Just as in City basketball, the Southern Section of the CIF has its dominant Westside team. Like Fairfax, St. Monica is a strong, well-balanced team, and this year it acquired a top-flight big man.
The addition of 6-10 center Brian Williams propelled St. Monica to The Times' No. 2 pre-season ranking. Only Mater Dei is rated ahead of the Mariners in the CIF.
But there are other, less well known Westside teams that should make strong showings in Southern Section play this year. Three of those teams, Bel-Air Prep, Crossroads and Daniel Murphy, made it to the championship games of their divisions, and two of them, Crossroads and Daniel Murphy, won titles.
A rundown of Westside CIF teams:
The Bruins made it all the way to the title game of the Small Schools Division last year, only to lose to Whitney. This year, Coach Michael Whiting's team moves up to the 1-A Delphic League.
There are three returning starters, including Derrick (Pank) Thorton, a 6-2 senior forward who was one of two Westside League players of the year last season.
Others returning are 6-0 junior guard Sean Lewis and 6-1 forward Alex Szukenko. Also starting will be Bill Terrazas, a 6-0 forward who was the sixth man a year ago, and Zaid Al-Hakim, a 5-9 guard.
Two newcomers should lend a hand. They are Treiben Edwards, a 5-8 sophomore guard who, Whiting says, might push for a starting spot, and Jonathan Yaker, a 6-1 junior forward.
The Normans' biggest problem this season will be a lack of experience, as they return just one starter.
Lincoln Sneed, a 6-5 senior forward, averaged 10 points and four rebounds for Beverly Hills, which finished third in the 4-A Ocean League last year.
Other starters for Coach Jack Dyck are Derek Patton, a 6-0 junior guard; Willie Crawford, a 6-1 junior guard and a top running back in football this year; Monroe Gorden, a 6-3 junior forward; and Corey Spound, a 6-3 senior center.
Dyck doesn't see his club finishing ahead of Santa Monica, Inglewood and Hawthorne.
"But if our shooting comes along," he said, "we might have a shot at the playoffs."
Although everyone seems to think Crossroads will walk away with the 1-A Delphic League, Brentwood Coach Bob Ingram says his team has just as good a chance as any other to be the runner-up.
"Three teams from our league will make the playoffs, and I think we'll be one of them," he said. "We're probably going to play more of a zone this year because we lack quickness. We lack experience, but we are fairly talented."
Brentwood, 10-11 overall and 4-6 last season, returns two starters. Senior David Vaccaro, a 6-2 center, averaged 10 points and nine rebounds, while 5-10 junior Mike Victor averaged 12 points at point guard.
"David jumps well, and he's a real good low-post player," Ingram said. "Mike is the floor leader and he's our best shooter."
The other starting guard will be Brian Good, a 5-9 junior. Three players will compete for the two forward spots: Bobby Moses, a 6-2 senior, and two 6-2 juniors, Jeremy Lappen and Mark Milstein.
Top reserves include Adam Dishell, a 6-2 guard, and Jordan Karubian, a 6-2 center.
With Bel-Air Prep, Yeshiva and Holy Martyrs leaving the Westside League and four new teams entering, Clearview Coach Alvin Gilmore doesn't know what to expect.
"Basically, it's a whole new league," said Gilmore, whose Cobras were 0-10 in the league a year ago. "I feel like we'll be competitive, but I don't know the other teams well enough to make an assessment."
One advantage Clearview has is a rarity in high school basketball: The team is returning all five starters.
The team leader is Doug Booker, a 6-3 senior center-forward who averaged 10 points and six rebounds last year. He was a second-team Westside League pick.
Ron Walder, a 6-1 senior guard-forward, is a three-year starter. "Booker, offensively and defensively, is the nucleus of the team," Gilmore said. "Walder just adds a lot of experience."
Other starters are 5-9 junior guard Andre Bullard, 5-10 junior forward Carl Maithonis and 5-9 senior guard Chris Sisak.
Newcomer David Wisanski, a 5-7 freshman, is "our best ball handler," Gilmore said, and may soon break into the starting lineup. Center Josh Newell, a 6-0 junior, is another bench player who may soon start. "I expect good things from him," Gilmore said. "He's our best rebounder."
Gilmore said he is looking at a probable third-place finish, with Newbridge and Highland Hall coming in ahead of Clearview. "The third-place team makes the playoffs, and we've never made the playoffs, so we'd like that," he said.
David Benezra inherits Elliot Turret's team, which won the 1-A title last spring. The Roadrunners were 10-0 in league play (17-7 overall) and were a Division III state finalist. Crossroads has been in a CIF final for five straight years.
Benezra said he will carry 10 players, with eight seeing regular action.