It was not the best of times for community college men's basketball in the South Bay last season.
Only Harbor, which finished 17-15, earned a trip to the state playoffs.
As the 1993-94 season gets under way, the prognosis for South Bay teams does not appear much better.
El Camino appears to have the best player in 6-foot-7 sophomore Joe Zaletel, and perhaps the best team.
Harbor is shooting for another trip to the playoffs and Southwest is aiming toward a .500 season.
Here's a look at the teams:
After finishing 15-15 last season, Coach Paul Landreaux had success recruiting, adding to off-season expectations.
But in the past month, El Camino's prospects have taken a turn for the worse because of the loss of four potential starters.
Point guard Alex Davis from Serra High decided to attend a four-year school in Georgia; guard Jason Bowman, a transfer from Cal State Dominguez Hills, was ruled academically ineligible; forward Brandon Lee from Glendora High was advised by doctors to sit out this season because of tendon damage in his ankle, and walk-on forward Willie Williams left the program to spend more time with his ailing mother.
But all hope is not lost. Zaletel, regarded as one of the top players in the state, will lead a strong front line. The former Torrance High standout played at Harbor in 1991-92 before sitting out last season.
How good is he?
"I think he's just an outstanding talent. . . . He can dribble the ball well, score, play inside and outside," Harbor Coach Carl Strong said.
Zaletel will probably play more on the outside this season because of El Camino's physical front line that consists of 6-7 center Frank Zeno, a freshman from Mira Costa High, and forwards Chris Keldorf (6-6) and Ed Bayek (6-7). Bayek weighs 230 pounds, Keldorf 225 and Zeno 210.
Landreaux is looking for his backcourt to develop. Freshman Emil Denlinger (5-10) from Torrance High is expected to start at point guard.
"There's a lot of beef on the front line and we have Joe in the backcourt," Landreaux said. "So we have some big guys out there. But in our scrimmage against College of the Canyon, we just didn't have the speed I was hoping for."
That means Landreaux will probably have his team play at a more deliberate tempo than in recent years. There are also questions about the team's depth as it prepares to play in the rugged South Coast Conference.
"I just think it's going to be a long season not having the guys in the backcourt to turn to," Landreaux said. "Hopefully that's something we can solve in the preseason."
The Seahawks finished in a second-place tie with Long Beach City College in the South Coast Conference last season, but with no starters returning, Harbor will be pressed to duplicate that feat.
"There's no question that we're very, very young," Strong said. "But we've got good talent I think and by the end of the year we might be very good."
The Seahawks will try to make up for their lack height--the tallest player is 6-6 forward Shelton Simmons--with quickness.
Jimmy Miller from North Torrance averaged 17.4 points and 6.1 assists last season and will play point guard. Joining him in the backcourt will be 6-0 guards Codi Evans and Tyrone Smith.
Simmons will be joined up front by forwards Eric Wright (6-4) and Danny Fernandez (6-4). Ken Walker (6-3) will play forward and guard.
Strong is concerned with his team's defense.
"I think that will be the key, but that's probably the case for most teams," he said.
With two trips to the playoffs in two seasons as coach, Strong is optimistic he can go three for three.
"The winning tradition is here," he said. "Now all we have to do is keep it going. But I think if we can survive early in the season, we're going to have an excellent team."
Coach Joe Weakley remembers the growing pains that Southwest has faced since it brought back the men's basketball program two years ago after a four-year absence.
"I started from the very bottom," he said. "We had no experienced starters and we didn't have a gym we could call our own."
The Cougars still don't have their own gym, practicing and playing at Crenshaw High, although work on a campus gym is expected to start in January.
Southwest does have plenty of experience, though. Weakley said it is the most experience the Cougars have had since the return of the program.
"This team has been together for a whole year, so I'm expecting big things from them," Weakley said. "They know each other now and they have some good leaders."
The Cougars (9-16) return starters Michael Lawrence (6-4) at guard and Maurice Spillers (6-6) at forward. They will complete an all-sophomore starting lineup that includes guards Reggie Montez (6-2) and Curtis Galbreath (6-0) and forward Pharooah Jones (6-4).
Two top freshmen are swingman Eric Gladden (6-3) from Dorsey and forward Michael Hall (6-4) from Banning.
Southwest does not have much size. No player is taller than 6-6 and nobody weighs more than 205 pounds.
"We will have to be quick because we don't have the size to muscle with people," Weakley said.