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LA Times Preseason Top 10 Teams
To Watch In SoCal--(Dec. 4, 1998)

Our friend Gary Klein, who knows a lot about the game, yesterday came out with the LA Times' Preseason Top 10 Teams to Watch poll.  Unlike the Valley area poll, this one isn't ranked or numbered, but it does seem to be in a sort of descending order.  Here it is without much further commentary from us:

Before the 1997-98 season, the consensus among coaches, players and observers was that Westchester was the best boys' basketball team in the Southland, the overwhelming favorite to win the City Section and state Division I championships.  That was proved true when the Comets won City 4-A and state titles.   This season, there is not a clear-cut favorite, though most of the traditionally strong programs are considered contenders for City Section, Southern Section and state championships.

Here are 10 teams to watch:

* LAKEWOOD ARTESIA (32-2 record in 1997-98)
* Coach: Wayne Merino.
The Pioneers' frontcourt is one of the best in the state, maybe the nation, with 6-foot-8 senior Jason Kapono, who can play anywhere on the floor; 6-9 sophomore Apolinar Fernandez and 6-8 Jack Martinez. Artesia, the defending Southern Section Division I-AA champion, advanced to the final of the Southern Regional of the state tournament before losing, 61-60, to eventual state champion Westchester.

* COMPTON DOMINGUEZ (26-5)
* Coach: Russell Otis.

Tayshaun Prince is getting lots of minutes at Kentucky, but the Dons, the defending Southern Section II-A champions, still have plenty of talent. Seven-foot sophomore center Tyson Chandler leads a team that also includes senior swingman Keith Kincaide, junior forward Keith Brooks and senior guard Marcus Moore, an All-Southern Section player last season at division runner-up Redondo Union. 

* CRENSHAW (18-4)
* Coach: Willie West.

The Cougars lost in the City Section 4-A semifinals to state champion Westchester last season. Crenshaw has enough to reach the final and more this season with a frontline featuring 6-8 Ryan Sims, 6-9 Shaun Hemsley and 6-8 Armand Thomas. Junior E.J. Harris returns to quarterback the team at point guard. 

* SANTA ANA MATER DEI (21-8)
* Coach: Gary McKnight.

The Monarchs were young last season and still made it to the semifinals of the Division I-A playoffs, where they lost to San Bernardino Pacific. All five starters and 10 players overall are back. Senior Derrick Mansell, sophomore Cedric Bozeman and junior Steve Scoggin are the top guards. Senior forward Mike Bayer was co-MVP of the South Coast League.

* GLENDORA (30-2)
* Coach: Mike LeDuc.
Casey Jacobsen led the Tartans to the Southern Section I-A championship last season. Now a 6-6 senior, Jacobsen figures to be even better with the weight of a college choice now off his shoulders. He signed with Stanford last month. Senior forward Chris Clark also is back for a program that annually develops players into contributing roles.

* WESTCHESTER (30-3)
* Coach: Ed Azzam.

Senior Chris Osborne supplied rebounding and defense last season for the defending City 4-A and Division I state champion Comets. This season, he'll be expected to carry more of a scoring load. Junior Lou Wright, brother of Clipper player Lorenzen Wright, is an outstanding perimeter shooter. 

* COMPTON (28-7)
* Coach: Rod Palmer.

Tito Maddox is regarded as one of the top point guards in the West, and he will try to direct the Tarbabes to a second consecutive Southern Section II-AA title. Junior forward Ellis Miles and senior guard Leroy Dawson, a transfer from L.A. High, are top
scoring threats.

* SIMI VALLEY (24-5)
* Coach: Dean Bradshaw.

Many of the key players who helped the Pioneers advance to the Southern Section I-AA semifinals are back. Rafael Berumen, a 6-9 senior, and 6-6 juniors Branduinn Fullove and Brett Michel could help Simi Valley get another shot at Artesia in the playoffs.

* MANUAL ARTS (22-8)
* Coach: Randolph Simpson.

The Toilers played Westchester tough in the City Section 4-A final last season before losing. Few will be surprised if Manual Arts wins it this time around. Senior guard James Wright is one of the quickest players in the Southland. Senior Curtis Millage teams with Wright to give the Toilers one of the strongest backcourts in the city.

* LONG BEACH POLY (25-8)
* Coach: Ron Palmer.

The Jackrabbits lost to Artesia in the Southern Section I-AA final and to Westchester in the Southern California Regional of the state tournament. That experience should pay off this season as junior guard Wesley Stokes directs a team that annually figures in the title hunt.

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