Things are going ahead of schedule for the Arroyo Grande High boys basketball team.
Only three seniors returned from last year’s CIF-Southern Section Division III-AA semifinalist squad — albeit key ones in point guard Michael Escobedo, shooting guard Matt McAustin and power forward Derick Beasley.
As if the younger members of their supporting cast didn’t have enough to account for, their responsibilities grew when Arroyo Grande lost senior center Tanner Hinek, a returning all-PAC 7 League first-team selection, to an injury during this past football season.
But the Eagles are 8-1 after the season’s first two weeks, with the best early nonleague record in the PAC 7.
“We’re actually a little bit ahead of where I thought we’d be at this point,” Arroyo Grande coach Ryan Glanville said. “We don’t have a lot of on-the-floor playing experience together; I thought it’d take longer for us to get to know each other on the floor.”
Apparently not. On Saturday at their own Optimist Tournament, the Eagles drubbed Santa Barbara 58-9 before topping league rival Atascadero 55-39 in the third-place game.
Glanville, who has served in his current position since 2004, said he can’t remember a score as lopsided in his time around the program as the 58-9 result.
“I feel really good about where we are now,” he said. “We have some really nice balance offensively.“And defensively, we’re just playing really well together,” he added. “We’re very much a help-defense team.”
Escobedo, a 6-foot, 185-pounder who took home the league’s Defensive Player of the Year honors as a junior, has shown an improved ability to look for his own shot, as well. He had a 29-point performance that included six 3-pointers in a 71-66 loss to Edison of Fresno at the Optimist Tournament.
At the same time, Beasley and Garrett Weinreich — both 6-5 — have complemented each other well, with the athletic Beasley able to run the floor while the 260-pound Weinreich has provided strength down low, while wearing Hinek’s old jersey number, no less. Kelly Shepard, at 6-4, has also made strong contributions.
In the loss to Edison, the trio held 6-11 center Robert Upshaw — who ESPN.com says “may be the No. 1 center prospect out West in the class of 2012” — to 11 points.
Despite all the early success, Glanville cautioned against casting the Eagles as the definite team to beat in the PAC 7.
“We’re confident, but certainly we’re not overconfident,” Glanville said. “Preseason tournament games are a lot different from when you get into league.”
Indeed, San Luis Obispo County is well represented in the top half of the league’s early standings.In its loss to Arroyo Grande, Atascadero (6-3) played without starting off guard Sam McMillan. The Greyhounds have been led by arguably the league’s quickest and fastest talent, junior point guard Troy Norris, who midway through last week was averaging team bests of 18 points and 3.4 steals per game.Paso Robles (6-4), meanwhile, features the league’s leading scorer in senior wing Lonnie Watson (19.7 points per game), who’s forging a formidable one-two punch with power forward Brandon Todd (14.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game).
“Everyone’s playing different players and trying to figure out what the best combination is,” Glanville said of the tournament-laden preseason. “It’s hard to gauge how the PAC 7 will go just because there’s so much experimentation going on in the lineups. In this league, there won’t be any easy games.”