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BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
We're about three days into league play in basketball season, and I apologize for not putting up something like this a bit sooner. It's been a crazy winter for football, and national signing day is yet to come, but most of our attention has turned to winter sports.
The most intriguing of those locally, it seems, is boys basketball. The hoops scene in Bakersfield is deep with talent, and it seems that all parts of town and most schools share in at least a little of that talent. There aren't many poor teams around, and the good ones all appear to be very evenly matched.
Despite all of that parity, the Southwest Yosemite League is usually a good place to start, and that's no different here. The SWYL opened play last night with the three supposed favorites — Centennial, Liberty and Stockdale — all notching victories on the road. The closest of those games was Liberty's 65-64 overtime escape at Bakersfield, a place where the Patriots hadn't won in five years. Centennial, which pounded Frontier 98-58, and Stockdale, which beat Independence 66-52 to snap the Falcons' 12-game SWYL winning streak, were more convincing in their wins.
That's all fine for those three teams — taking care of business is going to be huge in this league race, especially on the road — but the championship is going to be decided when Centennial, Stockdale and Liberty (and really, I think you can add Bakersfield into that mix because the Drillers appear to be only a half-step shy of those teams right now) face off with one another. The first of those meetings happens tomorrow night, when Centennial visits Stockdale. The winner there will have a leg up on everybody else in the league race — at least until they've got to face Liberty.
Meanwhile, the other storyline worth watching in the league is Independence transfers. As most local basketball fans know by now, three of the Falcons' starters from last year's 33-2 team — Derek Check, Malcolm Johnson and Brandon Robinson — plus talented incoming freshman Alec Check (Derek's little brother), all transferred from Independence to Centennial. Johnson and Robinson, who are half-brothers, made a family move. The Checks were given a waiver for their transfer because Hernan Santiago, the Golden Hawks' new coach, became their guardian in the offseason.
The result has been nothing short of spectacular for Centennial, which finished at the bottom of the league standings a year ago and now looks like a favorite to win the league and make a run at Selland Arena, where no Kern County boys Division I team has reached for the Central Section championships. Those four transfers combined for 75 points last night, more any other entire team in the league scored.
Meanwhile, Independence has been scuffling. The Falcons are still a quality team, but they've gone 8-7 against a tough schedule and don't seem like league-title matierial. Stan Davis is a great coach, and Isaac Clark and D.J. Reed are still top players remaining, but you can't lose those four players and not have a significant drop off.
And, by the way, there do seem to be some hard feelings on the matter, and Independence plays at Centennial on Tuesday. And the return to Independence for those guys happens on Valentine's Day. So cancel your date and mark that one your calendar.
Meanwhile, the South Yosemite League seems to be equally wide open, with South beating Ridgeview on a buzzer-beater in a league opener Tuesday, and Golden Valley and West both looking like they could threaten for the title, too. Mira Monte has the league's best player in guard Braxton Huggins, but he's out with a sprained ankle right now, and the Lions could get buried in the league standings before he comes back.
The other two major local leagues seem to have favorites, especially now that Garces has Sheldon Croney back in the fold. Croney, who's becoming a big-time football recruit, wasn't going to play basketball initially, but the junior decided to come out in the second semester. That gives the Rams a backcourt tandem with Rashad Jackson that might be the best in Kern County. They'll still see challenges from Tehachapi and defending champion East High, which has the county's best big man in Fatai Eke.
South Sequoia League play has already been going strong for three weeks, and so we know Bakersfield Christian, already at 5-0, is the team to beat. The one team the Eagles haven't played, however, is Chavez, which is 3-1 in the league and could pose a legitimate threat to BCHS.
With that all said, here's my Kern County top 10 at the moment (a ranking that's changing by the day). I'll try to update these rankings regularly, and I might even attempt some section rankings, if I'm feeling really ambitious.
10. Bakersfield Christian