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SoCalHoops High School News

High School Team Preview:
Corona Centennial--(Oct. 4, 1999)

"I believe defensive pressure is the key to the game, and that with good defensive pressure, good things will
happen on offense."--Val Popov, head coach, Corona Centennial.

We last featured a team preview  of Centennial just about this time last year (actually on October 24, 1998), and the quote above was so good, we thought we'd use it again this year.  At that time we wrote that "not a lot of people would pick Centennial as a favorite in Division I-A last year, or even this year." But even if a lot of people didn't pick them, they won their league and made it as far as the CIF SS Semifinals, where they lost to Long Beach Poly 83-62.

And like last year, when they moved up to Division I-AA due to enrollment figures released in December (which determined their playoff division) quite a few of their players have continued getting individual attention on some traveling squads, and they will again be playing at the Oceanview Tournament of Champions from December 6-11 at Oceanview against schools like Crenshaw, Compton, Redondo, Mater Dei, Long Beach Poly, Serra, Pasadena, LA Fremont, Ayala,  and other traditionally strong programs. Somebody obviously thought they were good enough to play with players of the caliber of players from these schools, and last year we previewed the team pretty much because no one really knew a lot about them.  This year they are pretty well regarded, and we also had the added benefit that their coaching staff supplied us with some great information (by e-mail, we might add. . . so all you other coaches out there, don't be shy, start writing and we'll do the rest).

Val Popov is the head coach at Corona Centennial, a school with an enrollment of about 2,800 kids, located in Riverside County. Centennial played in Division I-AA last year after moving up from I-A in 97-98.  Val has been the head coach since 1991, and he's been coaching at Centennial since 1989. He graduated from La Quinta High in Westminster where he played under coach Bill Reynolds. Val then attended college at Redlands University where he played as a guard for two years, from 1974-76. Upon graduating, he got his start coaching as an assistant at Claremont Men's College which was then affiliated with both NAIA and NCAA Division III (it's now only D-III we're told), from 1976-78. In 1978 he moved over to Villa Park where he did two stints, from 1978-79 and then again from '82-86. In between he was an assistant at Newport Harbor High with Jerry DeBusk (who is now at State Division II Champion Santa Margarita) from '80-'82; from 1986 until 1989, he was the head coach at Foothill High in Tustin. In 1989, he finally moved over to Corona Centennial. He's married with two children, and for the immediate future, has no plans to leave Centennial, although if the right college job opened itself up, he'd consider a move. 

Centennial plays in the Mountain View League, which features such teams as Corona High, Jurupa Valley, La Sierra, Murrieta Valley and Norco. For most high school basketball programs, the graduation of two All-League starters (point guard Demetreus Ross & center Steve Adams) would mean, at best, a "rebuilding year" ahead.  But for the Corona Centennial Huskies, which captured the 1999 Mountain View League title, and advanced to the semi-finals of the Southern Section C.I.F. I-AA playoffs, doing it with only two seniors on the squad, and four sophomores and a freshman among their top eight players means that the bulk of the team will return to contend again for another trip to the CIF SS tournament and possibly a trip to the State Championship.  It will be very difficult, because along the way, they'll probably run into Artesia, Long Beach Poly or Long Beach Jordan, Fontana, and even if they advance beyond the I-AA final game, they'll still probably also run into either Mater Dei, Simi Valley, or maybe even Compton Dominguez which is considering a jump up to I-AA from II-AA (it should be noted that schools can only "move up" to the highest division from their otherwise "normal" division which is determined in December based on enrollment figures, called the "CBED's", but we're getting way too technical).  The point is that there will be a ton of really good competition.

