Compiling a list of the top 10 boys' basketball teams in Orange County over the past five years was relatively simple--at least to begin with.
One only needed to start with Mater Dei High School and then sit back and watch the Monarchs roll undefeated to a league title, a Southern Section championship and another 30-victory season.
The script has been virtually the same every year since Gary McKnight was named coach in 1982.
Under McKnight, the Monarchs have posted a 147-7 record, including 52 straight victories in the Angelus League. Mater Dei also has won four Southern Section titles and last season added the state Division I championship.
One more thing. Mater Dei has not lost to a county school in five seasons. Perennial powers Crenshaw and Long Beach Poly have defeated Mater Dei twice under McKnight, with all four games going into overtime. The other losses came against St. Bernard and nationally recognized DeMatha and Oak Hill Academy.
The 1987-88 season opens today with Mater Dei perching at its familiar No. 1 position and then a host of schools vying for attention. Capistrano Valley, Marina and Woodbridge are certainly capable of dethroning the Monarchs as the county's best team, but don't count on it.
1. MATER DEI
Mater Dei, 31-1 last season, returns senior forwards Char Ruppel and Kevin Rembert and senior guard Mike Hopkins. Rembert averaged 11.5 points and was the team's second-most effective player behind graduated center LeRon Ellis in the playoffs last season.
"Kevin isn't quite in shape yet from football," McKnight said, "and (point guard) Mark Ramstack has a sore shoulder that will keep him out of the starting lineup until after Christmas.
"We're going to take some lumps early, but I think we'll be a fine team in January. I like our depth. There isn't much of a dropoff in talent when I go to the bench."
There's also a fine sophomore--6-foot 8-inch center Derrick Stone--waiting his turn, and McKnight said he'll probably start the him tonight against Newport Harbor.
2. CAPISTRANO VALLEY
The Cougars can match Mater Dei's depth and have a couple of fine underclassmen of their own in sophomore forward Scott McCorkle and sophomore guard Chris Kostoff.
Thornton puts McCorkle (6-5, 190 pounds) in the same category as former Cougar stars Burt and Nathan Call in terms of making an immediate impact.
Three mainstays--forwards Todd Marinovich and Randy Stark and 7-foot center Jim Waikle--are back from an 18-9 team that tied El Toro for the South Coast League title. Steve McCaughey, a 6-10 junior, should also help.
Thornton used 11 players in a scrimmage against Edison, with Marinovich and Stark sitting out the game. He anticipates some problems with depth.
"It's going to be difficult keeping all of them happy," he said.
Here's a name you can expect to see in the headlines over the next four years: Cherokee Parks. The 6-9 freshman was the talk of the summer league season with his physical skills and composure.
Was it merely coincidental that Steve Popovich, Marina coach, withdrew his name as a finalist for the opening at Trabuco Hills after he considered the prospects of coaching Parks for four seasons? Hardly.
Parks, 14, is the most talked-about freshman in Southern California. He needs some work defensively, but he has good hands and is not easily frustrated. He'll be joined by a talented supporting cast that includes forwards Dan Floyd (6-7) and Steve Guild (6-6).
"I'm a little concerned about our quickness and defensive intensity," Popovich said. "You can look at our height and say that's a big advantage, but it's also a disadvantage. We're going to have problems matching up with smaller teams that shoot well."
Poor Woodbridge. The Warriors won the state Division II title by a record 26 points and had to take a back seat to Mater Dei's Division I title. Well, at least the Warriors can boast that they have the county's best player this season.
Forward Adam Keefe averaged 22.2 points and 12.8 rebounds and shot 56% from the field in leading the Warriors to a 28-5 record. He already has signed with Stanford University. Keefe's presence makes his teammates better players.
Keefe will have some impressive company on the frontline with newcomers Garth Anderson (6-8) at center and P.A. Emerson (6-6, 220 pounds) at forward. Talented Derrick Odum will start at point guard.
Bill Shannon, Woodbridge coach, has been downplaying the Warriors' chances by saying how difficult it is to repeat, but his team appears to be equally as strong as last season's.
5. EL TORO
Funny how one league title changes a school's image. El Toro, a perennial football power, won its first South Coast basketball championship last season, and the Chargers are now considered a basketball power.