Big tests for local hoops teams

Analy’s Max Fujii, left, grabs a rebound in a game played last March. (CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / PD).

ByHOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Will Sonoma County have a high school basketball team make it to CIF or possibly the State Championships in 2011?

Hoop fans will get a pretty good idea about the quality of Redwood Empire talent beginning Monday when three of the area’s top teams travel to major tournaments.

The Analy (8-1) and Montgomery (7-0) boys will be in San Diego County for the 79-team Holiday Classic that will feature teams journeying from Hawaii, Canada, Washington, D.C., and points between.

At the same time, Montgomery’s girls team, the North Bay League defending champs, will be among 150 teams in the East Bay for the West Coast Jamboree. The Vikings (5-2) will be playing Div. 2 at Las Positas College in Livermore. Other Empire teams in the same division, but in different brackets, are Casa Grande (5-4) and Maria Carrillo (3-4).

Also in the Jamboree are Petaluma (Div. 3), Cloverdale and St. Helena (Div. 4) and Point Arena (Div. 5).

Both the Holiday Classic and Jamboree end Wednesday and most teams will play three games. This will be the final pre-conference test for teams in both tournaments. The Empire league season begins the first week of January.

In the boys tournament, Analy and Montgomery are in different brackets which means they will not meet. Analy is in the Governor’s division with all games being played at Rancho Bernardo High while Montgomery is in the Senator’s division with those games taking place at Cathedral Catholic High in San Diego.

Montgomery faces Mesquite (Ariz.) in its opener with an 8:35 p.m. tip-off. The team from Gilbert went to the State Championship contest last year. In 2010, the Wildcats are only 4-4, but they have won three straight.

Analy opens at 12:40 p.m. against Tesoro from Rancho Santa Margarita. The Titans are 10-2 and have won eight of their last nine.

Montgomery’s leading scorer Alec Kobre and Analy’s top gun Max Fujii said their teams will fly into San Diego with different mindsets.

“My teammates and I are going down there with the attitude that we’re representing Northern California basketball,” Kobre said. “We want to show the teams from around the country the brand of ball we play up here. All the guys are pretty excited.”

Fujii, who is averaging 25 points per game, said he and his teammates are looking at the tournament as more of a way to improve.

“Playing better teams prepares you for league,” Fujii said. “We want to see where we need to improve before Sonoma County League starts. Of course we’re going to be playing our hardest, but we’re looking at this as an opportunity to play top-class teams from other parts of the country.”

Scouting opponents from out of the area is a daunting task as Montgomery coach Tom Fitchie and Analy coach Brett Page have discovered.

“I’ve been all over the Internet trying to get information on Tesoro,” Page said. “All I’ve been to find out is their record this year and the teams they’ve played. I haven’t even been able to find a roster to see if they’re a big or small team. With a 10-2 record, I know they’re good.”

Last year, the Titans were 14-15 and returned only one player that was consistently in double figures – Dusty Baker, a 6-foot-3 guard, averaged 11 in 2009.

There are 16 teams in Analy’s bracket, including reigning Hawaii state champ Iolani. This year, Iolini is 5-2. Besides Analy and Tesoro, other California teams in the bracket are Poway (3-5), St. Patrick-St. Vincent (5-2), Flintridge Prep (5-2), Vista del Lago (2-9), Fallbrook (8-1), Mission Prep (6-4), Brea Olinda (6-5), Davis (7-2), Rancho Bernardo (5-5) and Santa Margarita (7-4).

Two teams from Nevada — Coronado (9-3) and Spanish Springs (4-5) — round out the bracket.

“This is our first time in the tournament,” Page said. “Our goal this season was to try to compete against the best teams possible prior to league, so we decided to skip a couple of Sonoma County tournaments and challenge ourselves.

“Since scouting is nearly impossible going into the tournament, we’ve focused on our strengths and weaknesses in practice. Our goal is to improve on what we’ve done well and improve where we can.”

Consistency is one area where the Tigers want to improve. Page has compared his young team’s play to being on a roller coaster ride. They go through periods where they play exceptionally well and at other times are inconsistent.

The team did a number of fund-raisers to cover expenses. This summer, the team painted fences in Sebastopol and sold fudge from Miller’s Candy Store, receiving 40 percent of the sales.

This will mark the third time the Montgomery boys program has played in the San Diego County tournament. The Vikings also made the trip in 2004-05. The last time, Montgomery went 2-2.

“I only wanted to go back with a team that worked hard at practice and are fun to be around,” coach Fitchie said. “This team is that way.

“We’ll get tested, no doubt about it. We could be facing nationally-ranked teams. You just don’t know the quality you’re going to play until you go up against them.

“We’ve had a good week in practice, our defense continues to be solid and the offense is coming around. We’re going to be aggressive and the five players on the court are going to be working together.

“We’re basically a young team, so this will give them experience. I’m very happy with the way we’re progressing. You don’t want your team peaking in December.”

Mesquite, the Vikings’ first round opponent, returns three players from a team that was runner-up in its state championship division. That would be a pair of 6-foot-5 players — Mike Miller and Adam Moreno — and 6-foot-3 Zach Zimmerman.

Out-of-state teams in the bracket include Canada’s Yale Secondary and Roosevelt of Seattle (1-4). The other teams are from California: St. Augustine (8-1), El Cerrito (6-3), Mayfair (4-4), Cerritos Gahr (7-2), Rancho Cucamongo Los Osos (7-3), Los Angeles Pacific Hills (7-2), L.A. Cathedral (1-7, North Hollywood Campbell Hall (10-1), Murrieta Valley (9-0), Santa Maria Righetti (5-3), Long Beach Wilson (5-4) and Palmdale Knight (4-2).

Like Analy, the Vikings boys did fund-raising to defray travel costs. The most money came from a free throw shooting marathon with snack bar proceeds also helping.

Montgomery girls coach Steve Bell hopes his team is healthy enough to make good showing. Sarah Fitzgerald, Kiana Hawkins and Heather Lockerbie are nursing injuries while Anandi Jimenez is recovering from the flu. Last year, the Vikings advanced to CIF Div. 2 playoffs.

The Vikings open in the Topaz bracket at 4 p.m. vs. San Jose Valley Christian. The Warriors are 5-2 and have won their last three by an average of 38 points.

Maria Carrillo also plays at 4 p.m. The Pumas drew St. Mary in the Emerald section. Casa Grande gets underway at 11:30 a.m. against Scotts Valley in the Quartz bracket.

Cloverdale is in the Gold part of the draw, playing Terra Nova at 10 a.m. while St. Helena’s opening opponent in the Opal section is St. Patrick-St. Vincent. That’s a 2:30 start.

Point Arena doesn’t swing into action until Tuesday. The Pirates play SF Waldorf at 5:30 in the Garnet division.