The prep hoops season is well underway and Southland teams have been traveling all over the West Coast, some all over the country, in an effort to prepare for the rest of the the year. And things do not figure to slow down soon.
That said, it's time to get down to business, check out who’s who and find out how some of Southern California’s premier programs stack up. So here are the initial ESPNLosAngeles.com top 20 rankings.
1. Mater Dei (13-2): The Monarchs have experience in the form of seniors Xavier Johnson and Katin Reinhardt, both bound for Division I programs. They have youth with Stanley Johnson and Jordan Strawberry and both appear to be heading in the same direction. Bottom line: This group is talented and could remain atop the poll from start to finish.
2. Long Beach Poly (11-1): When it comes to athleticism, very few teams in the greater Los Angeles area can physically match up man-for-man with the Jackrabbits. Roschon Prince is the best of the bunch. The junior is one of the West Coast's top players in his class, and this time next year, he figures to be among the nation's best.
3. Orange Lutheran (12-2): It begins and ends with Gabe York. The senior and Arizona commit is more than capable of playing both guard positions. He does so with regularity too. When the ball is in his hands, the Lancers are at their best. It will be interesting to see how York & Co. do against Mater Dei in an all-important Trinity League game Wednesday night.
4. La Verne Lutheran (12-4): The Trojans will go as far as Grant Jerrett takes them. ESPN Recruiting ranks the 6-foot-10 and 220-pound senior forward as the premier player here in Southern California and the country's No. 9 prospect overall. Jerrett has not disappointed thus far and is averaging a double-double with 23 points and 12 rebounds per game.
5. Crespi (15-1): Year in and year out, coach Russell White finds a way to get the most out of his players. He is a master with regards to motivation. Things are no different this time around. Underclassmen London Perrantes and Michael Avery are playing as if they are experienced veterans and the addition of a few football players has provided much-needed depth.
6. Loyola (11-2): All signs point to the Cubs being one of the top teams around by season's end. Back-to-back losses in Mission League play last week, however, have had a humbling effect. Odds are, seniors Julian Harrell, Jacob Hazzard and Justin Childress figure things out sooner rather than later. Once they finally get things rolling, watch out, the trio is formidable.
7. Windward (12-5): After taking a look at their record, one might wonder why the Wildcats are ranked this high. The explanation is rather easy: They have played four teams in the top 20 already and have an impressive victory over nationally ranked San Jose Archbishop Mitty on their resume. Senior Nick Stover and his teammates are always up for a challenge.
8. Bishop Montgomery (13-2): The Knights have opened plenty of eyes early on this season. They have gone from pretenders to contenders and Lamond Murray Jr. has been at the forefront of the resurgence. Son of an NBA veteran, the junior guard has showed some glimpses of his immense potential and could be on the verge of following in his father's footsteps.
9. Taft (11-3): The Toreadors have emerged as the frontrunners to win the Los Angeles City Section title. Go figure, right? They always seem to be in the mix for the championship. Seniors Steve Jones and Brandon Perry understand what is expected of them. Newcomer Anthony January, a senior transfer from Compton, could be the final piece of the puzzle.
10. Etiwanda (15-1): This was supposed to be somewhat of down year, especially after Byron Wesley and Jordan Daniels graduated. Nevertheless, the Eagles have not missed a beat due in part to the play of Jordan McLaughlin. The sophomore has been surprising and is averaging 17 points a game.
11. St. John Bosco (10-2): There were some who thought Derrick Taylor would never leave his coaching position at Taft. He did, after all, build the program into a powerhouse. All good things must come to an end, apparently. Taylor recently took over as head honcho of the Braves and the fact he is working his magic already should not come as a major surprise.
12. Alemany (13-2): Rest assured, what 5-foot-6 senior point guard Max Guercy lacks in stature, he makes up for in heart. And more importantly, a well-rounded game. Guercy is the catalyst for the Warriors. He has plenty of options too, with Marqueze Coleman, Bear Henderson and Jerico Richardson on the wings.
13. Pacific Hills (13-3): Two of three losses thus far have come to programs ranked among the top 10. In the first week of the season, mind you. The Bruins have bounced back particularly well. So much so, they appear poised to win the Alpha League and make a postseason run. Bringing home the Southern Section Division 4A title is a distinct possibility.
14. Gardena Serra (13-1): The Cavaliers have some size in the frontcourt. And then some. Dakari Tucker and Daddy Ugbede are 6-6. Can't forget to mention the potential man in the middle, Emmanual Ndumanya, who towers over most opponents at 6-10. The key will be for the guards to dump the ball down low in the paint and let the posts impose their collective will.
15. Price (11-5): They don't duck anyone. The Knights have played one of the toughest nonleague and tournament schedules around, having faced five different teams in the top 20. While their record is not the most impressive on paper, once the playoffs roll around, this figures to a battle-tested bunch. That is, of course, if Price learns from its past mistakes.
16. Capistrano Valley (15-2): With their leader, Stephen Short, filling up the stat sheet, Cougars could be a force to be reckoned with on a weekly basis. The senior forward is averaging 11 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals per game this season. His days of being one of the more underrated players in Orange County could be coming to an end.
17. Damien (13-1): The plan has been to feed the ball to Chris Reyes as often as possible. So far, so good. The senior forward, a St. Mary's commit, is averaging 18 points and 12 rebounds per game. Reyes has also done his part on the defensive end of the floor for the Spartans. His four blocks a night is a good indication of his well-rounded skill set.
18. Mission Viejo (15-1): No shame in a loss to Mater Dei in the season-opener. The setback is nothing more than a distant memory after 15 consecutive wins. Veterans Evan Zeller and Mike Cramer, along with football players Jahleel Pinner and Max Redfield, have successfully turned things around. The Diablos are one of the hottest teams in the poll as a result.
19. Fairfax (8-5): This could be the season Landon Drew puts it all together and delivers a long-awaited breakout effort. The senior point guard has the bloodlines to do so. His father, Larry Drew, is the coach of the Atlanta Hawks after a long stint in the NBA. His brother, Larry Drew III, plays his college ball at UCLA. Landon appears to be the next in line.
20. Murrieta Valley (14-1): If not for a narrow loss to Wildomar Elsinore back in mid-December, we would most likely be talking about a program with one of the few unblemished records in the Southland. It was not meant to be, though. Senior forward Darius Butler has helped the Nighthawks get off to the fast start and is averaging 20 points per game.
Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.