Heading into the 2014-2015 season Archbishop Mitty led by Ben Kone was viewed as a favorite to win the WCAL and CCS Open titles, with St. Francis seen as an emerging team and Serra also dangerous with a veteran squad and a history of success
St. Francis surprised observers to edge Serra for the league title, but the Padres defeated Mitty and St. Francis back-to-back in the Open playoffs to win it all.
This season there’s not so much uncertainty. A sampling of section coaches likes St. Francis and Mitty in that order as the top teams in the CCS, with Sacred Heart Cathedral being another dangerous WCAL team.
“The big boys this year, probably head and shoulders ahead of everyone, are Mitty and St. Francis,” said Half Moon Bay coach Rich Forslund, an Archbishop Riordan grad and former Crusaders’ coach. “Maybe Sacred Heart Cathedral is close as a third team – but there’s nobody else close to those two. There’s no public school that’s close, I can tell you right now. I’ve seen that landscape; I’ve been to the movie a number of times."
Asked if it’s any different this season than any other year, Forslund said: “No, unfortunately not. In the Open I think we’re going on to the fourth year, the top four seeds have all been WCAL teams – with one exception, Sacred Heart Prep last year. The size factor and athleticism (of top WCAL teams) is off the chart.”
Actually, Serra didn’t have a Division I recruit last season, but that’s just the Padres – Serra coach Chuck Rapp annually squeezes every last drop of talent out his team, which incidentally looks a little down from last season. But St. Francis and Mitty do have DI guys in Kone for the Monarchs and Peter Hewitt for the Lancers. Mitty will be hurt, though, by the transfer of sharp-shooting junior guard Sebastian Much back to Southern California from whence he originally came and a football injury to guard Sam Serra, a starter on last year’s Mitty team that shook off so-so (for the Monarch) regular season and CCS Open finishes to make the state Division II title game.
At Sacred Heart Cathedral, Fightin’ Irish coach and former Woodside High star Darrell Barbour has some nice building blocks in a pair of 6-foot-6 juniors, Alfred Hollins and Ramzi Carter, who have both started since they were freshmen.
As far as public schools are concerned, look for Half Moon Bay (2-0, with wins against St. Ignatius and Burlingame so far this season) and a savvy, hustling Menlo-Atherton team to be strong in 2015-2016.
TEAMS TO WATCH
(IN alphabetical order)
ARCHBISHOP MITTY: The Monarchs lost sharpshooting junior swing man Sebastian Much to transfer. He lit it up in last year’s post-season to help lead the Monarchs to the state title game where they fell short in overtime, but now he’s returned to Southern California. However, coach Tim Kennedy still has 6-foot-9 Ben Kone in the post and he’s the best big man in the section. Returning G Sam Serra will help and the Monarchs have good players coming up from the lower levels.
ARCHBISHOP RIORDAN: The Crusaders, like Sacred Heart Cathedral, were another City team that had a rollercoaster season in 2014-2015, finishing 18-11 overall. They get back G Eric Galindo who averaged eight points per game when healthy last season, but who missed most of the campaign. Senior PG Eddie Stansberry averaged 18.5 points per game last season after sitting out his sophomore year following his transfer from Serra. Galindo should take some of the load off Stansberry who last week won their own Crusader Classic tournament.
BELLARMINE: The Bells had their struggles last year during the regular season but still managed to win another CCS Division I title. Guard Angelo Athens is a standout and newcomer Wojcik scored 27 points in the Bells' opening one-sided win against Sequoia.
HALF MOON BAY: The Cougars got off to another quick start last year, but got upset by rival Terra Nova in the PAL-North finale at HMB on a buzzer beater, creating a co-title for HMB and the Tigers. Half Moon Bay also fell in the PAL playoffs and lost to eventual champion Serra in the CCS Open playoffs. Led by post Austin Hilton and forward Tommy Nuno, the team returns mostly intact and should improve on last season's post-season effort.
MENLO-ATHERTON: Menlo-Atherton looked sharp in a five-quarter scrimmage against Serra last week, displaying an aggressive man defense, a willingness to dive on loose basketballs, overall savvy play and some impressive shooting. Blake Henry, Lucas Fioretti and Bradley Stillman should lead the Bears.
OAK GROVE: The Eagles are 3-0 in non-league under new coach Tino Mendoza and are led by Steven Baty (18.7 ppg) and Austin Bice (12.0). Other standouts are Yakuba Mansaray and and Ryan Evans.
PALMA: Hard to know exactly what to make out of Palma after a 74-46 loss to powerhouse St. Francis and an 84-75 win against Wilcox. But the Chieftains went 23-6 last season and return 6-7 Cal State-East Bay commit Wyatt Maker who averaged 14.7 ppg. last season and junior guard Jamaree Bouyea (10.1 ppg.).
