By Trevor Horn
Early season measuring sticks are crucial for boys basketball coaches.
And the first shot each year in Kern County is the Lloyd Williams Kern Schools Shootout, and this season is no different.
With the addition of a new North High gym, the tournament will be played solely on campus, maybe for the first time ever, according to Stars athletic director Brian Huens.
The 16-team tournament opens play at 3:30 p.m. today.
One of the two opening games will be in North’s old gym and features two highly-recruited junior basketball players.
Guard Isaiah Hill, who has offers from Fresno State, Howard and Buffalo, leads Liberty against Foothill and talented 6-foot-9 Edward “Squid” Turner, who has interest from UC Irvine and Fresno State and an offer from Long Beach State.
“We start right off the bat against Liberty,” Foothill coach Wes Davis said. “You have two D-I players in Isaiah and Squid. That’s big.”
The tournament is also a chance for the entire field, which consists of 14 teams from Kern County, plus Porterville-Monache and Paso Robles and includes two teams that played for Central Section titles last season.
Bakersfield, led by senior Ronnie Stapp, lost to Fresno-Central in the Division I finals in March while Ridgeview and senior L.J. Zeigler won the D-II title.
Both teams are now in D-I and have already squared off. The Drillers beat the Wolf Pack 51-49 on a last-second 3-pointer by Anthony Dominguez.
Getting a shot at a league rival, a divisional foe or just getting a chance to see another team in town is also a plus for all involved during the four-day tournament that will culminate with a championship game at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in the Stars’ new 2,000-seat venue.
“This is everyone’s first look at teams in town and to brag a little bit,” Liberty coach Jeff Hicks said. “Everyone wants to be the best in town.”
Added Davis: “It’s really big because it’s a great place to gauge yourself as a team regardless of what league or division you’re in. It’s about bragging rights in town. The Kern Schools tournament is bragging rights for us in Bakersfield.”
Top 10 players to watch
Isaiah Hill and Kadar Waller, juniors, Liberty: This is one of the best, if not the best guard combinations in the Central Section. Hill is a highly-recruited playmaker that can shoot from outside, drive to the basket and facilitate, while Waller is a deep threat and scorer.
Ronnie Stapp, senior, and Roland Banks, junior, Bakersfield: The do-it-all Stapp is a gritty, hard-nosed player. Fully healthy heading into the season for the first time since his sophomore year, Stapp is at the top of his game with his floor vision and defense. Banks is a smooth ball handler and excellent finisher around the basket.
Edward “Squid” Turner, junior, Foothill: When your shoe size is a higher number than your age, you’re probably a giant. And that’s what the Foothill junior is. At 6-foot-9, Turner is a presence in the paint, but can also run the offense at the point and has a pretty shot from the outside.
L.J. Zeigler, senior, Ridgeview: As a first-year player in Bakersfield after moving from Oakland, Zeigler helped Ridgeview to a Division II section title. This year, Zeigler is the focal point for the Wolf Pack, now in D-I.
Jose Maldonado, senior, Shafter: A sharp-shooting senior can score at will for the Generals. He made 53 3-pointers while averaging 12.3 points a game last season and scored 28 against Selma last week.
A.J. Walton, junior, Bakersfield Christian: The Eagles are young this season, including talented freshman Lendl Henderson Jr., but with no seniors on the roster the Eagles will lean on Walton.
Isaiah Hughes, junior, Garces: The Rams have no seniors on the roster, but has four freshmen, including standout J.J. Uphold. In order for the Rams to find success early on, the ball likely will be in the hands of their big man Hughes a lot.
Lance Henderson, senior, Independence: Not many times can you say an offensive lineman in football is a leader on the basketball court, but that’s what Henderson is. The senior is averaging 16.5 points and 9.5 rebounds for the 4-0 Falcons.
Shannon Ferguson, junior, North: While the Stars are going through a transition period after the firing of head coach Matt Morin on Monday, North will lean on the 6-6 junior that is averaging 15.2 through five games.
Trevor Horn can be reached at 661-395-7374. Follow him on Twitter: trevhorn.
2017 Lloyd Williams Kern Schools Shootout
Wednesday, Dec. 6
At North High new gym
Highland vs. Bakersfield Christian, 3:30 p.m.
Porterville-Monache vs. Bakersfield, 5
Independence vs. Garces, 6:30
North vs. Kennedy, 8
At North High old gym
Foothill vs. Liberty, 3:30
Paso Robles vs. Golden Valley, 5
Rosamond vs. Ridgeview, 6:30
Shafter vs. Tehachapi, 8