The shifting landscape in three of the four Kern County high school basketball leagues will make for some interesting races down the stretch of the 2018-19 regular season.
While the Southwest Yosemite League might not be as strong as in years past, it still appears to be headlined once again by a strong defensive unit at Bakersfield High.
Bakersfield Christian, led by senior Kadar Waller, junior Ben Yurosek, and sophomores Lendl Henderson and Seth Marantos look like the kings of the South Yosemite League. With that said, watch for Elijah Carter and Independence to possibly make a run.
In the Southeast Yosemite League, North and Foothill appear to be the front-runners in what could be the most competitive league in town.
And with the departure of BCHS this year, the South Sequoia League is up for grabs.
One thing is certain: The next five weeks should be a lot of fun before the playoffs tip off Feb. 13.
But first thing's first — a preview of the upcoming league seasons:
Southwest Yosemite League
The front runners: Until someone finds the key to stopping the Drillers pressing defensive attack, Bakersfield High will continue to be the team to beat in SWYL. With Ronnie Stapp graduated and R.J. Banks now playing in Los Angeles, it’s a new cast of characters but the same results.
The darkhorse: With Isaiah Hill leading the way, Liberty is always in contention while Garces has played well in preseason despite losing J.J. Uphold to a wrist injury.
The MVP favorite: Isaiah Hill, senior, Liberty. This is a total no-brainer because of his next-level talent. The Tulsa-bound senior guard is a treat to watch.
The starting five (top-five players outside the MVP): Lucas Murray, junior, Frontier; Isaiah Hughes, senior, Garces; Kosta Bikakis, junior, Bakersfield; Noah West, junior, Centennial; Lawrence Duru, junior, Stockdale.
Big matchups on the horizon: Garces at Bakersfield, Tuesday; Stockdale at Centennial, Tuesday; Liberty at BHS, Jan. 17.
South Yosemite League
The front runners: In the league for the first time, Bakersfield Christian quickly established itself as the top team with a 12-point win over Independence in the Lloyd Williams/KSFCU Shootout.
The darkhorse: Independence has the talent, led by senior Elijah Carter, to upend the Eagles.
The MVP favorite: Kadar Waller, senior, BCHS. The transfer from Liberty has quickly become the floor general for BCHS. The point guard has the ability to find an open teammate, shoot the 3 or go to the basket.
The starting five: Elijah Carter, senior, Independence; Ben Yurosek, junior, BCHS; Tahj Wright, senior, Ridgeview; Rohan Birch, senior, Ridgeview; Travon Perry, senior, Independence.
Big matchups on the horizon: Ridgeview at BCHS, Friday; BCHS at Independence, Jan. 16; Ridgeview at Independence, Jan. 18.
Southeast Yosemite League
The front runners: With the immense talent Foothill has, the Trojans are set for a big run in league as well as the Division IV playoffs. Led by senior Edward “Squid” Turner, Foothill has all the tools.
The darkhorse: Never count out a team coached by A.J. Shearon. North has talent with Shannon Ferguson (an MVP darkhorse) and Larry Atkinson leading the way.
The MVP favorite: Edward Turner, senior, Foothill. At 6-foot-9, Turner has the ability to take over under the basket, but has the ball skills and shooting ability to pull up from behind the arc.
The starting five: Elijah Seals, senior, Foothill; Larry Atkinson, junior, North; Shannon Ferguson, senior, North; Jaden Phillips, sophomore, Foothill; Aymar Cazares, senior, Mira Monte.
Big matchups on the horizon: Foothill at North, Wednesday; Mira Monte at North, Jan. 16; Foothill at Mira Monte, Jan. 18.
South Sequoia League
The front runners: This league has found a new identity with Bakersfield Christian out of the picture. Taft (10-5) has played quite well in non-league and is already 3-0 in SSL play. Chavez, a team that has been quietly playing well over the last few years, is right on the Wildcats’ heels.
The darkhorse: Shafter. The Generals are coming off an 8-4 season in league and finished tied for second in the standings. They're 11-9 overall so far in 2018-19.
The MVP favorite: Dylan Self, senior, Taft. Capped off the 2018 portion of the season on a hot streak with four consecutive games scoring more than 20 points. The senior guard/forward is averaging 19.1 points and 5.8 rebounds.
The starting five: Alexis Rodriguez, senior, Kennedy; Adan Arredondo, junior, Chavez; Eddie Perez, senior, Wasco; Tony Counts, senior, Kennedy; Fernando Carranza, sophomore, Chavez.
Big matchups on the horizon: Taft at Chavez, Tuesday; Shafter at Wasco, Jan. 15.