Last year's appearance in the Southern Section semifinal was the school's best playoff showing to date, but Head Coach Val Popov feels that this year's team is, by far, his best, with eight lettermen returning, and a combined 23-1 record in spring and summer play producing a high level of anticipation for the upcoming season. We don't have a complete roster because it's a little early for Popov to actually announce his decision on who will be moving up to the varsity to fill out the remaining slots, but here's who the roster will definitely include:

Josh Barnes (5'-9" Sr. PG)
Ira Peppers (5'-8" Sr. PG/SG)
Stephon Seales (6'-0" Sr. SG)
Bryan Gonzales (6'-4" Jr. SG/SF)
David Sybesma (6'-5" Jr. SG/SF)
Bryan Williams (6'-1" Jr. SG/SF)
Jamaal Williams (6'-6" Jr. F)
J.R. Reese (6'-3" So. SG/SF)

Jamaal Williams (6'-6" Jr. F) was selected last year as a first-team All-C.I.F. player. Arguably among the best players in Riverside & San Bernardino Counties, and rated by many as one of the top juniors in the West, he will undoubtedly draw the interest of a lot of colleges in the next two seasons, and we'd expect that he'll probably be a hot commodity by the end of next summer.  Jamaal has two year varsity averages of 22.5 ppg, 11 rpg, and has shot 57% overall, which is really remarkable considering the opponents Centennial has faced over that two year period.   He is a consistent scorer despite being double-teamed most of last year, and has excellent skills and great foot speed, with a very good handle, especially on the break.   Jamaal is a very strong player with excellent leaping ability, good hands and a soft shooting touch both inside and outside, together with a strong first step.  In short, there's not much he doesn't do, which explains why he was league MVP as a sophomore last season.

David Sybesma (6'-5" Jr. SG) is also not a   "secret" either, and we've listed him as among the better players in SoCal in his class, as has Recruiting SoCal (the ranking service and newsletter of Recruiting USA, published by Dave Benezra and Mark Mayemura of Rockfish), and he's also been listed by Dinos Trigonis' Fullcourt Press as well. He's a returning All-League guard, considerably bigger and stronger than a year ago.  Sybesma was All-League 1st Team as a soph, and has improved just about every aspect of his game since last season, including growing 2 inches and adding 20 pounds from last season.  He's a great three-point shooter who has also learned to slash and drive to the hole. He's also a very skilled and unselfish passer, and is probably the best all-around defender, whether on the ball, posting up or playing help, on the team. Last season he averaged 11 pts per game, 4 rebs., and 4 assists.  Not bad for a sophomore.

Others in the backcourt will include three seniors: Stephon Seales. Ira Peppers, and Josh Barnes.  Seales (6'-0" Sr. PG) who already has two years, and 50 games of varsity experience, should be a real factor this season.  Last year he shared his position with an all-league player, but still managed to average 5 points per game and 3.5 assist per game. He's a capable ballhandler with excellent quickness, and manages a number of rebounds from the point (2.0 avg last season); he's got decent shooting range, but really is a better penetrator and pull-up jump shooter in the lane.  Ira Peppers (5'-8" Sr. PG) who is quick and has good lateral moves with a nice handle, is a crowd favorite who plays all-out at all times.  Peppers is the kind of guy who creates a lot of havoc defensivly, and he's got excellent explosive speed (he was the 400 meter champ for the track team last spring).  Josh Barnes (5'-9" Sr. SG/PG) who will probably come in off the bench and can shoot the three and and help at either guard spot. Last season, Barnes played in 12 games, and didn't score a ton, but he's a long-range shooter who has improved his defense, physical toughness and his skills with the ball..  For many of these guys their only limitation as a potential college players is size, but then if Avery Queen at 5'-7" can play at Michigan, some of these guys should wind up somewhere after high school. 

Bryan Gonzales (6'-4" Jr. SG/SF) has actually played in every varsity game since his freshman season.  He's a confident long-range shooter with good ball skills. Brian has been a streaky shooter who will need to step up and show some real consistency this season.  He's a good defender, and with a 3.5 GPA (he's also on the golf team) there's no doubt he'll be a full qualifier.  Bryan Williams (6'-1" Jr. SG/SF) also saw a lot of action in every game last year, and he can play effectively at a variety of positions. Williams is the team's best player at getting open on cuts and on the break.  Williams is in his third season of varsity play, and has developed into an exceptional rebounder and a strong finisher on the break, with a dependable mid-range shot.  He does all those little things that a lot of other guys just don't want to do, but that win games.  Last season he averaged 6 pts per game and 4.5 rebs, 2 assists.

