The 2011-12 boys basketball season gave Tri-Cities basketball fans one of the most exciting years in area history.
Kamiakin and Kennewick breathed new life into their intra-city rivalry, and Richland was on the verge of its first state berth since 2008.
Meanwhile, Hanford and Walla Walla flashed plenty of promise for the future.
That drama should continue in 2012-13. With a new league in place this season, the rivalries will mean even more this year. And, while some teams may have been hit hard by graduation, the drama is still there for some great Mid-Columbia Conference showdowns.
One thing is for sure, Tri-Cities fans won’t have to go far to find a good basketball game on Friday or Saturday night.
Here’s a little taste of what to expect:
The top teams
Richland and Hanford have been locked in a battle for city supremacy for years, which will make their league matchups much more intense. The two teams are likely to contend for the MCC title this season.
The Bombers graduated three starters but returns one of the most dynamic players in the league in Nathan Streufert. At 6-foot-7, he’s got the size of a post (at least in high school), but he spent most of his early years as a guard. That should make for some tough matchups.
Also returning for Richland is Payton Radliff, who leads the team in scoring through three games.
The Falcons have the best post game in the league, anchored by Joe Douglas, the lone returning first-team all-CBBN selection. Hanford, with four starters back, returns one of the best guard tandems around, and it can be described in one word — Jalen. With Jalen DeVine and Jalen Watson in the backcourt, the Falcons’ can control their own destiny.
Speaking of guard play, Kamiakin is in good hands with returning starters Cooper Clyde and Javan Williams, the 3A CBBN defensive player of the year in 2012. The Braves, who won the last two CBBN 3A league titles and finished fifth at the 3A state tournament last year, lost a powerful inside presence with the graduation of Justin Pedley and Zach En’Wezoh and will need to find another way to score in the paint.
Southridge pulled the biggest upset in the CBBN district tournament last year with a first-round road win at Hanford. The Suns return with a strong heart and a new coach in D.J. Traver, who coached the last seven seasons at Columbia-Burbank. They’ll depend on a good scoring balance this year starting with guards Nick Haberling and David Mazzei. They’re off to a good start — in Southridge’s first three games, five players have scored in double figures.
Walla Walla has the MCC’s tallest player in 6-8 Tanner Cranor, who will anchor a big lineup with five players at least 6-3. The Blue Devils will need help from the perimeter, too. That’s where Spencer Locati, who averaged five points a game last year, will have to step up with some scoring.
Chiawana, who graduated all-league perennials Miquiyah Zamora and Jordan Downing, will need to find some new leadership. The Riverhawks have taken some tough losses early, but they also have several promising players step up at different times, including Aaric Wren, Wesley Henderson and Brandon Mendoza.
Kennewick will fight through a rebuilding year after graduating all five starters off last year’s remarkable playoff run that nearly resulted in a league and district title. But Bradyn Leyde, last year’s CBBN coach of the year, is hoping now that his players have seen the spotlight, they’ll be hungry for more of the same. Devven Ramos, who saw plenty of minutes off the bench, will lead the charge.
After three consecutive seasons at the bottom of the standings, Pasco could be in for a much more palatable finish. They may not have the firepower to contend for a league title, but with a scrappy lineup led by Julian Figueroa, the Bulldogs could win some big games.
The top players
Streufert leads the list with the ability to play both inside and outside. He spent a year cutting his teeth against Downing, Pedley and En’Wezoh last season. With a full off-season under his belt working on his guard play, the Richland junior could be unstoppable.
Speaking of unstoppable, there’s no more hopeless a feeling that guarding Douglas within five feet of the basket. The Hanford senior is explosive and fearless when he gets the ball inside, splitting double teams with powerful moves and flashing surprising footwork around the block.
Clyde and Williams of Kamiakin were both key members of last year’s state trophy team. Williams worked hard to get a starting role and became the league’s top defensive player. Clyde might be the best pure shooter in the league.
That is, unless you add Radliff to that list. The Bombers’ junior was one of three Richland players to average double figures last season. His range is impressive, but he can also attack the basket when he needs to.
Figueroa led the Bulldogs in scoring last year at nearly 14 points a game. With a 31-point game in his pocket already this year, you could be looking at the MCC’s first scoring champ.
No doubt about it, Cranor is a handful inside. He’s a double-digit scorer, but it could be his defensive presence that makes him most dangerous.
A few emerging players have already made coaches start scrounging for updated scouting reports based on their play in nonleague games. Some played limited roles last season while some didn’t see any varsity action at all, but they could have a major impact on the league standings.
Southridge’s Nick Habering (17.5 ppg), Walla Walla’s Erik Klicker (16 ppg), Kennewick’s Mitch Mueller (17 ppg) and Kamiakin’s Kylle Robertson (15 ppg) all lead their respective teams in scoring.
Also, keep an eye out for freshman starters Cayden Cazier of Chiawana and Steven Beo of Richland. It’s not often a freshman will start for a 4A team, especially in high-profile programs like the Bombers and Riverhawks, but these two have proven they belong.
Can’t miss games
(All games 7:30 p.m.) Richland at Kamiakin, Dec. 14; Richland at Hanford, Dec. 22; Kennewick at Southridge, Chiawana at Pasco, Jan. 5; Walla Walla at Kamiakin, Jan. 11; Hanford at Richland, Jan. 18; Kamiakin at Kennewick, Jan. 22; Hanford at Kamiakin, Feb. 5.