With nine juniors and a sophomore on the roster a year ago, it took the Atascadero High boys basketball team a while to reach its potential.
Eventually, though, the Greyhounds peaked at the right time, winning six of their final eight regular-season games before making a run to the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA playoffs.
Their 8-3 overall finish to the year was the best of any PAC 7 or Los Padres League team in San Luis Obispo County, and has hopes running high this season.
“They’re experienced, and got a lot of floor time,” Atascadero coach Jerry Tamelier said, “so that does make it exciting. I think a lot of people are excited about this season.”
Atascadero, ranked No. 25 in Southern California by the Los Angeles Times earlier this week, will be one of six county teams playing from Thursday to Saturday at the Harding Invitational Tournament at Morro Bay High, in addition to the host Pirates, Arroyo Grande, Nipomo, Paso Robles and Templeton.
At the heart of last year’s late-season surge for the Greyhounds (19-9, 7-5 PAC 7 in 2009-10) was point guard Troy Norris.
Now a senior, the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Norris will be looking to build upon his banner junior season, when he was named to the all-Division 4AA first team, in addition to earning county player of the year and all-PAC 7 first-team honors. Also the tournament MVP of the Atascadero Christmas Classic, Norris averaged 16.3 points and 2.6 steals per game for the season, upping his scoring to 22 points per contest in the playoffs.
“Troy just has some great instincts,” Tamelier said. “He knows when he needs to kind of assert himself in a game, and then he’s good at getting other players involved. He’s a remarkable basketball player.”
Norris is joined in the backcourt by junior shooting guard Hayden Mislavsky, who averaged 5.1 points as a sophomore. Atascadero also has two integral seniors back in the post in Weston Walker (who was third in the league with 5.9 rebounds per game last year) and Sean Slavin (who at 6-7 can shoot out to 3-point range).
Defending PAC 7 champion Righetti (21-6, 10-2) should be strong again, as well.
The Warriors lost center and league MVP Nick Sauer, now playing at Cuesta College, but they do return one of the Central Coast’s best athletes in junior wing Hunter Walker, as well as the stabilizing presence of senior point guard Van Holloway.
Elsewhere in the league, Arroyo Grande (21-8, 8-4) also advanced to the quarterfinals a year ago, in Division 3AA.
Kyle Kleinsmith (shooting guard), Kelly Shepard (power forward) and Garrett Weinreich (center) are among the key players back for the Eagles, who will have to make up for the graduations of point guard Michael Escobedo, an all-divisional second-team honoree, as well as sharpshooter Matt McAustin and athletic power forward Derick Beasley.
Senior small forward Andrew Hogue is also expected to be a factor for Arroyo Grande after making solid contributions in a reserve role last year.
Paso Robles (14-12, 6-6) graduated its top three scorers from last season in all-divisional second-team shooting guard Lonnie Watson and forwards Cheyne Hayes and Brandon Todd. But the Bearcats do bring back a core of complementary seniors in point guard Jake Murray, wings Isaiah Jackson and Adam White, forward Aleksander Koch and center Richard Curl.
“We’ve got a pretty senior-oriented group that has played together at various levels for quite a while,” Paso Robles coach Scott Larson said. “The thing that we lack is scoring punch that was proven.”
White, a third-year varsity starter, was the Bearcats’ second-leading rebounder a year ago with 4.4 per game, while Murray led the Bearcats in 3-point accuracy (36 percent) and assists (2.5 per game). Curl, believed to be the tallest player in the county at 6-8, helped hone his footwork in volleyball as a junior after being named the basketball team’s most improved player.
San Luis Obispo (13-14, 6-6) will field a perimeter-oriented squad under first-year coach Jim Thompson.
The Tigers will be without center Sean Mullen, who was No. 2 in the league with 7.9 rebounds per game as a junior. Mullen, also a standout pitcher, has chosen to get a head start focusing on baseball as a senior.
Last year for San Luis Obispo, then-junior shooting guard Michael Hansen was a steady cog with 4.6 points per game. Fellow senior guards Connor MacLeod, Matt Hannula and Frankie Concepcion are also expected to make an impact.
“We’re fast,” Thompson said. “We handle the ball real well and can move up the floor.”
St. Joseph (15-13, 9-3 LPL) should be able to compete in its first year in the PAC 7. Knights shooting guard Bebe Vargas was an all-Los Padres League first-team honoree as a sophomore last year, and St. Joseph also picked up a transfer in guard Case Bruton, who led Morro Bay in scoring as a freshman (11.7 points per game) a year ago.
Los Padres League welcomes Nipomo
Nipomo will be in the LPL after transitioning from the PAC 7 this past offseason.
The Titans (11-16, 4-8 PAC 7 in 2009-10) also have a new coach in Greg Cebulla, who spent the past eight years with the Arroyo Grande freshman program. During that span, Cebulla never had a losing season, and won four league titles, including three in a row as of this past season.
The Titans should be led by one of the most athletic guards in the area, 6-3 junior Ryan McNeil, who put up 11 points per game as a sophomore.
Meanwhile, defending LPL champion Cabrillo (21-6, 12-0) graduated six of its top seven scorers, including league MVP David Terrones.“I think it’s open,” Cebulla said of the LPL.
Morro Bay (8-18, 2-10) features one of the most promising big men in the area in junior Edward Griley, who led the league with 3.3 blocks per game as a sophomore and was third in rebounding with 7.4 per contest.
Templeton (12-13, 6-6) will be looking to fill the void left by graduating its top four scorers, including guard Jordan Hattar, the LPL’s Defensive Player of the Year, and power forward Dakota Oropeza.
Mission Prep moves to Southern Section
Oft competing against LPL teams, independent Mission Prep is in its first season in the Southern Section after making it to the Central Section Division 5 championship game last year.
The Royals (13-17 in 2009-10) figure to be led by a pair of seniors in point guard Sam Cowitz (who averaged 8.8 points and a team-best 3.6 assists per game last year) and forward Art Lane (7.9 points and 5.8 rebounds). They will have to make up for the loss of small forward Kevin Laird, an all-county first-team selection who averaged a team-best 15.5 points.
Mission Prep also gained a valuable transfer in sophomore guard Andy Rowley, who averaged 4.3 points at San Luis Obispo as a freshman.
Coast Union is new to the CVL
The Coast Valley League has also seen changes, adding Coast Union, whose enrollment considerably dwarfs fellow county schools Coastal Christian (5-10, 3-6 CVL in 2009-10), North County Christian (18-9, 10-0) and Shandon (3-13, 2-8).
Coast Union (8-14) had only one senior on the roster last year, and got productive campaigns from then-junior guard Ramiro Medina (who had team highs of 12.6 points and 3.6 assists per game) and then-sophomore forward Andy Gordon (11.3 points and a team-best 12.4 rebounds).
Defending league champion North County Christian graduated the CVL’s leading scorer in forward Josh Feld, who set numerous program records, but does have back junior Daniel Katches, who averaged 9.3 points and 6.6 boards.
Shandon graduated its top two scorers and rebounders, although Jose Diaz averaged seven points a game as a junior last season.