In a year that Mission Prep went to the CIF-Southern Section finals in football, the Royals on paper will display a formidable team in boys basketball as well.
Arroyo Grande and Templeton highs are two additional county teams off to strong starts to the fledgling season.
Mission Prep graduated Zach Allmon, who’s now on scholarship at Cal Poly.
Arroyo Grande lost Tribune county player of the year Brent VanderVeen, who redshirted this season as a scholarship quarterback for Oregon State’s football team.
But Mission Prep, which advanced to the CIF-Southern Section division semifinals and the state playoffs as an at-large team last winter, again have a well-rounded squad, led by 6-foot-5 senior forward Connor Woolpert, an all-county first-team selection last year.
Woolpert, who had 24 points and 11 rebounds in the Royals’ first game against Pioneer Valley, averaged 14 points and four rebounds last season. Cal Poly basketball coach Joe Callero invited Woolpert to be a walk-on recruit, he told The Tribune last summer.
Senior point guard Andy Rowley, who averaged 10 points and five assists last year, and 6-foot sophomore guard Quinton Adlesh, who had 18 points against Pioneer Valley, are also team leaders for the Royals.
“We bring the core of our team back and a lot of talent and leadership,” Mission Prep coach Terrance Harris said. “We definitely want to use our athleticism and quickness and control things on the defensive end. It all starts with D.”
Arroyo Grande graduated the 6-foot-5 VanderVeen, who led the Eagles to a 23-10 season last year, including a runner-up finish in the CIF-Southern Section divisional playoffs and a state playoff berth.
The top returner for the Eagles is senior point guard Matt Willkomm.
“He’s one of our best defenders,” Eagles coach Ryan Glanville said. “Matt shoots the ball well, and he’s just really solid.”
Glanville said that the Eagles won’t be able to replace VanderVeen and thus has become more of a transition, running squad. Senior Dylan Brigham and junior Andrew Midyett, both 6-4, bring some interior bulk, and guard Cobe Williams and 6-2 forward Brennan Rivera will be key contributors.
Ironically, one of the county’s smaller public schools — Templeton — suits up one of the tallest teams.
The Eagles’ lineup includes 6-6 Andy Garretson (second team all-county last year and second in the Los Padres League in scoring at 14 points per game), 6-5 Will Mehring and two 6-3 guards in Alex Elterman and Aiden Sarbeck. They will also play important roles this season along with point guard Jackson Wheeler who’s a third-year varsity player.
“Even though we’re big, we really are seeking to play an up-tempo game this season,” Templeton coach Fred Price said. “Last year, we walked it up more and this year we want to put pressure on teams with presses and getting out in the open court.”
Despite an overall 11-15 record, the Eagles were third in the LPL last year at 8-4 behind Cabrillo and Morro Bay.
Morro Bay returns senior guard Luke Munds, who averaged 13 points per game last season and was second team all-county. Junior guards Zach Smith and Xavier Alfaro both have notched double figures in scoring for the Pirates thus far this year.
“We’re a young team this year and still developing in a lot of ways,” new Morro Bay coach Mike Godsey said. “But the good thing is we like each other, and we’re having a lot of fun. For the younger guys, they want to win this season for Luke.”
Another key player to watch in the LPL is Nipomo senior Kaileb Mendez, who is off to a strong start, scoring 27 points against Archbishop Alter of Ohio early this season and 19 against North of Bakersfield.
“Kaileb is one of the more premier point guards in the league,” Nipomo coach Greg Cebulla. “He’s a very good ballhandler and brings a lot of experience.”
Another top player is Atascadero junior Robbie Berwick (6-4), who has played on the varsity since his freshman year and was the Greyhounds’ top player last year when they went 7-5 in the PAC 7 and 18-10 overall.
One of the taller point guards in the league, Berwick will be able to see over opponents and read defenses easily. He averaged 18 points, five rebounds and four assists last season.
Matt Knudson takes over at his alma mater this year for longtime Atascadero coach Jerry Tamelier.
“Being a new coach, it’s all about getting used to things,” said Knudson, whose day job is in real estate. “And it’s a consuming job. But it’s fun and I think we have as good of a chance as anyone to compete for league this season.”
At San Luis Obispo, Laurie Decker takes over as coach. The biggest surprise of the early season may be Tigers senior guard David Thoresen, who scored more than 20 points in each of San Luis Obispo’s first four games, including 42 against Moorpark. Thoresen averaged nine points per game last season.
“I think he came into this season very underrated,” Decker said. “He shoots the ball very well.”
Other players to watch include point guard Blake Shapazian, who scored 24 points against Morro Bay, and forward Kwabe Farkye.
Paso Robles was 2-10 in the PAC 7 last year and 6-18 overall. New coach Matthew Drake believes the Bearcats can compete with anyone this year.
Rudy Binkeley and Jaylon Davis have had strong performances to begin the season.
“I expect a number of teams to be strong — St. Joseph, Righetti, Atascadero, Arroyo Grande,” Drake said. “I think the entire league will be tough. The challenge for us will be consistency and finding the right combination of players.”