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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Rashad Jackson of Garces takes off on a fast break with East's Robert Johnson in close pursuit in the first quarter at the Garces high gym.

In the high school sports world, basketball can be sneaky. It begins before football ends and then explodes onto the scene with holiday tournaments. Before you know it, we're speeding toward February and March and the section and state playoffs. So before we get too far into hoops season, let's take a look at the teams and players to watch in 2012-13.

Over the past week, I've talked to every boys coach in each of Kern County's four most prominent leagues: Southwest Yosemite, Southeast Yosemite, South Yosemite and South Sequoia. Each coach gave me a player or three to watch and ranked their league for our early-season coaches polls.

What did we learn?

Simply put, this could be the most wide-open basketball season in Kern County in a long time. The SWYL seems to have a favorite in Independence, but the Falcons lost an overtime game to Bakersfield at last week's Lloyd Williams tournament. Garces and East split the first-place votes from the SEYL field, and the SYL could get flipped upside-down with a coaching change at Ridgeview and a star player at Mira Monte. In the SSL, coaching turnover and new schools are the recurring themes, which makes just about everything unknown.

Get a glimpse of what's coming our way on the hardcourt this winter.

Southwest Yosemite League

Coaches’ poll

1. Independence 25 (5)       

2. Liberty 18 (1)

t3. Stockdale 16          

t3. Bakersfield 16

5. Frontier 10

6. Centennial 5

(Coaches were asked between Dec. 5-11 to rank their league, but were not allowed to rank their own team. Tallying was done on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis.)

Notes: Voting in this league was completed before the end of the Lloyd Williams tournament, in which Bakersfield edged Independence in overtime in the semifinals and then beat Liberty 61-51 in the championship. ... Even though Independence, which returns leading scorers Derek Check and Isaac Clark, was a unanimous No. 1 choice, coaches consistently used the phrase “wide open” to describe the league. Liberty won the league last year but lost point guard Britton Williams, who is starting as a freshman for CSUB. Kyle Ferreira takes over at the point. ... The favorite’s role is new to the Falcons, who led Visalia-Mount Whitney late in the D-III semifinals last year before falling. They return three starters and bring in freshman Malcolm Johnson, who is averaging double-digit rebounds early on. ... Stockdale returns four of five starters, including guards Chris Ross and Alex Williams, from a team that was 3-7 in the SWYL last season. ... Bakersfield lost guards Tyrone Wallace to Cal and Derrick Brown to San Francisco State, but point guard Stephon Newsome led the Drillers to their fourth straight Lloyd Williams title anyway. ... Frontier lost point guard Michael Marcus (UC Merced) and big man Chris Bedke, but the Titans return forwards Jaz Thind and Corey Torczon. Torczon missed the 2011-12 season with an ACL injury. ... Centennial was winless in the SWYL a year ago but now features junior forward Isaac Espericueta, who missed last year because of disciplinary reasons. He started on the varsity as a freshman in 2010-11.

Quotable: “This is probably the most balanced league I’ve seen in a long time. There’s going to be a lot of 65-63 games going on in February.” — Bakersfield coach Greg Burt

South Yosemite League

Coaches’ polls

1. Ridgeview 14 (2)

t2. Mira Monte 11 (1)

t2. West 11 (1)

4. South 9

5. Golden Valley 5

(Coaches were asked between Dec. 5-11 to rank their league, but were not allowed to rank their own team. Tallying was done on a 4-3-2-1 basis.)

Notes: Defending Central Section Division III champion Ridgeview was given the nod despite a late coaching change and a 1-4 performance in the Lloyd Williams tournament. ... It’s worth noting that the Wolf Pack’s football team won the Division III section championship and so some players have only been with the team for a week. ... Mira Monte junior Braxton Huggins has been the breakout star of the season thus far. He dropped 34 points on Bakersfield in a 60-55 loss and has averaged more than 25 points a game in the Lions’ 5-1 start. Cal State Northridge has offered Huggins a scholarship, with more D-I offers likely on the way. ... Golden Valley split the league title two years ago and was second last year but slipped to 6-20 last year. Big man Keith Cooper has averaged nearly 14 points a game thus far and had 22 points and 14 rebounds in a loss to Tehachapi. ... West shooting guard Elray Coleman averaged 9.8 points a game as a sophomore. ... South has surged to a 4-2 start, best in coach Brian Carter’s five years there. Big man Ryan Reager returns after leading the team in points and rebounds last year.

