Well, what do you know? The pre-season for boys basketball has just about ended, and teams are jumping into the thick of league competition.
As that gets under way, let's hop through a review of where the local teams stand heading into conference play, starting with the Tigers of Tokay High.
Overview: As the Tigers’ 8-8 mark through the pre-season can attest to, Tokay coach Steve Kayson is still looking for consistency. When at their best, the Tigers have been a fun, fast-paced squad that can run with the best of them — as well as a pesky team able to force turnovers on the defense end.
At other times, the Tigers have been thrown off their game by bigger, athletic teams that take advantage of Tokay’s overall lack of size. Against Bethel in the McDonald’s Classic, the Tigers were blitzed into 19 giveaways, manhandled on the boards, and couldn’t rotate quickly enough on defense.
Still, Tokay is heading into TCAL play on a high note. After a 61-53 victory at Tracy last week, the Tigers have won five of their last seven. Best of all, Tokay is finally healthy after playing short-handed through the first eight games. Having Brett Rivers at 100-percent to anchor the front court will be key.
Key Non-Conference Games: Kayson poined to a 72-51 home win over Bear Creek as a high point, noting how well the Tigers shot the ball. Tokay’s defensive intensity was also at a peak there.
He also thinks that the team's 52-49 loss to West on Dec. 22 was an eye-opener and a learning experience — especially the defensive end, where Tokay allowed too many easy baskets off the dribble.
"We grew a bit after the loss," Kayson said. "We recognized that it was important to rotate. We broke down defensively."
Key Player: Senior point guard Trevor Mabalon has been Mr. Everything for the Tigers. He has played much bigger his diminutive frame, dropping 20 points per game and getting all of his teammates involved on a consistent basis.
“I think he’s got some special skills,” Kayson said. “We got a lot out of him as a team. He makes everyone a little better.”
Surprise Player(s): Varsity newcomers Josh McAfee and Kyle Rivers have played important roles off the bench. McAfee, a junior, has stepped up as a dead-eye shooter for Tokay — he sank three from beyond the arc in Wednesday’s win over Tracy.
Rivers, just a sophomore, is the player who Kayson thinks has grown the most. Able to drive, shoot from the outside and dish the ball out, Rivers should loom large as conference play starts and he gains more experience at the varsity level.
“He’s starting to find his stride,” Kayson said of Rivers. “He maturing and it’s starting to show up.”
Looking ahead: Kayson didn't mince words. Tokay is not a top-tier team around the Tri-City Athletic League. In a rugged league with the likes of McNair, West, St. Mary's and Edison, the Tigers will have to fight for everything.
That's not to say the Tigers won't compete — and even pull off a few surprises — along the way. The keys, once again, will be ball security on offense, and effective pressure and rotation on defense.
Wednesday's rematch with West to open league play will be their first test.
"I think we’re capable," Kayson said. "(But) it’s quite an undertaking for us. Were going to have to play with a little more confidence. You just want to get in the conversation."