If the preseason is any indication, the Valley Oak League race has the potential to be a real barnburner from top to near bottom.
Central Catholic recently captured the El Dorado Gold Dust Tournament title while Manteca and Weston Ranch were involved last week in the ultra-competitive Modesto Christian Holiday Classic.
The Buffaloes bring in their three big guns in Anand Hundal, Tydus Verhoeven and Kenny Wooten Jr. while the Cougars are quick and athletic.
Daniel Wyatt and Jesse Spivey returns for the four-time defending champion Timberwolves of Sierra, which also captured the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III crown last year. The only losses for the Timberwolves have been in tournament play, including twice to Edison (the latter was in the title game of the Adidas Trojan Christmas Tournament).
Even Kimball made it to the championship game of the West Holiday Classic.
Only three teams out of the VOL qualify for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs with automatic berths. At-large bids are available for teams in the top 12 of their division, according to MaxPreps rankings.
Here’s a quick look at VOL teams:
Wyatt was fresh off of leading the Timberwolves to the state Division IV title in football when, a few days later, he made his way back to the hardwood.
Wyatt saw limited time in the preseason for Sierra (9-3) but didn’t take long to catch fire with some sizzling shooting from the field.
He and Jess Spivey are back from last year’s section championship squad along with Ogun Delaney, Alex Farfan, and Freddy Thandi.
The 6-5 Spivey has been Sierra’s go-to guy in the early going of the season. He’s been a double-double threat in points and rebounding.
When it comes to coaching, no one quite compares to Scott Thomason. Now in his 16th year, he’s considered by many as one of the area’s best.
Thomason had taken teams to the section finals on two previous occasions only to be denied.
The Buffaloes (10-2) were already impressive a year ago and that was without Wooten.
The 6-9 senior bound for Nevada-Reno give Manteca that triple threat of big men – Verhoeven is 6-8 and Hundal stands at 6-9.
Known for his spectacular slam dunks, Wooten comes into the VOL averaging 14 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.8 blocks,
Verhoeven has been putting up 7.2 points per game along with 4.6 assists, 5.8 boards and 1.9 blocks while Hundal averages 14 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.
Junior guard Dwight Young has been chipping with 10.8 points and 1.9 assists. He joins the backcourt featuring the likes of senior Frankie Lopez and sophomore Matt Ender.
The Cougars (9-3) geared up for VOL play by putting in some extra work.
It started with senior Jaelen Ragsdale.
The Stanislaus State-bound guard sent time fine-tuning his mid-range jumper.
“He’s improved on the step back (shot),” said WR coach Chris Teevan. “Jaelen has been in the gym everyday working on his game.”
Ragsdale, Fred Lavender and Josh Dilg return from last year’s playoff squad which finished 10-4 in league, 20-13 overall.
Lavender will join Ragsdale at Stanislaus State next year. An ultimate “glue guy,” he’s coming off a junior campaign where he averaged 15.9 points per game, 1.9 assists, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.4 steals.
Dilg, like Ragsdale, has been playing at the varsity level since his sophomore year. But his worth to the team doesn’t show up in the box score.
“He goes out there and battles,” Teevan said. “I don’t know where we would be without Josh.”
Newcomer Anthony Booker – the 6-10 senior recently signed on with Monterey Bay – previously played at Chavez High. He’ll be available once VOL play starts up.
D’Angelo Finley is another newcomer. The 6-3 senior forward has strong inside game with hustle going to the boards. “His play is a mix of Fred and Josh,” Teevan said.
The success of the Lancers (8-4) could depend on the effort that takes place in the paint.
By that, second-year coach Ryan Tarr indicated that his team needs to be more consisted in battling it out on the boards and do more scoring closer to the basket.
“We’re only as good as our rebounding,” he said in the preseason. “It doesn’t matter if we’re outsized.”
That was after an overtime loss at the Dalben Center to Buhach Colony. East Union led by 23 points thanks to consistent outside shooting and nifty passing.
The Lancers offense has been spearheaded by junior guard Gyse Hulsebosch, junior forward Chris Molina, and senior forward Austin Miller.
Hulsebosch’s play drew raves from at least one opposing coach.
“He’s a traffic player and an outstanding shooter,” said Buhach Colony coach John Bliss, who game-planned on trying to contain Hulsebosch, who still hit for 29 points.
Molina averaged 4.7 rebounds a year ago as a sophomore. He also chipped in with 7.8 points per game and 2.6 assists.
Miller is coming off a campaign in which he netted 11.2 points per game and averaged 3.7 rebounds.
Junior Ballard has been lighting it up during the preseason.
The 6-2 sophomore has been averaging over 25 points per game to go along with 9.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists for the Spartans (7-6).
He along with Diego Chavez, Deshawn Kelley, and Paminder Singh are the holdovers from last year’s squad which finished 3-11 in league, 4-23 overall.
The Spartans (7-6) have already bettered that mark, posting early victories over Modesto, Johansen, Ripon, Franklin, Tracy and Downey.
Idowu Olaleye, who is a 6-2 junior forward, has been averaging 9.3 points and 11.6 boards during the preseason while Lathrop coach Nathan McGrath has been solid contribution from his bench.
The Raiders (11-1) are hoping to parlay their early season wins to VOL success.
They were 17-12 overall a year ago, with a roster featuring five sophomores and three freshmen.
Central Catholic coach Mike Wilson has seen maturity from that group.
Take junior guard Cooper Wilson, for example. He was stellar in the El Dorado Gold Dust Tournament, earning MVP.
Other early standouts are 6-2 sophomore Josh Hamilton – he’s averaging 21 points and seven assists – and 6-7 senior Peter Hamilton. And that’s not counting outstanding point guard Jared Rice, a starter last year who missed most of the Raiders’ preseason schedule while helping the school’s football team capture a third straight CIF state championship.
The Jaguars recently made it to the championship game of the West Holiday Tournament.
They took second place, losing big to Liberty of Brentwood in the title game. But Kimball (6-7) did edge out host West in the semi-final game while opening with a win over Buhach Colony.
Senior guard Rubin Mann, who is averaging 13.1 points per game and five rebounds thus far, and VJ Obiajulu were both all-tourney selections.
The 6-7 Obiajulu has been good for 11 points and 7.5 rebounds. Chris Hall has chipped in with 7 points per game and 4.3 rebounds.
Jared Rice was among the top scorers in the VOL, averaging 15.4 points.
It was tough preseason for the Mustangs.
They were 1-7 during that span, suffering lopsided setbacks to the likes of Escalon, El Capitan, Atwater, Gregori, and Sonora, to name a few.
To contact Vince Rembulat email email@example.com or call 209.249-3537.