In his 29 seasons as Santa Clara coach, Lou Cvijanovich has seen the fortunes of Ventura County basketball teams change time and time again.
"It's always a good year for talent in the county," he said, "but for the teams, it goes in cycles."
With one notable exception: Santa Clara.
The Saints have won eight of the past nine Frontier League championships, including last season when they had a 21-5 record and advanced to the Southern Section 2-A semifinals.
Once again, Santa Clara is big and talented. But this season there is a glimmer of hope for the opposition. The Saints come marching in sans a floor leader--at least temporarily--after losing their entire starting lineup to graduation.
"Right now it seems they're all waiting for the next guy," said Cvijanovich, who is 552-186 as coach.
But will it matter? Probably not. Santa Clara's junior varsity was 20-1 last season.
Bubba Burrange, a 6-7 junior, will be the center. He will be joined on the front line by John McGill, Kwame Joyner, Kyle Cunningham, Chris Persons and Foster Cole. Only the coach knows who will start. And he's not telling.
"They're real close," Cvijanovich said. "It'd be tough to call one a starter and not the other." That noise you just heard was the collective groan of dozens of coaches who wish they had such a problem. With that kind of depth, who needs leadership?
Agoura is considered the only real threat to Santa Clara's reign in the league this season. The Chargers have five players returning who started games for last season's team that had a 7-5 record, 4-4 in league.
Nordhoff, which won the 1983-84 league title, has a pair of all-league candidates in guard Larry Carlton and forward Jason Savard. Carlton averaged 9.3 points and was all-league last season. Savard averaged 9.0 points.
Santa Paula was winless in league games and 5-17 overall last season. The Cardinals again will have a small lineup, which is led by Joe Johnson, who averaged 8 points a game and was all-league. He will be joined in the backcourt by Will McInerney, who led Ventura County in passing yardage as a quarterback.
Certainly most of Santa Clara's league schedule could be considered a respite after a grueling nonleague campaign that includes dates at the Simi Valley Tournament and the Tournament of Champions at Cal Poly Pomona.
Also, there is one more tidbit of news for those who hope to make Aints out of the Saints: The last time Santa Clara lost its entire starting lineup, the junior varsity--then known as the 'B' team--moved up to varsity and won a 1-A Division championship.
That happened in the early 1960s--Cvijanovich couldn't remember the exact year, which is understandable since his teams won titles in 1959, '60, '61--Santa Clara was runner-up in 1962--'63 and '64. The Saints also won Southern Section championships in 1983 and '85.
Cvijanovich might be the architect of the county's best basketball program, but this season's best team plays for Coach Bob Hawking at Simi Valley. And, not so coincidentally, so does the best player.
The Pioneers have been among the elite Southern Section team ever since 6-10 center Don MacLean first donned a maroon and gold uniform two years ago. Simi Valley is 53-5 with him in the lineup the past two seasons.
And, if the rumors are true, the beast of the East county is not only bigger, but better. MacLean, who averaged 25.2 points and 11.4 rebounds last season, now weighs a beefier 220 pounds, but Hawking says he's quicker than ever.
"We feel there will be a tremendous difference this year," Hawking said. "Don's going to be a much better player, with his size and strength."
MacLean, a preseason All-American, should get plenty of support from 6-5 swingman Shawn DeLaittre, a two-time All-Marmonte League selection who averaged 16.9 points a game, and 6-2 point-guard Butch Hawking, the coach's son. Both started on last season's team that went 26-2 (12-0 in league play) and was upset in the Southern Section 4-A semifinals by Santa Monica, the eventual champion. A player to watch: 6-1 sophomore guard Steve Carnes, a tremendous leaper.
Westlake was the surprise of the 4-A playoffs last season, advancing to the title game before losing to Santa Monica. Once again, the Warriors are considered the only other Marmonte League team talented enough to challenge Simi Valley.
With eight players 6-5 or taller, first-year Coach Greg Hess has the league's biggest team. Center Kurt Schwan, a 6-9 junior, forward Bill Fassl, a 6-6 senior, and swingman Kevin Logan, a 6-7 senior, give Westlake a strong front line.
Thousand Oaks is at the other end of the height spectrum. The Lancers tallest player is 6-3. Kevin Martin, a 6-2 senior guard, is the team's top scoring threat.
Newbury Park may have a chance to gain a playoff berth if Wayne Cook is healthy. The 6-4 guard had shoulder surgery after suffering an injury playing football. He averaged eight points and eight rebounds a game last season.