Pasadena is a hotbed of high school basketball in the San Gabriel Valley.
The success of Pasadena teams over the years, including Muir High's CIF 4-A Division boys championship last year, bears that out.
That point may never be more evident than it is this season with Muir expected to challenge for the 4-A title and cross-town rival Blair among the favorites for the top spot in 2-A.
With ample talent and a successful tradition, Muir is considered the top team in the San Gabriel Valley, but there are several worthy challengers to the Mustangs' supremacy.
Among them are Pomona and Blair, two teams steeped in winning tradition, and Diamond Bar, which is expected to have the tallest and best team in its brief five-year history.
Other top teams should include Nogales, Ganesha, Damien, Walnut, Bosco Tech and Edgewood.
A look at the top teams:
The Top 10
1--Muir (Pacific League; 4-A)--Yes, the Mustangs suffered a big loss with the graduation of 6-7 All-CIF forward Stacey Augmon, who averaged 21 points and 12 rebounds to lead Muir to the 4-A title. However, the Mustangs may have the horses to replace him.
With three starters--including two 6-7 players--returning from a team that posted a 29-3 record, and a strong junior varsity squad to feed from, Muir will not be starving for victories.
The Mustangs have two tall bookends, junior Wayne Womack and senior Kirk Wagner, to lead their twin-post offense. Both have improved since averaging about eight points a game last season.
"Stacey was unstoppable," Coach Mike O'Connor said. "These guys are not Stacey, but they're pretty good."
Muir has an outstanding point guard in 5-11 senior Derek Brown, a slick ball handler who averaged 11 assists.
The Mustangs figure to start twins Dwayne and Dwight Davis (6-2 seniors) at guard, although reserve guards Frank Beaty (6-2), Keyjohnna Owens (6-2), Joe Brumfield (6-2) and Anthony Wilson (6-0) figure to receive considerable playing time.
"We've got some depth," O'Connor said. "It's just a completely different team than last year. We're going to have to be a more balanced team.
"We have three guys back and they're experienced, but they will have to pick up more of the responsibility instead of relying on Stacey."
2--Pomona (Baseline League; 4-A)--Since the start of the 1980s, the Red Devils have produced as many college prospects as any school in the valley. And Coach Willie Allen thinks his latest--6-5 forward Derwin Collins--is the greatest.
Collins, regarded as the top returning senior in the valley, had a superb junior season in averaging 19.6 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. The All-CIF performer was even more impressive during summer league play. In two games he scored 59 and 58 points.
"He's a blue-chipper, no doubt about it," Allen said. "He's capable of scoring in great numbers and he plays on both ends of the court. For us to be highly successful, he will have to be on the floor."
The quick Red Devils, who were 17-7 last year and reached the 3-A quarterfinals, have other standouts in 6-6 senior forward Terry Owens, 6-1 senior point guard Alan Caveness and 6-0 senior guard Lawson Bush, a strong defensive player.
Pomona also figures to start a promising sophomore, forward Michael Victor. Other key players are 5-11 guards Ny Bradford, a junior, and Alvaro Esparza, a senior, and 6-4 sophomore forward Alex Reid.
"I'm very optimistic," Allen said. "The kids have worked very hard and will come to play good, hard basketball."
3--Blair (Rio Hondo League; 2-A)--Jim Hennacy, coach of the Vikings, admits he is not the most optimistic person in the world. But even Hennacy has a good feeling about his current team:
"They're going really well right now. We've gotten so much better since the summer," he said.
The Vikings, who were 23-4 last year and reached the 2-A quarterfinals, have two starters returning in 6-5 senior center Dion Smith and 6-0 senior guard Darren Gipson. Smith averaged nine points and 10 rebounds.
Hennacy on Gipson: "He's one of the quickest guys I've ever seen. He has developed a lot as a shooter, too."
Blair also is expected to start seniors Anthony Grimes (6-3) and Tyrone Jones (6-3) at forward and Jeff Strings (6-0) at guard. Other key players are junior center Anthony Smith (6-5), senior guard Rick Olivarez (6-0) and junior guard Aaron Peron (6-1).
Like most of Hennacy's teams, the Vikings play solid defense and have quickness. "We're very fast," he said. "If we're not, we won't win many games."
The Vikings must survive a tough early schedule that includes St. Monica (Jan. 3) and Pasadena (Jan. 6).
"We're a good basketball team now and in a couple of months we should be even more solid," Hennacy said.
4--Diamond Bar (Sierra League; 4-A)--It will be no small task for opponents to match up with the Brahmas.