Bye should not mean a hasty farewell from the Southern Section basketball playoffs.
Teams that performed best during the regular season earned the privilege of skipping the first playoff round, giving them more time to practice and allow injuries to heal.
Generally, this is regarded as an advantage. However, coaches--most of whom are prone to bouts of anxiety, anyway--aren't sure if their byes are so good.
"I'd rather there were no byes," said Camarillo Coach John Harbour, whose team earned a first-round bye in the 4-AA Division by winning a share of the Marmonte League title. "Teams that play in the first round get their playoff jitters out of the way."
Yet jitters aside, a bye advances a team one step closer to saying hello to a Southern Section championship. In addition to Camarillo, county teams that begin play in the second round Friday are Buena (5-A), Rio Mesa (4-A) and Santa Clara (2-A).
Because only 13 teams qualified for the 2-A playoffs, Santa Clara, the top-seeded team, needs to win only three games to give Coach Lou Cvijanovich his 10th Southern Section title. When the Southern Section offered teams the chance to move up to a higher playoff division in January, several 2-A teams fled to the 2-AA. Avoiding the prospect of facing the Saints might have been a factor.
Santa Clara (20-3) has lost only once on the court, a 39-38 loss to Edison in the Estancia tournament last December. The Saints, upset over what they felt was poor officiating, declined to return to the tournament and were assessed two forfeit losses.
Shon Tarver, a junior transfer from Rim of the World High, has provided Santa Clara with consistent scoring, averaging 23 points a game. The Saints also have a rugged inside game behind Bubba Burrage (17 points, eight rebounds) and John McGill (nine points, eight rebounds).
Perhaps the most improved part of Santa Clara's game is the play of its guards. The Saints' ability to break a press, in fact, is a work of art--point guard Art Santana, who also averages nine points, five rebounds and three assists.
Channel League champion Rio Mesa (20-4), the third-seeded 4-A team, also boasts a top-flight flyer at point guard. Speedy Lester Smith has improved steadily as a ball handler and has become an excellent defensive player, according to Coach Steve Wolf.
"He handles all the pressure bringing the ball upcourt," Wolf said, "and he always guards the opponents' No. 1 player. He's our most consistent player and has legitimate Division I quickness."
Forwards Jeff Garner and Eric Thomas give Smith two excellent scorers to feed. Garner is the Spartans' leading scorer, averaging 23 points a game, and Thomas is a two-time All-County player who finished the league season with strong performances.
Harbortown may be a financially troubled Ventura resort, but Harbour-town in Camarillo is thriving as a school gymnasium. At Camarillo, Coach John Harbour gives sophomore son David the green light to shoot from anywhere on the floor. Well, anywhere inside 25 feet. The younger Harbour is accurate, averaging 21 points, and he also has found time to average six rebounds and lead Camarillo (17-6) with four assists a game.
Senior forward Frank Dews, who Coach Harbour calls "as consistent a player as I've coached," adds a 15-point scoring average. Dews, a returning starter, has responded well in several clutch situations.
Buena (19-4) lost three times to Rio Mesa during the regular season, twice in league play and once in a tournament. But the Bulldogs are in a different playoff division than the Spartans.
The third-seeded Bulldogs play at a fast tempo and are led by versatile forward Adan Valencia and sharp-shooting point guard Jeff Oliver, both starters on last year's league championship team.
Valencia, a senior, averages 16 points and 11 rebounds. Oliver, a junior who made a transition from off-guard this season, averages 17 points and seven assists.
Buena, one of 10 5-A teams with a first-round bye, hopes to stay close to home when it begins play. The Bulldogs have had more success running the break than negotiating through traffic. Santa Ana defeated Buena last season in the semifinals after the Bulldogs traveled 3 1/2 hours to the game.
"It took a while to limber up and we had only 21 points at the half," Buena Coach Glen Hannah said. "This year, the travel could be even worse because divisions aren't laid out geographically."
This season, enrollment was the sole factor in deciding a team's playoff division. And the byes the structure created will be cursed or lauded, depending upon the outcomes of Friday's games.