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Valencia Is Stocked Full of Talent, Size


All signs on the road to the Foothill League boys' basketball title point toward Valencia. But those same signs also include some detours in fine print.

On paper, the up-tempo style employed by the athletic Vikings should enable them to run away with the league title.

Forget that Valencia is only in its third year in the Foothill League.

Pay no attention to that 3-7 league record from last season.

Their athleticism, skills and size are second to none in the league.

And with 6-foot-8 center Jerrohn Jordan and 6-foot-7 forward Fabian Leon leading the way into tonight's Foothill League opener against Canyon, the Vikings are picked by every opposing coach as favorites to win the league title.

But the Vikings have a reputation for losing composure in tight games. They are seen as overconfident after heaps of preseason praise in the media. And their 62% free-throw shooting will haunt them.

"Not too many teams will match up with them, especially in the front court," Canyon Coach David Humphreys said. "But they are beatable. They're a real up and down team. They haven't ever been in the situation of favorites. I know our kids will be excited to play them."

Valencia (13-3) entered Foothill League play last season with an 11-3 record, only to end up 14-11 after a first-round playoff loss to top-seeded Compton. Viking Coach Gary Spindt said inexperience and youthfulness led to the league demise.

But with an extra season of experience and a schedule littered with high-quality opponents completed, Spindt hopes the Vikings' fortunes will change this season.

"Ask me at the end of the season if we have what it takes to win the league," Spindt said. "We're still awful young in terms of experience. I don't think we are feeling any pressure as favorites, we're looking forward to the challenge."

Though no team should be overlooked in the competitive Foothill League, Valencia's main challenges figure to come from Burroughs and Hart, which has won six of the last seven league titles.

Burroughs (11-5) is off to a surprising start. A frontcourt of Jeremy Cartee, Kevin Krose and 6-foot-8 center Preston Tucker has combined for more than 40 points and 20 rebounds a game. The Indians, last year's runners-up, are also the best defensive team in the league.

Hart returns league most valuable player J.T. Stotts among a deep group of skilled athletes. What Hart (9-6) lacks in size (6-8 center Kelly Weldon is the only player listed taller than 6-4) it makes up for in sheer athleticism. Stotts, David Neill, Jerry Owens and Scott Hunt all have Division I college potential in other sports.

Burbank (3-11) might have been considered a contender, but with Tuesday's announcement that All-Valley guard Juni Williams has been declared academically ineligible, what figured to be a four-horse race suddenly became three.

"It's going to be a long year for us," Burbank Coach Ron Quarterman said. "Juni was basically carrying us."



* THE PROVEN: 1997 league most valuable player J.T. Stotts returns for Hart. Jerrohn Jordan of Valencia (6 feet 8) is tops in a league full of excellent post players. Jeremy Cartee of Burroughs (18.6 points per game) is the top returner from last season's runner-up. Saugus senior forward Matt Bradley earned All-League honors last season. Valencia forward Fabian Leon is a flashy scorer. Burbank center Eric Rowher is a force in the middle, averaging nearly three blocks a game.

* THE PROMISING: Sophomore point guard Royce Minor will start for Valencia. Burroughs center Preston Tucker, a 6-8 senior, has established himself in the middle. Mike Reardon of Canyon comes off the bench, but still leads the Cowboys in scoring. Hart forward Scott Hunt is raw, but strong. Valencia sophomore Manuel White is a gifted athlete.

* FAST FACT: Hart, which has won at least a share of six league titles in the 1990s, has a 67-15 league record in the decade.

* 1996-97 STANDINGS: 1. Hart 23-6 overall, 10-0; 2. Burroughs 14-13, 6-4; 3. Burbank 15-12, 5-5; 4. Saugus 9-15, 4-6; 5. Valencia 14-11, 3-7; 6. Canyon 10-13, 2-8.

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