Quotable: “Ridgeview, West, these guys are the favorites right now. Maybe in a month we’ll be there. Even South, those kids carry a winning mentality over from football. In a month, I think we’ll be one of the better leagues around.” — Mira Monte coach Scott Smith

South Sequoia League

Coaches’ poll

1. Shafter 35 (5)              

2. Taft 28 (1)               

3. Bakersfield Christian 25 (1)       

4. Kennedy 18

5. Chavez 16

6. Wasco 14

7. Arvin 11

(Coaches were asked between Dec. 5-11 to rank their league, but were not allowed to rank their own team. Tallying was done on a 4-3-2-1 basis.)

Notes: Kennedy and Chavez are new to the league, and Taft, BCHS, Kennedy and Wasco all have first-year coaches.  ... Shafter’s selection as favorite might have more to do with Jon Wiebe’s status as dean of SSL coaches than anything else, though the Generals return talented junior guard Kyle Millwee and senior forward Cyrus Parsons from a team that finished second to Tehachapi last season. ... Taft’s new coach is a returning, Harold Heiter, who led the Wildcats to two league championships and an appearance in a section final in the 1980s. Heiter retired from coaching but has taught at Taft ever since. He’ll miss Lopez, but Steven Gee and Edtmer Medel will keep the Wildcats competitive. ... The new coach at BCHS is Brian Dignan, who has previously been an assistant with CSUB and the Bakersfield Jam. His top player likely will be Ryan Howes, who still is recovering from a broken collarbone but should be available by league season. ... After going 3-51 in its first three years, Kennedy is off to a 5-3 start with wins over Bakersfield Christian and Fowler. ... Chavez returns its top two leading scorers, Jose Rabanal and Hector Silva. ... T.J. Yasenchuk is charged with taking over at Wasco for Mark Hutson a year after the section career wins leader retired. He’ll rely on small forward Marquez Harvey and some familiar faces from the Tigers’ championship football team, Isaiah Sharp and Terrance Grinner.

Quotable: “I think we’re getting more guys to play year-round and get some summer-ball exposure. Also, playing in the (East Yosemite League), a more athletic-oriented league, that’s going to give us more experience coming to the SSL. Now we’re at our level of competition.” — Kennedy coach Joey Velasquez

Southeast Yosemite League

Coaches’ poll

t1. East 23 (3)

t1. Garces 23 (3)

3. Highland 16

4. Tehachapi 13

5. North 10

6. Foothill 5

(Coaches were asked between Dec. 5-11 to rank their league, but were not allowed to rank their own team. Tallying was done on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis.)

Notes: Voting was done before Garces beat East 74-54 in the fifth-place game of the Lloyd Williams tournament. ... That was the first game back for Rams guard Sheldon Croney, who just finished football season. He averaged 11.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists a game as a freshman in 2011-12. ... As a whole, the area doesn’t lack for strong guards, but seems to be bereft of dominant big men. The opposite is true at East, where the Blades will lean on 6-foot-4 forward Tevin Beasley and 6-foot-8 swat machine Fatai Eke while a green backcourt catches up to speed. ... East beat Garces three times last year, but one game went to overtime and the average margin of victory was less than 5 points. ... Highland is a scrappy defensive team that lost leading scorer Caleb Richmond and will rely on a score-by-committee offense, led by seniors Tre Ayers and Derrick Duff. ... The services of Californian Player of the Year Cory Lange will be missed by Tehachapi in its first year in the SEYL. The Warriors return one player (guard Dalton Scaggs) who played more than four games a year ago. ... Same goes at North, where the Stars are hoping senior Brandon Baker can make up for the scoring punch provided last year by since-graduate Darryle Baker, Taran Davis and Chigora Jones. ... Destin Penn has star potential for undersized Foothill, which averages 12.5 turnovers per game in a 1-5 start.

Quotable: “I would think Garces has to be favored with those two guards they have over there and the other kids that know their roles real well.” — East coach Milt Henderson