There's usually a debate when starting any basketball season over which team deserves to be No. 1. Not this season. With action beginning on Monday, Long Beach Poly starts out as a clear No. 1 in boys' basketball.
And the Jackrabbits aren't just interested in knocking off Santa Mater Dei, Etiwanda and Corona Centennial en route to winning a Southern Section Division 1AA title.
"Our kids are extremely focused on winning a state championship," Coach Sharrief Metoyer said. "Our sights are set on being the last team playing in Division I and the last team standing."
Poly has earned its reputation based on its consistent play during spring and summer and the return of four starters from last season's 28-5 club. It's a veteran group that's unselfish, has good chemistry and balanced scoring.
Point guard Alexis Moore, a USC signee, runs the show.
"From the end of March until now, he has made tremendous strides," Metoyer said.
There's 6-foot-8 Ryan Anderson, a Boston College signee who has gotten taller, stronger and tougher. He belongs at the top of any list of candidates for player of the year. Guard Alex Carmon is an outstanding shooter, and 6-6 sophomore Roschon Prince continues on a path toward becoming an elite player. And then there's the always reliable Earnest Pettway, Poly's 6-4, 220-pound two-sport standout who plays basketball the way he plays tight end in football — with a fearless attitude that makes him a rebounding machiine.
Poly is by no means a cinch to end up at Arco Arena in Sacramento. There are lots of teams with the talent to challenge the Jackrabbits, including City Section Division I title favorite Woodland Hills Taft, which is one of only two teams to have beaten Poly in the summer.
But to start out, Poly deserves to be the favorite, and if the Jackrabbits stay healthy and don't get overconfident, there's no reason to think they won't replace Westchester as the state Division I champion on March 26.
Size 18 shoes needed
Is there something in the water? There are at least six players 6-10 or taller playing in Southern California.
Mike VanKirk from Lancaster Paraclete is the tallest at 7-1. Next is 7-0 Antonio Worthy from Montebello. Then comes 6-11 Kyle Caudill from Brea Olinda and 6-11 Gilles Dierickx from West Hills Chaminade. There's also 6-10 Isaac Neilson from Mission Viejo and 6-10 Kevin Johnson from Taft.
There will be no lack of freshmen starters this season. There could be more than a dozen starting by January. Point guard Parker Cartwright from Los Angeles Loyola and 6-6 guard Shaqquan Aaron from Mater Dei are the players to watch. Both could have a big influence in league play.
Two standout guards under the radar are 5-10 Troy Norris of Atascadero, one of the best players in San Luis Obispo County, and 5-10 Kevin Ramirez from Anaheim Katella. And don't forget about 6-2 John Gilliam of Upland, the co-MVP from the Baseline League.
On Jan. 7, roommates Todd Wolfson and David Rebibo face off when Chaminade plays host to Woodland Hills El Camino Real. Both are among the youngest coaches in Southern California. Wolfson is 24, Rebido 26. They played together at El Camino Real. The coach who loses will have to deal with the consequences.
"The losing coach sleeps on the balcony," Rebibo said.
Added Wolfson: "The loser will sleep outside that night."
The Incredible Hulk
When it comes to pure strength and power, 6-3 Darnell Taylor of Crenshaw will be hard to stop. And when he comes down the middle for a dunk, get your video camera ready, because it will be an instant YouTube highlight.
"He may be the most explosive player in Southern California," according to Coach Ed Waters.
Beware of schools named Lutheran.
La Verne Lutheran is the team to beat in Division 3AA, led by Arizona-bound 6-9 junior Grant Jerrett and Arizona-bound sophomore guard Eric Cooper Jr. Orange Lutheran could win Division 4AA, led by junior guard Gabe York.