That might be the best way to describe the way the PAC 7 high school boys basketball race is shaping up heading into this season, which opens Tuesday.
San Luis Obispo, which shared the league title a year ago, graduated 10 seniors, including San Luis Obispo County Player of the Year Julian Demalleville. Atascadero, the other co-champion, graduated its leading scorer in Logan Allen, as well as fellow all-county guard Sam Johnson.
That left Arroyo Grande appearing like an early favorite, given that the Eagles’ CIF-Southern Section Division III-AA semifinal run a year ago was highlighted by a pair of all-county juniors in point guard Michael Escobedo and center Tanner Hinek.
Never miss a local story.
But Hinek suffered a knee injury during this past football season, requiring surgery and ending his basketball year — leaving the Eagles with an obvious void.
Righetti, which last year featured a pair of talented underclassmen in guards Van Holloway and Hunter Walker, could move up after finishing .500 a year ago, but so, too, could Paso Robles, Nipomo and Pioneer Valley.
“It’s a very balanced league,” Arroyo Grande coach Ryan Glanville said.
Meanwhile, Templeton, which has four players 6-foot-4 or taller, could challenge St. Joseph and Lompoc for Los Padres League supremacy, while Mission Prep figures to again be strong in the independent ranks.
A look at the county’s boys basketball teams, with 2008-09 records in parentheses:
Arroyo Grande (20-9, 9-3)
The Eagles will be looking to make up for the absence of the 6-6, 260-pound Hinek, who averaged 13.3 points and 7.7 rebounds a year ago, but their depth, quickness and perimeter shooting rival anyone’s in the league.
Escobedo made his mark last year as a gritty defender and floor general capable of getting his own shot, averaging 7.8 points, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
“We’re going to rely on him to get other guys involved, but he might be our best scorer, also, so we want to provide him with plenty of opportunities,” Glanville said.
Derick Beasley, Kelly Shepard and Garrett Weinreich will be asked to help out down low in Hinek’s absence.
“Obviously, we’ll miss Tanner’s experience, leadership and ability to step out and shoot the 3 (as a center),” Glanville added, “but I don’t feel like we’re thin in that spot.”
Atascadero (20-8, 10-2)
An experienced backcourt figures to be a strength for the Greyhounds, who will be looking for more from junior point guard Troy Norris after he served as a sparkplug off the bench as a sophomore.
The 5-10 Norris averaged 8.0 points and 1.4 steals per game in 2008-09 en route to becoming the only underclassman to earn second-team all-league honors.
“He changed games for us last year,” 27th-year Atascadero coach Jerry Tamelier said of Norris. “Now that he starts, he’s got a lot of things to do. He does have to look to score for us, but he’ll let the game come to him at the same time, because he makes good decisions and he’ll hit open players.”
Third-year varsity player Matt O’Connell, a 6-2 wing, should provide leadership, as should fellow senior guard Sam McMillan. Junior Weston Walker, a 6-4, 215-pound forward, is expected to be a force in the post.
Nipomo (6-20, 2-10)
The Titans will be looking to supplement the scoring ability of all-county senior guard Jeff McNeil, who averaged a team-best 17 points per game a year ago.
That help might come from 6-3 sophomore wing Ryan McNeil, who averaged 7.2 points a game as a freshman. Fellow sophomore Kirk Wilenius is a 6-5 developmental prospect.
Paso Robles (10-15, 3-9)
The Bearcats return nine players from last year’s squad, which suffered all but four of its defeats by 10 or fewer points.
“We’re much more athletic overall, and much deeper than we were last year,” 33rd-year coach Scott Larson said. “I think the guys are a little more mature, and I hope we’ll be able to execute when it counts late in games and turn those (losses) into wins.”
Senior guard Lonnie Watson, a 6-3 all-county pick last year, “can kind of write his own ticket as far as what he can do offensively,” Larson said. “The sky’s the limit with Lonnie. If he can make other guys better when he might be denied or double-teamed and get people the ball when they’re in scoring position, I think we’re going to be tough to beat.”
Also, 6-4 senior Cheyne Hayes looks to be one of the league’s most athletic forwards, while junior Adam White and senior Brandon Todd — both starters last season — are also expected to make contributions in the frontcourt.
San Luis Obispo (21-7, 10-2)
San Luis Obispo has the most talent to replace in the league, losing 10 seniors from last year.
“I really don’t know what to expect from this year’s team until we start playing,” Tigers coach John Jensen said. “This summer, we never had everybody together at the same time, so it’s almost like we’re starting over again.”
The Tigers bring back an encouraging inside-out combo in 6-6 junior forward Sean Mullen and senior point guard Joe Agbo. They’re also expecting big things from 6-1 junior off guard and co-captain Steve Sainsbury, whose work ethic has impressed Jensen.
Morro Bay (12-15, 4-8)
Perhaps no team in the county has undergone more of a roster turnover than the Pirates, who graduated nearly their entire cast from last year, including the 15.3 points per game of 3-point specialist Jun Jun Ebreo. They have one senior.
Case Bruton, a 6-1 guard, will be playing as a freshman, while 6-5 center Edward Griley is just a sophomore.
Templeton (11-13, 6-6)
The Eagles, who return four starters, are well balanced, featuring great size up front aided by a deep, quick backcourt.
Zach Egger, Aaron Hinton and Ethan Bendall are all 6-4, while sophomore Casey Dingam checks in at 6-5. Meanwhile, Daniel Wheeler, Jordan Hattar and Dakota Oropeza all figure to chip in on the outside.
“We do have some great size, but we also have good guard play,” Templeton coach Fred Price said. “We hope we can be interchangeable depending on the opponent.”
Coast Union (6-16)
Perimeter shooting should be the strength for the Broncos, who expect to be more competitive after last year’s outfit featuring three underclassmen struggled to find a rhythm.
Junior guard Ramiro Medina is a good outside shooter, while sophomore forward Andy Gordon looks to lead the Broncos’ rebounding efforts.
Mission Prep (20-12)
The Royals are looking to make up for the graduations of all-county forwards Jerry Casey (now playing at San Jose State) and Robbie Souza from last year’s Central Section Division V finalist, but bring back an athletic mix.
Kevin Laird, a 6-2 wing, should “get more touches and more plays called for him this year,” Royals coach Terrance Harris said. Meanwhile, Patrick Woolpert casts one of the most imposing shadows on the Central Coast at 6-8 and should be a rebounding and shot-blocking force.
“He’s a good guy to have on your back line defensively,” Harris said.
Coast Valley League
Coastal Christian (5-12, 4-6)
No information was provided.
North County Christian (19-8, 10-0)
The Crusaders are the early favorite in the CVL after returning a handful of key components from the group that produced a second-round run into the Division VI-A postseason a year ago.
Josh Feld, a 6-2 senior forward, posted 10.7 points and 8.4 rebounds a year ago.
Shandon (1-11, 1-8)
No information was provided.
Scott Silvey and Will Vigliotti contributed to this preview.