PACIFIC GROVE: The Breakers are unbeaten (3-0) but untested so far with wins against North Salinas, Milpitas and San Benito, heading into its own upcoming tourney game against Palma. Brad Sendell (15.3 ppg.), Jake Mendoza (10.3), Chip Wagner (9.3) and Zachary Miller (8.3) lead the Breakers.
SACRED HEART CATHEDRAL: The Fightin’ Irish had an up-and-down (17-12) season in 2014-2015, but they return a pair of 6-6 forwards in Alfred Hollins and Ramzi Carter. Both have started since they were freshmen. The Irish may be a notch or two below heavyweights like St. Francis and Mitty, but with a relatively small enrollment at a coed school, they’re a threat under coach Darrell Barbour to go deep into the NorCal playoffs just about any season and, in fact, was a state champ in 2008-2009.
SACRED HEART PREP: The Gators have lost a key player in the graduated Corbin Koch (19 ppg.) who led them to the CCS Open semifinals last season. But players such as Andrew Daschbach (six ppg.) and Mason Randall (13.9 points, 2.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game) will be back once football ends. Josh Papermaster is helping to hold won the fort for the Gators right now as the short-handed team weathers a difficult non-league schedule. Coach Tony Martinelli is a big plus for the Gators who have won seven section titles in their history, captured a WBAL championship last season and was a NorCal Division IV finalist.
SANTA CRUZ: The Cardinals won a section title last season under first-year coach Lawan Millhouse, a no-nonsense disciplinarian. Santa Cruz is led by the stellar Kaijee Yee-Stephens who is complemented by (). Santa Cruz opens Dads Club tourney play this week against Watsonville.
SERRA: The Padres blew out Palo Alto in a Sportsmanship Game and then looked so-so in a five-quarter scrimmage against Menlo-Atherton. Jake Killingsworth, the hero of last year’s CCS Open title win against St. Francis and a Columbia commit, returns at small forward. Seven-foot sophomore post Jack Wilson adds an interesting dynamic and senior guards Lee Jones and Jeremiah Testa are fast and threats driving to the hoop.
ST. FRANICS: The Lancers will be out to atone for last season’s narrow loss to Serra in the CCS Open title game. St. Francis and Serra finished with the same record in league last year, but the Lancers were awarded the title because they beat the Padres twice in league. Much of last season’s roster remains intact, including starters Peter Hewitt (UC-Davis), Noah Stapes, Darius Thomas, Curtis Witt and Guiseppe Benedetti.
ST. IGNATIUS: The Wildcats only went 10-15 last season, but they were young and can only be better now, led by 6-8 post Will Emery. The Wildcats lost by only 44-41 to Half Moon Bay in their opener and blew out short-handed Sacred Heart Prep 84-45.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Angelo Athens, Bellarmine
Every coach spoken to for this article mentioned Athens prominently. Bellarmine doesn't publish stats online, but Athens can fill it up and does everything else you'd want from a guard, as well.
Stephen Baity, Oak Grove '
Oak Grove is one of numerous evenly matched teams at the top of the BVAL food chain. He is leading the Eagles in the early going this season, averaging 18.7 ppg.
Dylan Belquist, Los Gatos
Belquist is a talented player who is averaging 22.3 points per game in the early season for the Wildcats and taking 9.3 rebounds per game. He's also made 10 3-pointers.
Giuseppi Benedetti, St. Francis
Benedetti does a lot of the subtle dirty work for the Lancers like grabbing rebounds, setting picks and playing defense. But he can also score and is a double-double threat most any game on a team with balanced scoring.
Ramzi Carter, Sacred Heart Cathedral
Carter is athletic and has long arms. He drives to the hoop well and can finish. His length makes him a valuable defender.
Vinny Ferrari, Burlingame
Ferrari is coming off a highly successful football season during which he starred in the defensive backfield for the PAL-Bay tri-champion Panthers. He's had a hot start to the basketball season, averaging 26.5 points per game in the first few games with high rebound, assist and steal totals. He's also made seven 3-pointers.
Lucas Fioretti, Menlo-Atherton
Menlo-Atherton is a blue-collar team, despite its high-rent address. Fioretti typifies the Bears' grit and averages 12 points per game in a balanced attack.
Tyler Garlitos, Burlingame
Garlitos is explosive and athletic and averaging 18 points per game this season for the Panthers.
Ryan Hammell, Mountain View
Hammell was averaging 22 points per game after two non-league contests, ranking him third in the CCS.
Blake Henry, Menlo-Atherton
A force for the Bears, he leads the team with 15 points per game.
