 20.
Danny Davidson (5-9, guard), Jeff Howe (6-3, forward), Michael Keith (6-3, forward), Wendell Lauderdale (6-0, guard).