For those who wondered what happened to Redondo Union as the Sea Hawks opened the season 6-5 on the heels of a Southern Section title, here are two names: Wendell White and Eddie Topps.
Both players were out for much of the early going as Redondo struggled to live up to the hype that accompanied the return of five of its top six players.
White, a 6-foot-5 junior swingman, was lost in early December after spraining an ankle in the Huntington Beach Ocean View tournament, while Topps, a 5-10 senior guard, had been out since last spring, when he suffered a broken foot.
Without their standouts, the Sea Hawks went from No. 7 in The Times' preseason rankings to an afterthought.
With those two, they have been unbeatable.
Redondo has won seven consecutive games since White and Topps returned in late December and now rests comfortably atop the Bay League standings after beating preseason favorite Inglewood, 65-41, last week.
"With those two guys coming around, that's made a big difference," Redondo Coach Tom Maier said.
The way the Sea Hawks (13-5, 7-0) played against Inglewood, maybe they should go ahead and order the 2001-02 league championship banner.
After Inglewood's Ron Ligon opened the scoring with a three-pointer, Redondo rattled off 32 of the next 34 points to take a 32-5 lead late in the second quarter.
To be fair, the Sentinels played without 6-10 center DeAngelo Collins, who injured a knee in an upset loss to Mira Costa the week before, and his presence in the middle was sorely missed as Redondo outrebounded the Sentinels, 55-35. Paul Meynen led the Sea Hawks with 16 rebounds and White added 11 rebounds along with a game-high 23 points.
Redondo followed the victory over Inglewood with a 76-62 win over Santa Monica as star forward Adam Zahn scored 24 points.
The Sea Hawks, who last season won their first section title since 1943, could contend for a second section title in two years if they stay physically sound.
Vote of confidence: No one is doubting Simi Valley Royal Coach Eddie Gutierrez now that his Highlanders have won nine games on the heels of a 1-23 season.
Royal's crowning achievement came recently when it defeated Moorpark and Coach Tim Bednar, Gutierrez's former mentor.
"He wasn't too happy," said Gutierrez, who spent 11 seasons under Bednar. "But he called the next day and congratulated me."
Gutierrez, in his second year, inherited a Royal team devoid of players with varsity experience, and it showed as the Highlanders went 0-12 in the Marmonte League.
This season, behind the play of senior forward Kyle Vondrak and Simi Valley transfer Michael Nielsen, Royal is 9-10 overall and 3-3 in league.
Back to basketball: Lompoc guard Joel Smith is back to instilling fear in defenses after scaring fans who witnessed his shoulder-first tumble in a game Nov. 28 against Santa Barbara.
Smith broke away on a steal and went up for a dunk when things went terribly wrong. He failed to get a good grasp on the rim and his momentum swung his feet out from under him, causing him to land on the back of his shoulders.
Smith's knee inadvertently poked his eye on the landing, and he fell unconscious and went into convulsions. "It was really a horrifying situation," said Joe Smith, Joel's dad and the Lompoc coach.
The 6-5 senior guard was taken to a hospital, where he received seven stitches on his head and underwent precautionary tests.
Smith missed five games but has returned without any ill effects, averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Change of venues: For the first time since 1999, the Southern California Regional finals will be held away from the Forum and the Long Beach Pyramid. Finals in Divisions I-III will be held at Long Beach Arena and finals in Divisions IV and V will be held at Long Beach City College. The finals are March 16.
Regional first-round and semifinal games will be March 6 and 9, respectively. Teams that advance to the finals will play on one week's rest, as opposed to one day's rest in recent years.
That's because ARCO Arena, site of the state championships, is tied up with an NCAA men's basketball tournament regional on March 14 and 16. State championships are scheduled for March 22-23.
"I think you'll see a team play to its fullest potential [in the regional final] because they'll have their legs," said Santa Ana Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight, whose team won the regional title last season on one day's rest. "It also might make for a bigger buildup to the game."
Correspondent Mike Haubrich contributed to this report.