With an abundance of talented, mid-size players on hand, the South Bay high school basketball scene looks like the year of the big guard/small forward.
The musical version of this season's preview used to be: "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing."
The area's top teams all appear to have excellent swing men, headed by returning stars David Whitmore at St. Bernard, Tarron Wiley at Morningside, Doug Gehr at Rolling Hills and James Moses at Serra.
All are in the 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-5 range and can "play big" in high school but have the guard skills that make them attractive back-court prospects to college recruiters.
Lack of a highly regarded big man will be noticeable when South Bay teams cross paths with the likes of Fairfax's 6-9 Sean Higgins and St. Monica's 6-10 Brian Williams, but the little big men of the South Bay should make their teams competitive.
In an informal poll of coaches, St. Bernard, Serra, Morningside, Rolling Hills, Inglewood, Carson and San Pedro are expected to be the area's top teams.
Many of the South Bay's teams are on display this week in the Pacific Shores Tournament at Redondo and Mira Costa. The 16-team tournament semifinals are tonight at Redondo. The finals are Friday night at the same location. In other season-opening tournament action this week, Serra is in the Laguna Tournament and Morningside is in the St. Monica Tourney.
Here are how the teams and leagues shape up:
Angelus League (CIF 5-A)--St. Bernard is a relatively small team built around the marvelous 6-4 Whitmore, considered one of the top five players in Southern California and one of the top high school swing men in the country. He recently signed with Georgia Tech. Whitmore, an extraordinary leaper, averaged 23 points as a junior. He is coming off a broken foot and only recently started practicing. "We're a good team--with him," Coach Jim McClune said.
Bishop Montgomery opens the season with several handicaps after the death of Coach Stirling Hart. New Coach Brian Gauthier has only one experienced starter, all-league guard Bryan Dell'Amico, and nobody taller than 6-3. Jim Nelson will play center at 6-3. Gauthier will look at 6-3 freshman Joe Magyar.
Defending CIF 5-A champ Mater Dei is again a contender, led by 6-11 LeRon Ellis. St. Paul expects to fight for a playoff spot behind 6-8 Matt Willig.
Camino Real League (CIF 5-A)--Serra produced the surprise 5-A finalist a year ago and returns two of that team's best players in the 6-6 Moses and point guard Darvin Jackson. Moses, a starter since he was a freshman, averaged 24.5 points as a sophomore.
The league should be extremely competitive and may have the most talent of any league in the CIF. Verbum Dei will offer guard Kevin Williams, who has signed with UCLA. St. Monica has two major college recruits in big guard Jason Matthews and 6-10 Brian Williams, a transfer from Las Vegas. Pius X could be a factor behind 6-5 forward Anthony Jenkins. St. Anthony has all-league guard Darrick Martin but may struggle to make the playoffs.
Bay League (CIF 4-A)--Rolling Hills is the clear favorite, with the other five teams scrambling for position. Cliff Warren, South Bay coach of the year, has six of his top eight players back, including Gehr and guard Cameron Terry, from a team that won 21 games and reached the CIF quarterfinals.
Warren says his team shoots well and is relatively quick but could be hurt by lack of height. Gehr and Eric Lloyd are the tallest players at 6-4. Terry and sophomore John Hardy are next at 6-3. Warren also likes sophomore guard Mark Tesar. Gehr averaged 17.3 points and 9.4 rebounds while shooting 52% as a junior. Terry added 12.4 points and 4.2 assists.
South Torrance returns junior guard Pat Lindsey and will probably get off to a slow start. Three players, including 6-5 Brian Kelly, are still playing football.
West Torrance has six lettermen back including two starters, guards John Kao and Denny Hocking, but is extremely small. Coach Dan McGee likes junior forward Tim Stowe.
North Torrance has four starters back but, like the others, will be small. The Saxons should be quick. Duane Hashiro leads the offense.
Torrance has nowhere to go but up, and Coach Carl Strong sees playoff potential in one of the league's bigger front lines, averaging 6-5 across. However, the Tartars have average speed and not much depth in the back court.
Veteran Palos Verdes Coach John Mihaljevich says he will have "the most inexperience in my long career" with one returning letterman, Greg Whitley. The Sea Kings will be small but quick.
Ocean League (CIF 4-A)--Inglewood, Culver City, Santa Monica and Hawthorne should provide a tight race, with Inglewood the early favorite. The Sentinels have the good swing man in 6-5 Cory Arnett as well as an emerging star in junior point guard Bobby Sears, who came on as a sophomore.