The balance of power in Garden Grove League basketball finally has shifted away from La Quinta High School.
The Aztecs, who have won six of the past 10 league championships and qualified for the playoffs 11 consecutive years, have no returning starters and might struggle for a playoff spot.
"There is no Scott Campbell (the leading scorer in the county last year)," La Quinta Coach Jim Perry said. "We only have two returning lettermen. That's it.
"I'm sure there are some people in the league licking their chops waiting to play us."
One of the teams waiting in the wings is Pacifica. The Mariners have experience, three starters returning and a dominating front line of seniors Mike Maher (6-7), Randy Schulze (6-6) and Tim Whalen (6-4).
Rancho Alamitos and Kennedy also are contenders, along with a new face, Garden Grove.
"Rhett Heckel at Pacifica will win the league," Perry said. "They've got the big, strong, physical kids."
Heckel doesn't quite see his squad as head and shoulders above the competition, even if he has the league's tallest team.
Only one starter--senior forward Jim Barker--returns for Kennedy, and the Fighting Irish will need him.
The league's best player, David Green, plays for the team most likely to challenge Pacifica--Rancho Alamitos. In fact, Rancho Alamitos, the league champion junior varsity team, might even edge Pacifica. Green and first-year Coach Eric Hamamoto, a former Kennedy assistant who turned around the Rancho Alamitos girls' program last season, could take the Vaquerosto the playoffs for the first time in school history.
Coaches say there is a bit more parity among teams in the league this season. And a team such as Garden Grove, with new Coach Dewey Van Cleave, three returning starters and Banning High School transfer Mike Perry, has a chance to move into a playoff spot or, at the least, shake things up a bit.
BOLSA GRANDE--Once again Bolsa Grande will be working at an extreme height disadvantage and will find it difficult to climb out of the cellar. Senior forward Hinh Bui (6-0), a second team all-league selection, averaged 12 points a game last year. He returns with senior point guard Thai Nguyen (5-7), who averaged five assists a game last season.
"We are going to be very small again this year and will try to use quickness to compensate for the lack of height," second-year Coach Tom Cardoza said.
The team's tallest player is Austin Paek (6-4). Paek played little basketball before he arrived in the country from Korea last April but he will see action.
GARDEN GROVE--Dewey Van Cleave, who spent the past five seasons as the freshman coach at Foothill High School after coaching the varsity at Garden Grove from 1974-78, returns as coach of the Argonauts, who should improve on last season's sixth-place finish.
Three starters return, including 6-3 senior Joe Squyres, a standout receiver for the football team. Also back are guards Jesse Moriles and Gilbert Alvarez.
Juniors Joe Aguirre (5-10) and Tim Vasser (6-1) will contend for starting positions. "He could be an impact player," Van Cleave said of Vasser.
The team is deep but, "We don't have that one big player, that 6-7 or 6-8 guy you need to really be a strong team," Van Cleave said.
KENNEDY--In 12 years, Coach John Mayberry and the Fighting Irish have had only one losing season (1980). Last year runner-up Kennedy was the only team to defeat league champion La Quinta.
The graduations of Mike Pettengill, the floor leader the past two seasons, and post players Tom Deep and Greg Hansell leave some big sneakers to be filled. Mayberry is looking to 6-7 sophomore Jermaine Galloway, the tallest player in school history, to move from the junior varsity and lend a hand on the boards.
Varsity starter Jim Barker (15.5 points), a 6-3 senior and one of the league's premier long-range shooters, returns along with Jeff Williams, a 6-5 center who was selected to the all-league team as a water polo goalie this season.
LA QUINTA--Times are lean at perennial power La Quinta, which hasn't a single starter returning.
"In size, we are very adequate," Coach Jim Perry said. "Paul Hastings, at 6-5, is our biggest player and we have a couple of 6-3 players. Everybody else is all-Munchkin."
Seniors Wes Kollar (6-3, forward-center) and Trent Julian (6-3, guard-forward) are the team's returning lettermen and will join senior Hastings on the front line.
Sophomore Lloyd Bennett, a 5-9 guard, will handle the point. Lloyd is the younger brother of Kenny Bennett, a three-time all-league player at La Quinta.
LOS AMIGOS--Coach Famous Hooks is excited about his team's chances of improving on last season's fifth-place finish, despite the graduation of two-time all-league player Carlos Palomino.
"We lost Carlos, that's a real minus," Hooks said. "But the rest of the kids are better than last year. We are tall and have quicker guards. No one can shoot as well as Carlos, but the team is overall more balanced than last year. We should be better."