A new decade is upon us, and the Orange Empire Conference has four teams ranked in the state poll's top 30. Two teams remain undefeated in No. 2 Fullerton (14-0) and No. 3 Santiago Canyon (15-0). Conference-play began earlier than usual this season (December 18th) so there are currently three teams with 3-0 records in Riverside and the aforementioned. There are also six teams in the conference with winning overall records as all of the teams enter 2020 ready to battle for the OEC title.
The 2019 state champion Fullerton College Hornets have looked very strong this season sporting a 14-0 overall record, while averaging 73.1 points a game. It has been FC's defense that has been lights-out as they are holding teams to a state-best 54.2 points a game. They have held ten teams to 60 points or less and held five teams to less than 50 points. The Hornets are averaging 2.6 blocks a game and 5.9 steals. Leading the scoring charge for Fullerton is sophomore point guard Tawon Elston with 217 points (16.7 ppg.). A transfer from Cerritos College, Elston is a speedy guard with excellent vision. A starter on last season's championship team, Omajae Smith will play a big role in this season's success. He is averaging 11.5 points per game, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. Freshman center Jacob Eyman has been a beast in the paint averaging 11.2 ppg, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. Sophomore transfer from Western Michigan, DJ Houston is putting up 10.4 points a game working in as a point guard. He leads the team in assists averaging 3.8 a game and averages 6.2 rebounds a game. Sophomore forward Ronnie Stapp is has a good outside shot and can work inside. He is averaging 9 points a game with 4.1 rebounds. Freshman forward RJ Knibb is a physical player that will get stronger as the season progresses. He is currently bringing down 4.8 rebounds a game. Returning sophomore Harrison Bonner is scoring 5.8 points a game and is a solid defender. The Hornets are ranked No. 2 in the state and have what it takes to bring home another state title if they can remain healthy and play to their strengths.
In their third year since creating the program, the Santiago Canyon Hawks continue to impress with winning seasons and stellar play. This season has been most impressive thus far as SCC leads Southern California in scoring (93.6). The mark is second in the state just under No. 1 San Francisco at 96.6. The Hawks are currently ranked No. 3 in in the state with an undefeated 15-0 record. There are five players on the team averaging in the double-digits. Third in the state in individual scoring, sophomore guard Antoine Jenkins leads the Hawks with a 24.1 average. Sophomore AJ Garrity (12.7 ppg.) and freshman David Agba (11.7 ppg.) have been solid contributors, while returning sophomore Paulo Araujo captains the team with 11.6 points per game. Agba also leads the team in rebounds (7.4 rpg.). Another returning sophomore, Tyler Goodlow adds another 10.3 points, while Paul Vilela (9.3 ppg.) and Lucas Holden (8.3 ppg.) add more weapons to the Hawk's potent arsenal. With its firepower and depth, Santiago Canyon has the potential to win the state title this season.
A very young team this season, Riverside City College has nine freshman and only four sophomores. RCC has won three straight games, which were all OEC teams. They are 3-0 in conference and 8-7 overall. The Tigers are led by a talented group of freshmen in Edwyn Collins (13.3 ppg. / 3.7 rpg.), Zekiah LoVett (11.7 ppg.), Melvin Walker (10.5 ppg. / 3.4 apg.), Sammy Richardson (8.9 ppg. / 4.9 rpg.) Xavier Ford (7.2 ppg.), and Keylin Vance (7.1 ppg). Always a tough team to beat, Riverside City is a well-coached team that can beat anyone on any given night.
The Saddleback Gauchos ring in 2020 with a 9-6 overall record and a 2-1 OEC record. Their lone conference loss came at the hands of Santiago Canyon last Friday. Ranked No. 22 in state, Saddleback has had one of the toughest schedules. Five of their losses to date have been against ranked teams. Another well-coached team, the Gauchos are led by freshman guard David Dial, who is averaging 14.3 points per game with 5.1 assists. Sophomore Captain Whitlock is putting up 10.3 points a game and is averaging 6 rebounds. Keegan Cummins (9.2 ppg.), Nik Lipovic (8.9 ppg.), Deviian Williams (7.6 ppg.), and George Maslennikov (6.7 ppg.) round out the rest of the Gaucho scorers.
Irvine Valley has been transcendent so far this season boasting the state's second best defense holding opponents to a 59.5 scoring average. The Lasers are currently 11-3 overall and 1-1 in the OEC. Ranked No. 24 in the last state poll, IVC has two players leading the way in sophomore Austin Carter (10.6 ppg. / 7.6 rpg.) and freshman JT Robinson (10.4 ppg.). Sophomore Christian Louis (9.6 ppg.), freshman Devin Owens (7.9 ppg.), and sophomore Aashad Womack (7.8 ppg. / 6.4 rpg.) are nice compliments to a skilled team that will make its mark in the OEC this season.
The Cypress Chargers opened up Orange Empire Conference-play against three of the top teams in the state (Fullerton, Santiago Canyon, and Saddleback). As a result, they are 0-3 in the OEC. Sitting at 9-6 overall, the Chargers are a tough team with talented players beating ranked teams like Long Beach City and College of the Desert. Ranked 8th in the state in defense, Cypress in holding teams to 64.7 points per game. Offensively, they have two players scoring in double-digits in freshman forward Sebastian Castro (13.8 ppg.) and sophomore point guard Aaron Edison (10.3 ppg.). Three sophomores help lead the way in Kamron Barnes (9.2 ppg / 7.1 rpg.), Demetri Mariolis (8.2 ppg.), and Kae'jon Barnes (7.6 ppg.).
At 5-9 overall and 0-2 in the conference, Santa Ana has the firepower to bring down a top team as they knocked off No. 8 Allan Hancock on December 13th. Sophomore guard Ramon Lopez leads the team with 19.9 points a game, and freshman forward Jalani Horn chips in with 14.2 points a game. Horn also brings down an average of 8.8 rebounds.
The Orange Coast Pirates are 3-11 overall and 0-2 in the OEC. This team can score, however they lead the state in points given up allowing 97.4 a game. Sophomore guard Jonathan Ileleji is the team leader in scoring 15.8 points a game, while freshman guard Myles Woods follows with 14.3. A trio of freshman round up the rest of the team's scorers in Andres Ortega (10.8 ppg.), Aundrel Pua (9.6 ppg.), Chase Nomaaea (7.5 ppg.).
Golden West brought back its basketball program this season after a fifteen-year hiatus. So far, the Rustlers are 2-12 overall and 0-3 in the OEC. GWC can put up some points against opponents, but they also have a defense that allows an average of 89.9 points per game. The team is led by three freshman in Eric Watson (14.7 ppg. / 7.3 rpg.), Francis Dogani (13.5 ppg.), and Ricky Briseno (13.4 ppg.) Sophomore John Stillgess is also in the mix scoring 11.3 points per game.
Release by Phil Thurman (Men's Basketball Representative/Fullerton SID)