The returning varsity group rounds out with J.R. Reese (6'-3" So. PG/SG/SF) a very talented athlete who could push for a starting position at any one of three spots. J.R. is very strong on the boards, last year averaging 3.5 rpg, and he loves getting inside and underneath. His quickness and good outside shot also allow him to play virtually anywhere on the floor effectively, and the fact that he's a good ball-handler has not been lost on anyone. 

The remaining vacancies on the roster will ultimately be filled by players from last year's JV team, although right now it's not known who will be moving up;  Popov's main concern has got to be a lack of size in the depth chart; foul trouble or injuries could turn a"fair-sized" team into a short one in a hurry, and while the returning group of players has few weaknesses - they are athletic, skillful and experienced, they're definitely not huge by the standards of some of the other teams they'll be facing.

This season's schedule is pretty much a repeat of last year's, which was upgraded considerably from '97-98. Non-league contests with Eisenhower, East Valley, Perris, and Murietta Valley are sandwiched around three tournaments: The Ocean View Tournament of Champions features such powerhouses as Crenshaw, Redondo Union, Mater Dei, and Compton. The Huskies host their own classic Dec 14-16, and could end up in another "death battle" with Empire rival Moreno Valley, for the Championship (CHS won a 2-pointer last year). Then It's off to Chapman College for the Orange Holiday Classic, where Mater Dei and Santa Margarita await.  Many people believe that Centennial will be heavily favored to repeat as Mountain View League Champions,  and they'll get right into it heavily on opening night, as they'll face Jurupa Valley's 7-foot Justin Garcia.

Here's the schedule for this year:

Date Opponent Location Time
Tue Nov. 23 Arlington
(scrimmage)
Centennial 3:15 p.m.
Wed Dec. 1 Eisenhower Centennial 6:30 p.m
Fri. Dec. 3 Redlands East Valley East Valley 6:30 p.m
Mon. Dec. 6-
Sat. Dec. 11
Ocean View Tournament
Of Champions
Ocean View TBA
Tues. Dec. 14 Centennial Centennial TBA
Tues Dec. 16 Tournament TBA TBA
Mon. Dec. 27
Thurs. Dec. 30
Orange Holiday
Classic Tournament
Chapman College TBA
Wed. Jan. 5 Perris Perris 6:30 p.m.
Fri. Jan. 7 Murietta Valley Centennial 6:30 p.m.
Wed. Jan 12 *Jurupa Valley Jurupa 6:30 p.m.
Fri. Jan. 14 *Norco Norco 6:30 p.m.
Wed. Jan. 19 *Santiago Centennial 6:30 p.m.
Fri. Jan. 21 *Corona Centennial 6:30 p.m.
Tues. Jan. 25 *La Sierra La Sierra 6:30 p.m.
Thurs. Jan. 27 *Jurupa Valley Centennial 6:30 p.m.
Tues. Feb. 1 *Norco Centennial 6:30 p.m.
Thurs. Feb. 3 *Santiago Santiago 6:30 p.m.
Tues. Feb. 8 *Corona Corona 6:30 p.m.
Thurs. Feb. 10 *La Sierra Centennial 6:30 p.m.

* = Mountain View League

The upcoming basketball season looks promising for the Huskies. They won't be taking anyone by surprise, though, after last year's showing in the playoffs, and a truly outstanding summer, which featured some crushing wins over rated opponents from all around Southern California. The students and the community have rallied around the team, and they've set their goals as being recognized as the No. 1 team in the Inland Empire, which may be difficult given all the talent in the region (Fontana, Canyon Springs, Cathedral City, Eisenhower, San Bernardino Pacific, Redlands, and the list goes on and on).  Corona intends this year though to make an even stronger showing than last year, and they're looking for a deep run in the C.I.F. and possibly a trip to the State Tournaments.  Only time will tell.

Corona Centennial HS
1820 Rimpau Ave., Corona, CA 91719 (909) 736-6523
Coaches: Val Popov, Head Coach; Paul Horn, Bruce Randall, Assistants

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