If the top three high schools in the preseason boys basketball rankings for the San Gabriel Valley appear familiar, there is good reason.
The same three--Bishop Amat, Muir and Diamond Bar--were ranked 1-2-3 heading into the football season.
Muir has had the most prosperous basketball tradition of the three, having won the CIF 4-A Division title in 1985, and Diamond Bar was the only valley team to reach the semifinals in 4-A last season.
But both may have to take a back seat to Bishop Amat, which until recently has been known mostly for its successful football teams. The Lancers stamped themselves as a legitimate basketball power with a strong summer league season, which included a second-place finish in the Bosco Tech Summer Hoop Spectacular.
Bishop Amat, Muir and Diamond Bar may be ahead of the rest of the teams in the valley. But there are others that enter the season with high hopes, including Glendora, Nogales, Bosco Tech, Damien, Pasadena, Edgewood and Blair.
Here's a look at the top teams:
THE TOP 10 1--Bishop Amat (Angelus League; 5-A Division)--It took only one season for Coach Alex Acosta to transform the Lancers from an also-ran to a playoff contender.
With four starters returning from a team that was 17-10 in Acosta's first season, the Lancers have the personnel to emerge as one of the elite teams in the CIF Southern Section.
"I've seen these kids play and I know that if they play hard they're as good as any team in the state," Acosta said.
The four, who all averaged in double figures in scoring last year, are center Geoff Lear (6-8), guards Stephon Pace (6-0) and twins Terry and Clarence Lamb (both 6-0). Pace, an all-valley defensive back in football, averaged 15 points last season, and Lear, who has signed a letter of intent to attend Pepperdine next season, averaged 16 points and 8 rebounds.
Acosta has been impressed with the development of Pace, the team's top scorer during summer league play. "He turned himself into a tremendous basketball player during the summer," Acosta said. "He developed a great jump shot. He's a big-time basketball player now."
The Lancers also figure to start either Mike Conness (6-5) or Pablo Patino (6-6) at forward. Both were top reserves last year. Bishop Amat also has depth at guard with Paul Davis (6-0) and Loren Cannon (6-0).
"We're going to try to utilize our quickness," Acosta said. "We practice the fast break and pressure defense and think we can use that to our advantage."
Acosta said his team is hoping to challenge defending state champion Mater Dei for the Angelus League title.
"I think it's realistic," he said. "We'd like to win the league, but it's so tough. Right now I would pick Mater Dei but I think we'll be right in it."
2--Muir (Pacific League; 4-A--Considering their recent success, it is easy to understand why the Mustangs are ranked high again in preseason polls.
Two years ago the Mustangs were 29-3 and won the Southern Section 4-A title, and last year Muir was 20-4 and won the Pacific League for the second straight season.
But with only one starter returning, Coach Mike O'Connor says it is too early to judge his team.
"I just don't know if we're worthy of that high ranking," he said. "I think we can be a very good team but we have to play to our potential."
If the Mustangs approach their potential, Muir opponents had better watch out.
Muir's only returning starter is 6-8 senior forward Wayne Womack, regarded as one of the top players in the valley. Womack, who signed a letter of intent with Arizona, averaged 12 points and 9 rebounds last year. "He's stronger and he handles the ball better than last year," O'Connor said.
Besides Womack, the Mustangs do not have a lot of experience. But, as usual, there is ample front-line talent including 6-8 forward Daryl Scott, 6-4 forward Gary Fowler and 6-5 center Anthony Allen. Muir's back court has point guard Anthony Wilson (6-0), Enoch Mack (6-3) and Shawn Dandy (5-11).
3--Diamond Bar (Sierra League; 4-A)--After struggling through most of their first four years of competition, the Brahmas emerged as one of the elite teams in the valley last year.
They won their first league title, reached the 4-A semifinals and finished with a 26-3 record--by far their best ever.
With highly regarded 6-8 forward Brian Hendrick among three starters returning, there is a chance that Diamond Bar will stay among the best for at least another season.
Coach Bill Murray said the presence of Hendrick, who averaged 19.2 points and 12 rebounds and made the CIF 4-A team last year, makes a huge difference.
"He's a great player--the kind you get once in a lifetime," Murray said of Hendrick, who has signed a letter of intent to attend UC Berkeley. "He intimidates a lot of people. His arms are long and he's good at blocking shots."
Diamond Bar's other starters returning are 6-4 guard Joey Madott, an excellent shooter, and 6-0 point guard Mike Schumacher, the floor leader. Both are seniors.