A year ago, there were not a lot of familiar faces returning to the Valley region's junior college men's basketball teams, but the few who did return were highly touted.
This season, the quantity is there, but the standouts have moved on.
Forward J. R. Rider, the Foothill Conference's most valuable player for Antelope Valley last season, has taken his 33.6-point and 11.4-rebound averages to Nevada Las Vegas. Center Lester Neal (20.7 points, 14.8 rebounds) of Ventura is at Arizona State, and point guard Sam Crawford (19.4 points, 13.2 assists) of Moorpark has gone to New Mexico State.
"Some of the stars are gone," Valley Coach Jim Stephens said. "But the teams may be better balanced. There are several teams who have a lot of players returning."
Glendale, Moorpark, Oxnard, Valley and Ventura will open their seasons today; Canyons will play its first game Saturday and Antelope Valley will launch its season next week.
A look at the teams:
ANTELOPE VALLEY (25-6)
The Marauders (14-2 in Foothill Conference play), the two-time defending conference champions, have compiled a 52-11 record in the past two seasons, but third-year Coach Newton Chelette says that this season's squad could be his best.
"I know I shouldn't be saying this, but I really like this team," Chelette said. "We've got the two superstars in Darrin (Jackson) and Chris (Walters), and a lot of guys who can fill particular roles. We've got guys who can shoot from outside, guys who can score inside, guys who can run the break and guys who can play defense."
Chelette said Jackson, a 6-foot-8 freshman forward, and Walters, a 6-2 sophomore guard who transferred from Texas El Paso, are both NCAA Division I-caliber players.
Point guard Brian Wilcox (5-10) and forward Ennis Wesley (6-3) are the starters back from last season's team that advanced to the second round of the Southern California regionals. Forward Bucky Tucker (6-4) was a part-time starter. Add freshmen Jason Grimes (6-7) and Chris DeGlopper (6-5), both from Palmdale High, and Colin Lubsey (6-7) from Australia, and Chelette's optimism is understandable.
The Pirates (8-0 in divisional play), the defending WSC North Division champion, have only one experienced returning player from last season in Derrick Pugh, a 6-4 swingman who was the Pirates' sixth man. But Stephane Brown (6-2) from Channel Islands High, Michael Tate (6-5) from Fremont and Jabari Anderson (6-3) from Banning are among the top incoming freshmen. Brown averaged 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.7 points and Anderson ranked first in the City Section in scoring with a 36-point average.
Add sophomore point guard Vince Lankston, a 5-10 transfer from Santa Monica College, and Ventura again should have one of the WSC's best teams. "We don't have the one go-to guy like we've had in the past," Coach Philip Mathews said. "But we do have a lot of quickness and team speed."
The Raiders (6-2 in divisional play), the North Division runners-up to Ventura last season, have three returning starters--6-3 guards Damian Wilson and Jim Galbert and 6-8 center Sean Doyle. Wilson averaged a team-high 21.3 points and pulled down 4.8 rebounds a game last season. Galbert averaged 9.2 points and 4.6 rebounds, Doyle 8.1 and 6.3.
Carlos Vasquez (6-1), a freshman from Cleveland High, also will start and redshirt freshmen and former Simi Valley teammates Steve Carnes (6-1) and Mike Wawryk (6-5) will vie for the other starting position.
"This is the best combination of players who match up with each other that I've had in a long time," said Moorpark Coach Al Nordquist, who is entering his 25th season.
The Condors (4-4 in divisional play) finished third in the North Division last season and have only one returning starter, but Coach Remy McCarthy is confident that they can improve.
Point guard Shawn Talley is a major reason why. A talented freshman class is another.
Talley, who signed a letter of intent with Texas-Arlington on Wednesday, averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists last season.
He will direct an offense that will include freshman centers Art Wallace (6-10, 200) and Tony Ziuraitis (6-7, 195), freshman forwards Dave Anderson (6-4, 195) and J. R. Greer (6-4, 185), and freshman guards James Parker (6-0), Marlowe Durmiendo (5-11) and Malik Williams (6-2).
The Cougars (9-1 in divisional play) the defending South Division champions, are the most experienced local team with three starters back and four others who played on a regular basis.
Center Jeff Dorst (6-5, 215), forward Reggie Bell (6-4, 191) and point guard Reggie Langley (6-2) are the returning starters. Bell averaged 14.3 points and eight rebounds. Dorst averaged 7.5 rebounds.
Guard Mike Basowski (6-0) and forward Marquis Wilborn (6-2), sophomores from Reseda High, round out the Cougars' starting lineup with freshmen Rasaan Hall (6-4) from Crespi, Greg Yumbar (6-5) from Saugus and Jason Joynes (6-9) from Adelaide, Australia, providing depth.