But the Panthers’ dream of a repeat faces a rough road ahead. All but two members of last year’s squad – guard Andrew Cones and forward Jared Mlekush – were seniors. Antioch also has a new head coach, Kevin Moffett, who has dealt primarily with Amateur Athletic Union basketball.
Antioch finished the 2010 year 16-12 with an 8-2 record against BVAL foes.
Despite all the change, Moffett feels the Panthers could surprise some people this year. “It’s going to be interesting,” Moffett said. “I think all in all, they’re starting to buy in to what we’re trying to do.”
Cones and Mlekush will provide senior leadership for a team with a lot of new names, including senior guard Robert Smith and sophomore center Shaun Rodgers. Moffett said senior post player Nathaniel Owens has been one of the team’s most improved players. Freshman center Khalid Harrison, at 6 feet, 5 inches, could also make an impact in the future.
The Wolverines, who shared the BVAL crown with their crosstown rivals, look poised for another strong year. Deer Valley returns several key players from last year’s team, such as senior guards Dylan Williams and Olajuwon Garner, junior guard Kendall Smith, senior forward Noah LaBonte and junior center Marcus Lee.
Last season, Deer Valley amassed a 21-7 overall record (8-2 BVAL).
“We’re a work in progress, but we’re going to be OK,” Wolverines head coach LeChet Phillips said. “This year, it should be a more fun team. I like the makeup of our group, the camaraderie. They’re pulling for each other to do well.”
Phillips likes his team’s speed and the caliber of Deer Valley’s shooters, but they’ll be working on defense in preparation for the league schedule, which starts Jan. 13.
The Wolverines will be aided by some fresh faces. The Webster brothers – sophomore guards Nsimba and Nzuzi – will pick up the basketball after a season on the gridiron. Phillips is also excited to see what junior forwards Robert Bershell and Kenny Robinson can provide.
Patriots head coach Pat Cruickshank faces a tough task this season, as only three players return from a squad that last season went 16-11 (6-4 BVAL). However, Heritage fields an exciting crop of new players.
Cruickshank looks to seniors Josh Ned (forward), Wayne Englestad (forward) and Jake Trammell (center) to provide leadership. Ned can play all over the court, while Englestad and Trammell will be Heritage’s big bodies in the paint.
While they’re still getting accustomed to Cruickshank’s system, the Patriots should have some talented new athletes to complement the seniors. George Johnson, a junior guard, transferred to Heritage from De La Salle. Shon Briggs, a 6-6 sophomore, could be a force inside, but also has the touch to shoot outside the key.
Guards Aaron Berry (sophomore), Pierre Carter (junior) and Bryce Nicolicchia (senior) will likely also play some vital minutes for the Patriots.
“We’re trying to get to learn each other and know each other a bit,” Cruickshank said. “These guys have listened and they are picking things up a lot quicker than I have seen in the past.”
Falcons head coach Drew Torres is hoping Freedom’s solid chemistry and depth will produce more wins this season than last. Torres is enamored by the team, led by players such as junior forward Ramiro Contreras, junior guard James O’Neal and senior guard Jalani Hardaway. Senior guard Jehiah Gennaro and forward Michael Gardner will also provide valuable leadership.
Last season, Freedom finished 14-12 (5-5 BVAL).
Torres noted that sophomore forward Elliot Smith has been one of the Falcons’ vocal leaders.
Freedom will be bolstered by key additions from the junior varsity squad, namely juniors Sam Bide and Tim Jordan. Torres said Bide could’ve made the varsity team last year, and Jordan will bring plenty of energy to the Falcons.
“Where we’re at right now is way further ahead of any other teams that we’ve had here in the past,” Torres said. “This is the best chemistry we’ve had. Our leaders have bought in 100 percent.”
According to Liberty head coach Jon Heinz, this year’s Lions squad is the most talented he’s seen in five years at the school. As the program lost only one senior starter from last season, most of Liberty’s core remains intact. Heinz is encouraged by his team’s successful off-season, reflected in a 6-1 record at a summer tournament at De La Salle.
Returning are key players such as junior guard Brandon White, a second-team all-league selection who averaged 16 points per game in 2010. Darren Meeks, a senior, will start at forward for the third year. Seniors Darius Brown (forward), Francisco Cortez (guard) and Dwayne Burns (guard) also look to improve on last season, when Liberty finished 11-15 (2-8 BVAL).
“A lot of times, that experience gets you over the top,” Heinz said. “This team has definitely been battle-tested. We’ve had a great spring and summer with them.”
Senior guard Juwan Blakely, who transferred from Pittsburg, should make a solid contribution.
Heinz also sees big things from 6-8 sophomore forward Jonathan Galloway.
New head coach Ryan Lloyd, formerly of the Foothill Falcons, will lead a Pirates team hoping for some more wins. Last year, they finished 5-18 (1-9 BVAL).
Pittsburg last season fielded a team full of upperclassmen, and only four seniors, so some seasoned athletes will be returning. Senior guard Randal Gory, a team captain in 2010, is coming off an all-league honorable-mention season. The Pirates will also draw on the talents of senior guard Terrance Barnes, who earlier this year set the season receiving record for Pittsburg’s football team.
But Lloyd doesn’t want the attention to focus on any one player. All the Pirates will have a chance to see key minutes. “I’m excited to get started and have a fresh start,” Lloyd said. “We’re going to play everybody – throw everybody in there.”
Lloyd said the season’s success would likely be determined by Pittsburg’s defense. He noted that if the Pirates defend well, they might enjoy some more victories this year.