PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. CHRISTIAN WILLIAMS, Sierra
(6-2 senior guard)
Just how good is Williams? Coach Scott Thomason said he had a “bad” game while scoring 30 points in the first of two victories against 12-2 Golden Valley. Williams followed that up with 43 and 30 against Johansen and Ripon. Scary thought: Williams is still getting better after improving his already-deadly outside shot and ball handling.
2. BRENDEN EVANS, Sonora
(6-5 junior forward)
Like Williams, Evans continues to improve his game. After playing mostly in the post as a freshman, he has extended his game to the perimeter and leads the Wildcats with 21 points and nine rebounds per game.
3. KIWI GARDNER, Manteca
(5-7 sophomore point guard)
The dynamic Gardner is considered one of the best point guards in his class in Northern California. Quick, flashy and highly advanced at his age with the ball in his hands, Gardner averages 18.3 points while leading the Buffaloes in steals and assists. His freshman brother, Keymonte “Pee Wee” Wooten, starts at point guard for Central Valley.
4. NICK SCHEIBLE, Manteca
(6-3 senior guard/forward)
Scheible’s substance-over-style approach complements Gardner’s game well, and the tandem is arguably the best in the VOL. The Modesto Christian transfer can now shoot with consistency from beyond 15 feet and averages 17.6 points per game.
5. TREVOR MEW, Central Valley
(6-3 senior guard)
After an outstanding campaign on the football field, where he was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year as Central Valley’s standout quarterback, Mew looks to translate that success to the hardwood. With talented junior wing DeAngelo Williams out to ineligibility, the sharpshooting Mew will look to carry the scoring load in league.
Keep an eye on: F/C Dominique Barnes, Manteca senior; G Ernie Pimentel, Manteca junior; G Derrick Sykes, Weston Ranch senior; PG Keymonte Wooten, Central Valley freshman; F/C Tyler Willis, Sierra senior.
Considering how long its been, perhaps its something not worth celebrating.
But there is reason to be in a festive mood in the land of Buffaloes after they wrapped up the program’s best preseason run in a while.
According to a media poll conducted by the Bulletin, Manteca (11-2) is the unanimous favorite to win its first league title since 1989 and, at the very least, should qualify for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.
“They’ve accepted that role; they enjoy being the team to beat,” Manteca coach Dave Asuncion said. “They also realize that they need to keep working hard, because everybody is going to come after them.
“We’re happy with the way we finished the preseason, but we know that come Wednesday everybody is 0-0.”
Manteca’s anticipated league opener is Wednesday at Central Valley — a game that pits brother against brother.
Manteca sophomore point guard Kiwi Gardner will go head to head with freshman sibling Keymonte Wooten.
The Buffaloes arguably have the best starting five in the league with LaRon Bennett, Ernie Pimentel and Gardner at the guard spots; and Nick Scheible and Dominique Barnes in the front court. Center Jorge Castro and wing Gerry Cooper provide quality minutes off the bench.
But Asuncion knows that games aren’t decided on paper.
Sierra and Sonora each have two of the best players in the league and are always in contention.
Sierra (8-4) is the hottest team going into league having won six straight and seven of its last eight, and its crowning achievement in the preseason is beating Golden Valley (12-2) twice. Golden Valley defeated Manteca, 67-62, at the Tracy Winter Holiday Classic, a tournament that the Cougars ended up winning.
Christian Williams is an explosive guard capable of scoring over 30 points on a given night, and his supporting cast — featuring 6-foot-4 posts Chris Choate and Tyler Willis, and 6-5 wing Serge Verettenikov — is good enough to keep teams honest.
Sonora is anchored by 6-5 forward Brenden Evans, who is as deadly in the post as he is in the perimeter. The Wildcats are traditionally the biggest in the league, as they boast four players 6-5 or taller — including 6-8 junior center Eric Sutton — this year.
“Sierra is always tough to play, and they have one of the best players in the league,” Asuncion said. “Sonora is another tough team, and you don’t want to sleep on Weston Ranch.”
Weston Ranch and Central Valley are both 5-7 but are the most dangerous teams in league.
Weston Ranch, led by guard Derrick Sykes, won league championships at both the varsity and sophomore levels last year but have been plagued by turnovers. At their best, the Cougars and their uptempo style of play are no easy task for any team to keep up with.
Central Valley was a runner-up finisher in the 66th Gustine Rotary Tournament and Galt Warrior Classic, but the Hawks recently lost their top all-around player, DeAngelo Williams, to ineligibility. Central Valley hopes to make the playoffs for the first time in school history.
It was just five years ago that Oakdale (1-10) and East Union (1-11) were battling it out for the league championship, but both are in rebuilding mode. Same goes for Ceres (5-7), which returns eight players after losing talented 6-6 forward Brett Sayad to graduation.