With another order of CIF championship rings filled in March, Pasadena High remained the gold standard for boys’ basketball in the Pasadena area.
Led by the play of standout All-CIF big man Brandon Jolley, now a senior, and veteran Coach Tim Tucker, the Bulldogs captured their 10th straight Pacific League title and brought home the CIF Southern Section Division 3-AAA title.
With those two principal figures back, Pasadena has a core to build around for another run, even though it lost point guard Ajon Efferson to a transfer and bid farewell to several other key pieces via graduation.
Senior returners Perris Hicks, Raymond Jackson and sophomores Jeff McClendon and Kevin Scott all figure to take up bigger roles around Jolley in the middle this year, as the Bulldogs also welcome a key transfer addition in senior guard Andre Speight from league rival Burbank.
While the Bulldogs return as the favorite once again in league, the biggest change for the Bulldogs is the jump all the way up to Division 1-AA, making the road to repeat as CIF champs considerably tougher.
“We moved up to the top division, so that makes things a little bit tougher,” Tucker said. “Are we capable of playing with those guys? Yeah, I think so, but we’ve got to develop fast.”
Last season, it looked as if the Bulldogs’ biggest rival, Muir, had dethroned Pasadena in league, but the Mustangs had most of their wins vacated when it was ruled just days after a title-clinching win over Crescenta Valley that an ineligible player had participated. The penalty also cost Muir its CIF playoff berth.
Now the Mustangs look to turn the page with new Coach Simaine Stewart, who takes over for Gamal Smalley. Previous standouts Jelani Mitchell and Taturs Mayberry are now seniors, but Muir lost eight seniors from last year’s lineup.
Also moving up in division, and into the Pasadena area, is Renaissance Academy, which has a new campus in Altadena after moving from La Cañada, where it won its first CIF championship, in Division 6, last season.
Now the Wildcats are in Division 4-A and have a mostly new roster after graduating the All-CIF duo of Jessy Cantinol and Vince De Guzman. Marquis Moseley, who provided a spark as a freshman last season, instantly becomes one of the most experienced returners, along with fellow sophomore Shane Williams and junior KJ Okmanas.
Several transfers, including Matt Der from Temple City, have come in to bolster the ranks, as well as 6-foot-7 transfer Steve Herve from Cameroon, who sat out last year.
“With our mix of new guys and guys who sat out, it’s going to be a very different mix, and we’re bigger,” Wildcats Coach Sid Cooke said. “We’re going with a lot of new guys. We’ll have to wait and see, but we could be as good as last year, or better.”
At La Salle, Jelani Gardner takes over for longtime Lancers head Steve Goldstein and will look to pilot the squad through the tough Del Rey League and back to the Division 4-AA playoffs, where it was eliminated in the first round last year.
“It's going well,” Gardner said. “The kids have really bought into my style of play and what I want from them.”
Gardner counts junior guard Conor Williams, senior guard Israel Lacy and senior power forward Lorenzo Rosales as his top returners, but is particularly excited about a pair of highly-touted freshmen entering the program in swingman Vance Jackson and point guard Milan Acquuah.
“They're probably going to be starters and they're actually two of the top 20 players in the country,” Gardner said. “They're definitely going to help.
“We got some exciting youth and then the guys who are returning, most of them will return again. We're on a three-year plan and that's when I think we'll be where we want to be in terms of being a top program in the state.”
Maranatha is coming off a successful 21-win season with a runner-up finish in the Olympic League and an appearance in the second round of the Division 4-AA playoffs. Fortunately for the Minutemen, guard Jeremy Major, who far and away led the team in scoring last season, is back for his senior year.
In the Rio Hondo League, South Pasadena will look to defend its first league crown since 1991 and get back to the Division 3-A playoffs, but will do so without a total of 10 graduated seniors from last year, including standout guard Alireza Jabalameli. The Tigers, who made the second round of the playoffs last year, will be far from young, though, as 12 seniors are listed on this year’s roster.
San Marino and Blair finished tied with Temple City for third in the Rio Hondo League last year. The Titans also lose nine seniors from the team that reached the second round of Division 4-A last year.
Marshall Fundamental is now also in Division 4-A after inhabiting 4-AA last year and Coach John Burch will look to three returning senior starters in Devin Hampton, Isidore Manuel and David Hardy, along with junior Kaylin Banks to make a run in the Delphic League and beyond.
“We had a real good summer and our goals are pretty high,” Burch said. “We’re looking to go to at least the second or third round [of CIF].”
At Armenian General Benevolent Union Pasadena, Coach Richard Harris welcomes back 10 seniors, including shooting guards Andy Ketsoyan and Andrew Tahmazian and power forward George Gevrikyan, plus lockdown perimeter defender Sevag Boyadjian. The squad made the third round of the Division 5-A playoffs last year after placing second in the Westside League.
Second-year St. Monica Coach Michael Muto has a simple goal for his Crusaders this season.
“I just want us to improve from last year,” Muto said. “That’s our goal every season.”
Last season, the Crusaders finished 12-11 overall and third in the International League and lost in the first round of the Division 6 playoffs to eventual champion Renaissance Academy.
One area in which the Crusaders are improved is in depth, as the team has increased from nine players last season to 11 participants this year.
The drawback, however, is that the Crusaders graduated arguably their three best players from last year in senior guard Blaise Inman (7.9 points per game), senior forward Peter Goodwin (10.2 points per game) and Will Boles (10 points per game).
Three such returners from this year who hope to step up are senior wing Peter Zwart, a co-captain, junior co-captain Gilbert Inman, junior guard Thomas Boles and sophomore guard Marcus Cortez.
Pasadena Poly is coming off a down year in which it finished last in the Prep League. Panthers Coach Brad Hall cites senior point guard Curtis Toyota and junior forward Will Genske as they keys to a turnaround this season.
Waverly looks to bounce back from a one-win season and compete in the International League under Coach Greg Ziomek.
“We are an extremely young team and we’re in a totally rebuilding mode,” said Ziomek, who will rely mainly on junior small forward Henry Costello, senior point guard Chris Poulsen and junior center Elias Chavez.