Peter Hewitt, St. Francis
The UC-Davis commit has long arms and legs and does a variety of things for the Lancers including score, rebound, change shots on defense and set picks.
Austin Hilton, Half Moon Bay
Averaged 12.1 points per game last season on a 23-5 team that tied for the PAL-North title and made the CCS Open playoffs. Shot 58 percent from the floor in 2014-2015. Is averaging 15.5 points per game so far in the early season. Big frame makes him tough on the boards.
Alfred Hollins, Sacred Heart Cathedral
Probably the most heavily recruited junior in CCS, the athletic forward paces the Fightin' Irish with his scoring and rebounding and is a double-double waiting to happen any time he steps onto the court.
James Kelbert, Leland
Kelbert was a revelation in 2014-2015, averaging 19 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. He had 25 double-doubles in earning the BVAL-Mt. Hamilton Division MVP and led the Chargers to their first Mt. Hamilton title and second CCS finale. Averaging 25.5 ppg. this season.
Jake Killingsworth, Serra
The Columbia-commited Killingsworth transferred into Serra as a sophomore after moving from Arkansas. He immediately got into the rotation and made an impact on a stellar team that year. Last year as a junior he averaged double-figures in points and came up big in the CCS Open title game, draining three free throws with 0.8 left to life Serra to a 2-point win against St. Francis.
Ben Kone, Archbishop Mitty
Transferred into Mitty before his sophomore season and led the Monarchs to league and section titles that year. The Oregon State-committed center was the WCAL and Prep2Prep player of the year in 2015-2016 after taking the Monarchs to a third-place league finish and the CIF-State Division II title game. A clutch player, Kone averaged 25 points and 18.7 rebounds in his last three games of the season.
Jared Lucian, Menlo School
The Knights opened with a 61-57 loss to Burlingame and are already banged-up this season with a couple of bigs sidelined. But they made the section finals last season and Lucian, a forward, is the best returnee from that bunch. A good athlete, he has played football, basketball and hoops at Menlo.
Wyatt Maker, Palma
Maker averaged 14.7 points per game last season on a team that made the CCS Open playoffs and has already dropped 28 in a win against Wilcox this season. Headed for Cal State East Bay in the fall.
Jared Milch, Terra Nova
Milch starred last season for the Tigers during their surprising rise to a PAL-North co-title with Half Moon Bay. He was named Co-MVP of the All-PAL-North last season and is pacing the Tigers early this season with 17 points per game.
Tommy Nuno, Half Moon Bay
Averaged 9.6 points per game last season for a winning team with a balanced attack. Can get to the rim and finish. Also shoots well from the line, making 77 percent (64 of 83) last season.
Nemanja Rajic, Prospect
Rajic is another CCS player who has excelled early in the 2015-2016 season. He's averaging 20 points and 7.3 rebounds per game with nine 3-pointers for a Prospect team that has some talent.
Mason Randall, Sacred Heart Prep
Randall quarterbacks the Gator football team and is an excellent leader. He averaged 13.9 points, 2.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game last season.
Eddie Stansberry, Riordan
Stansberry shook off the rustiness of sitting out the 2013-2014 season to average 18.5 points per game last season. He can carry a team for periods of time such as in the first quarter of last season’s league opener at St. Francis when he scored all of the Crusaders’ points. A threat shooting the 3 or slashing to the basket, he just needed more help last season and may get it this year with Eric Galindo healthy again at shooting guard.
Noah Stapes, St. Francis
Stapes is just a cold-blooded, knock-down shooter. Who can forget when he picked up a loose ball in the title game last year vs. Serra, dribbled behind his back to evade a defender and then drained a 3-pointer. He shoots from so far out and with such accuracy that he’s hard to stop, especially with the talent he has around him. Like Riordan’s Stansberry, he can carry a team for stretches.
Luke Swidler, Prospect
Prospect is 3-1 so far this season with its only loss to Santa Cruz. Swidler has helped pace his team, averaging 18 points per game.
Curtis Witt, St. Francis
Witt's clutch shooting moved the Lancers into the lead late in the CCS Open title game against Serra until Jake Killingsworth's three late free throws ruined the party. The first-team all-leaguer is a clutch player who averaged nine points, three rebounds and three assists per game on a team with five good starters.
Jake Wojcik, Bellarmine
Wojcik, the son of San Jose State coach Dave Wojcik, scored 27 points in the Bells' blowout season-opening win against Sequoia. Not bad for a freshman. His uncle, Doug Wojcik, is also a college coach.
Kaijae Yee-Stephens, Santa Cruz
Arguably the best player in the Monterey Bay, Yee-Stephens dropped 40 points with 10 rebounds and six assists on Evergreen Valley in the season opener. Helped Cardinals to section title win last season over Menlo School.