Muir, Glendora and Pasadena highs, three traditional boys basketball powers in the San Gabriel Valley, are preseason favorites to again dominate play when the season gets under way this week.
Glendora has enjoyed the most success of the three teams over the past two seasons, reaching the CIF 4-AA Division final the past two seasons.
But Muir, with an experienced lineup returning, may have a slight edge over Glendora and Pasadena at the start of the season.
Other schools that fall among the valley's top echelon include Pomona, West Covina, Diamond Bar, Bishop Amat, Ganesha, Alhambra and Nogales.
Here's a look at the top 10:
1. Muir (Pacific League; 4-AA)--There's a good reason why first-year Coach Rocky Moore is eager for the season to start. This team has the potential to be one of the best ever for the tradition-rich Mustangs.
"It's just a very exciting team to be around," Moore said. "On paper, I think we can compete with anybody."
With four NCAA Division I prospects on the team, the Mustangs should be one of the most talented teams in Southern California.
The top player for Muir, which was 15-11 last season and reached the second round of the 4-AA playoffs, may be the youngest: sophomore point guard Jacque Vaughn. A starter as a freshman, Vaughn made his biggest impression last summer when he finished in the top 15 at the prestigious Superstars Camp at UC Santa Barbara.
In addition to Vaughn, the other major-college prospects in Muir's starting lineup are 6-foot-6 senior forwards Erid Scott and Darren Greene and 6-4 senior guard Philip Turner. Two other standouts for the Mustangs are forwards Reuben Jones, a 6-3 senior, and Donald McIntire, a 6-4 junior.
"I have a lot of confidence in our kids and I can see the confidence growing within our kids," he said. "I think that's going to make a difference as the season gets going."
2. Glendora (Baseline League; 4-AA)--The Tartans lost five starters from a team that went 28-6 and won the 4-AA championship--the school's first division title--last season, but there is little cause for alarm.
Not with the surplus of talented underclassmen on the squad.
"It's a completely different team," Coach Mike LeDuc said. "We probably have more talent this year, but we're so young. This is the youngest team I've ever coached and I've coached 12 years."
Eight of the team's top 11 players are underclassmen.
Perhaps the most talented is 6-1 freshman point guard Cameron Murray, whose older brother Tracy established numerous CIF scoring records with the Tartans and starts at UCLA. "He's very good right now but I think he's going to become a lot better," LeDuc said.
The only senior in Glendora's starting lineup is expected to be 6-5 center Jay Zuhlke. The other starters are expected to be 6-5 junior Tracey Thompson at forward and 5-10 junior Scott Jacobsen at guard and 6-1 sophomore guard Adam Jacobsen, a cousin of Scott who made 85 three-point baskets and averaged 10 points last season.
3. Pasadena (Pacific League; 5-A)--Throughout much of the 1980s, the once mighty Bulldog basketball program had to struggle simply to keep its record above .500.
But in the past two seasons, the winning tradition appears to be resurfacing. The Bulldogs have won 47 of 56 games during that span and reached the 5-A semifinals both seasons.
Even with the graduation of All-Division I players Todd Lewis and Don Mitchell from last season's 23-6 squad, the Bulldogs seem to be in good position for another excellent season.
"Last year we weren't favored (in our league) at the start of the season and this year we're not favored again," Coach Bill Duwe said. "But last year's team matured fast and we were ready when league rolled around in January. If we grow up and mature, we're hoping we can jell again by January."
The Bulldogs will have outstanding quickness led by returning starters Raymond Maberry, a 5-10 guard, and Kenric Marshall, a 6-3 forward. Maberry averaged 14 points last season. Other top players for Pasadena include 6-3 guard Lydell Hill, 5-10 guard Byron King, 5-10 guard Greg Sumpter and 6-3 sophomore forward Treyvone Towns.
4. Pomona (Montview League; 3-AA)--The Red Devils displayed flashes of brilliance in winning their second consecutive Montview League title last season on their way to a 20-7 record.
But Coach Ed Taylor is hoping for a better end result than last season, when the Red Devils were eliminated in the second round of the 3-AA playoffs.
"They have the potential of being a great team and going a lot farther than they did last year," he said. "They just have to keep working at it."
In an effort to improve the team's chances, Taylor has arranged a more difficult nonleague schedule and focused more on defense in practice.