Kennedy High has jumped out to a 6-0 start this season, but Coach Yutaka Shimizu--who is often called Shim for simplicity's sake--says the team has not faced any earth-shaking opposition.
"The teams we've played haven't given us the kind of competition we'll see in league play," he said. "But we should know how good we are sometime next week."
Kennedy plays in the Valley League, which currently has three teams ranked in The Times' Valley Top 10. The Golden Cougars open play Monday in the Palisades tournament at Pepperdine. The won the tournament last year and have reached the final in two of the past three years.
If Kennedy's tournament record this season is any indication, the Golden Cougars should fare well. The Cougars won the Hamilton tournament last week, and senior forward Clarence Williams, a returning all-league selection, was named the MVP.
Williams, 6-4 1/2 and 220 pounds, has been Kennedy's prime mover and shaker. He is averaging 15.3 points and 6.7 rebounds a game.
"He's doing the types of things he has to do," Shimizu said. "He has to be the primary board guy, the leader in scoring, the team leader. He's been through all this before, so he's the one we look to."
Williams scored 44 points and had 24 rebounds in three Hamilton tournament games. Teammate Uba Satterfield, a guard who also made the all-tournament team, made 10 of 16 shots and scored 22 points in the tournament final, a 59-54 win over University.
The road to respectability: In recent years, Sylmar's basketball team has been the next best thing to a bye on an opponent's schedule. But this season has been different. Sylmar, which won only two games last season, already has three wins and its 3-0 start is the best in school history.
"Last year we had nothing. We didn't have any talent," Sylmar Coach Billy Reed said. "I don't think I'm coaching any different, we just have some better players this year."
Senior guard Shawn Rucker, a transfer from Monroe, rates at the top of the list of better players, averaging 20.7 points and 5.3 assists a game.
"He's the quarterback, he runs the show for us," Reed said. "We've got to have him in there because it all starts with him."
Usually it ends with David Baker, a 6-5 1/2 senior forward. Baker was Sylmar's best player last season and has adapted to sharing the spotlight. He is averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds a game.
"The kids had a different attitude when I first got to school," said Reed, Sylmar's second-year coach. "We had kids that had losing attitudes. They didn't know what it was to win, what it took to win.
"This year we have kids who really want to win."
Although no one is ordering City Section 3-A Division championship banners yet, the student body is starting to show some interest. "Everybody likes a winner and I think the student body is starting to support us," Reed said. "Hopefully, if we keep winning we'll get bigger crowds."
Raising his consciousness: Grant Coach Howard Levine expects Danny Enowitz to score, especially because the 6-2 forward led Grant in that category last year with an 11.2 average.
"He has to be point-conscious," Levine said.
During the North Hollywood tournament last week, Enowitz scored so frequently, he must have been unconscious.
Enowitz averaged 28 points a game during the three-day tournament, making 33 of 51 shots (65%) from the field. Enowitz scored a tournament-high 41 points against Granada Hills in Grant's 90-86 overtime loss in the consolation championship.
"He's very clever," Levine said. "He can snake his way in there and he definitely scores."
Mincing words: El Camino Real guard Damon Orlando has been suspended indefinitely from the team for using colorful language during the team's 68-30 loss to North Hollywood last week.
Orlando, a 6-2 senior who averaged 12.6 points in the Conquistadores' first five games, directed profane language at Coach Mike McNulty.
"He said some things that no child should hear," assistant Jeff Davis said. "Right in front of the team and a gym full of people."
Davis said McNulty and Orlando are expected to discuss the incident after the holiday break, but that Orlando will miss all of El Camino Real's games in the Palisades tournament, which begins Monday at Pepperdine.
Youthful pups: North Hollywood sophomores Dana Jones and Tommy Byrdsong have been a blessing and a bane for the Huskies. Jones is averaging 10.3 points and 7.7 rebounds and Byrdsong is averaging almost eight points, but the pair have been inconsistent.
For example, Byrdsong scored 17 points in the season opener against Montclair Prep but had only 10 in North Hollywood's next three games.
"That's the problem with sophomores, they're inconsistent," North Hollywood Coach Steve Miller said. "But I'll take them anyway."
Miller was glad to have them during the North Hollywood tournament. Byrdsong scored 33 points in the Huskies' three games and had 12 assists. Jones scored 21 points and had 21 rebounds.
"If they can do that for the rest of the season, that'll be great," Miller said.