After watching Stuart Hall win three games by an average of 17 points at the St. Joseph's of Alameda tournament, Lick-Wilmerding boys' basketball coach Eliot Smith came away with this appraisal.
“I could see Stuart Hall going to state,” Smith said.
Last season, the Knights tied with University for the Bay Counties League West regular-season title, and won the playoff championship. Urban coach Joe Skiffer offers this appraisal of the 2014-15 Knights: “They don't have too many holes. They're talented, and they have size, senior leadership and athletic guard play.”
That could be said about a number of teams this season, including University. Normally so good at dictating tempo and pace, Randy Bessolo can call upon more size than usual, which should help the Red Devils match up with Stuart Hall's frontcourt.
“The league is very tough,” said Bessolo, whose Devils lost in overtime at Riordan in early December. “The West Catholic Athletic League gets a lot of respect, but I think the BCL West is right there. I think Riordan will be the best of the city teams in the WCAL, and we demonstrated we can play right with them. Top to bottom, this is a great league.”
Stuart Hall: How are the Knights, who won their first 10 games, handling heightened expectations?
“Having five seniors who've played together since they were sophomores really helps,” coach Charley Johnson said. “We're remaining humble. It's one game at a time — we're not good enough to look past anyone.”
In 6-foot-4 senior Armani Collins, a Division I guard prospect, Stuart Hall has the preseason candidate for BCL West Player of the Year.
“Armani has had a great season so far,” Johnson said. “He's really blossoming into a dynamite player.”
Last season, Collins led the BCL West with 7.9 rebounds (7.9) and 1.9 blocks. He finished second in scoring (18.0). He is surrounded by a nexus of talent, including classmates Tyler Ryan, a combo guard whom Murphy hails as “a dynamite player with the clutch gene,” and forward Pavlos Peritos.
University: Another strong start to a season for Randy Bessolo, whose Red Devils have averaged 25 wins over the past six years. Part of that is a credit to continuity. Two years ago, when University was led by a standout senior class with Harold Getz and Chris Mah, sophomores Brandon Lew, Brian Palmigiano and Ethan Lampert played key minutes.
Now they are seniors, helping restock Bessolo's patented run-and-gun style.
“Everyone knows we like to shoot 3s, but this year, we've got more size than we've had historically,” Bessolo said. “We've got a 6-6 junior, Sean Gilmore, a 6-4 senior in Naod Sebhatleab and a 6-5 senior in Lampert.”
Junior 5-10 guard Mattie Mrlik has stepped into a key role, too.
“Mattie's a special little player,” Bessolo said. “He's our second-best scorer, but as always, we've got good balance.”
Urban: Joe Skiffer makes no bones about the Blues' start to the season: “It's been a little rocky.” The Urban coach has seen things he's liked — wins over Athenian and Encinal at the Island Classic, but he's also seen his team struggle in losses to St. Patrick-St. Vincent of Vallejo and Branson.
“I still think we're trying to find our way,” Skiffer said. “We've got different roles for kids in comparison to last year.”
Two years ago, the Blues went as all-league guard Nate Cohen did. Now, junior forward Andre Campbell, Jr. is ready to assume the role of offensive focal point. Campbell was first-team all-league last season, and will be joined by a handful of good guards, including Williams and Lieberman.
“I think we'll hopefully be able to contend for the league championship,” said Skiffer, whose team finished a game out of first place last season. “There's so many talented teams, stacked with upperclassmen, and while I don't know if we have the same talent as some of those teams, we've got a group that plays really well together. I think we have a shot.”
International: Winless in the BCL West last season, International coach Frank Williams calls upon a young team this season. There are only three seniors on the Jaguars' 11-man roster (five are underclassmen).
Lick-Wilmerding: The loss of Micah Elan to Prolific Prep, the new basketball academy near Napa, was a huge blow to Lick's aspirations. Last season, Elan was Lick's leading scorer. He hit game-winners and emerged as one of the BCL West's best all-around players.
But Smith, Lick's coach, still has sufficient talent on hand.
“We have to start with our three captains,” Smith said. “David Peletz is in his third year on varsity, and he's one of our better players. We're counting on him to do a lot. Aaron Long is another senior and a good outside shooter. Alejo Perez-Stable Husni, too.”
The loss of Elan has fired this group's competitive streak, to prove they can win without him.
“We'll get five guys to play together with what we have,” Smith said.
Marin Academy: Wildcats 6-4 senior Kyle Roach, whose 25.8 points led the BCL West last season, has begun '14-15 with averages of 32.6 points and 10.4 rebounds through the first six games.
“He's a big-time player,” MA coach Neil Caynan. “He makes big-time plays in every game, and he can score from anywhere on the court. He's taller than most point guards, and quicker than most posts. And this year, he's developed a finesse game, and he's using his midrange more. He's the ultimate weapon.”
There are six seniors on this team, a core that won the league two years ago when they were sophomores. “And there's great trust among the whole group,” Caynan said.
Roach has seen every possible type of defensive approach, which means his teammates, such as twin brother Connor Roach, a 6-0 senior center who is an excellent 3-point shooter, will have to step up.