For the first time, every basketball team in the Glendale area has a legitimate shot at making the Southern Section playoffs.
In fact, every team in the Southern Section is a playoff contender because of a new format.
The top three teams in each league of the five divisions will gain automatic berths into first-round playoff games. All of the other schools can request wild-card games that will determine the rest of the field.
The format is not likely to affect perennial area playoff participants such as La Canada High, Crescenta Valley, Flintridge Prep and now-powerful Ribet Academy, but it is a boon for Glendale, Hoover, St. Francis and Pater Noster.
La Canada, which has, perhaps, its best team in school history, is the strongest team in the Glendale area. Four starters, including All-Southern Section guard Jeff Lord, return from a team that finished 19-7 overall, won its third consecutive Rio Hondo League championship and lost to eventual 3-A Division champion Dos Pueblos in the quarterfinals of the playoffs.
Richard Mandeville, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, is the only new starter for the Spartans, who are in their fifth season under Coach Tom Hofman.
"With all the experience, I think it will be a better team (than last season)," Hofman said. "Last year, we were so young, it kind of went against us in a couple of close games."
Lord, a senior, averaged 21 points a game and once again will be the Spartans' main threat from the perimeter.
Point guard Jason Berns, wing Sean Whiting and forward Jeff Burns, all of whom are seniors, provide La Canada with a solid nucleus.
La Canada's hopes of advancing past the quarterfinals, however, probably rest on the development of Mandeville, who averaged 13 minutes a game last season and was the first freshman to garner honorable-mention All-Rio Hondo League recognition.
"There are so many good scorers around him (Mandeville), the pressure is not that great," Hofman said. "But as he becomes more aggressive and matures, he could become our leading scorer."
Juniors Jimmy Evans, Brent Ballard, Ryan Asplund and Graham Dicks will see action off the bench.
Here is a look at other Glendale-area Southern Section teams:
* Ribet Academy--The Fighting Frogs won their first Small Schools Division championship last season and they have enough talent to repeat.
Second-year Coach Michael Miller lost only one key player from a team that finished 26-3 after being knocked out of the state tournament by Faith Baptist.
Jason Sanders, who averaged 17 points a game as a freshman, transferred to Westchester.
But the Fighting Frogs still have senior guards Jrmirol Duncan and Jaiquin Moore.
The 5-8 Duncan, an All-Southern Section selection, was selected as the Times' Glendale-area Player of the Year last season after averaging 18 points and six assists a game.
The 6-3 Moore averaged 18 points and six rebounds in 1989.
Senior forward Chris Maxwell, who averaged eight points and eight rebounds last season, is expected to regain the form that earned him second-team All-Southern Section recognition two seasons ago.
Sophomore Andre English (6-6) might be the best college prospect in the area and senior Kip Rolfe is the Fighting Frogs' best defensive player.
"We have a lot to prove because we feel like we should have been playing for the state championship last season," Miller said. "That's our goal this year."
* Crescenta Valley--Coach John Goffredo, in his 13th season, will be shooting for his 200th win this season with an inexperienced team.
The Falcons lost eight players--including all-league center Paul Matijasevic and point guard Lamar Breeding--from a team that was 16-9 and finished second in the Pacific League.
"We have good overall size," said Goffredo, who has a 190-95 record. "But we don't have the one big guy."
Forwards Josh Willis and Brad Haines move into the starting lineup after playing sparingly last season. Christian Burgess, Vachik Amirian and Andy Saltman move up from a junior varsity team that finished 20-2 in 1989.
John Breckow, Andy Settle and Mike O'Brien also will play a lot.
* Glendale--After two sub-par seasons, including last year's 8-16 finish, Coach Bob Davidson believes the Dynamiters are on the rise.
"We have different combinations we can go with," Davidson said. "A big slower team or a smaller quicker team depending on the situation."
Jason Harper, a 6-6 senior, averaged 13 points and nine rebounds last season. He will be joined in the front court by 6-8 Paul Severns and 6-3 Rob Apcar.
Guard Jerry Armen is the team's best three-point threat. Mike Wright, a 6-3 junior transfer from Pomona Ganesha High, and sophomore David Sofro are battling for the other starting guard spot.
Brothers Thao and Hai Tran, who are 5-3 and 5-5, respectively, will see action off the bench.
* Hoover--The Tornadoes finished 6-16 last season, but 11th-year Coach Kirt Kohlmeier compares his team to the 1983 squad that made it to the Southern Section finals in 1983.