It won’t be long before we see the basketball float in the air — and watching who wins the tip and then who eventually wins in the closing seconds through a pull-up jumper or slam dunk.

It’s back to basketball, which means it's time to take a look at some key returners we should watch out for this winter.

What I’ve decided to do is this: Mention somewhere between one to three key returning contributors from last season on each team. Unfortunately, we can’t highlight everyone and a lot of teams were hit hard by graduation. But there are some key shooters and post players who should make this season another epic one in this region.

Who knows, maybe we’ll see one or three of these teams go on a state run — a la Lompoc boys basketball, Cabrillo girls basketball, Righetti girls basketball and Hancock College men’s basketball last season.

Beginning with the boys, here are some key returners I believe we should watch out for this season:

Nipomo

Daniel Hyun, point/shooting guard: In the first six games, Hyun dropped between 12 to 29 points on his competition. He’s a lane attacker and if he gets more production from 3-point land, watch out.

Daren Sosa, point guard/shooting guard: He showed what he could do last year as a versatile guard during his freshman year on varsity — and has given Titans basketball a strong glimpse of the future.   

Carmelo Hernandez, forward: “Tugboat” helps give the Titans a strong post presence. One of the rare three-sport athletes in the high school realm (also stars in football and baseball at NHS).

Valley Christian Academy

Ethan McCoy, forward: I would anticipate head coach Chris Maples will feed McCoy the ball down low a lot this winter, since top scorers Isak Deming and Kiernan Quinonez have since graduated. McCoy is another three-sport athlete. He's still playing football as the Lions will host Calvary Baptist in the CIF-SS playoffs Friday night and will turn to baseball in the spring.

Andrew Sparlin, forward: Like McCoy, I would anticipate the Lions will heavily rely on Sparlin and his 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame to go after a Coast Valley League title once again (shared the league championship at 8-2 with Shandon last season). Like McCoy, Sparlin also plays football and baseball for the Lions.

Santa Maria

Thomas Segel, guard: Segel was largely overshadowed by a deep senior class last season, but the returning senior had six games of reaching past double digits in scoring. Head coach Dave Yamate could turn to him from the early outset for a much younger Saints team this winter.

Pioneer Valley

Michael Bourbon, shooting guard: Bourbon, who just guided the Panthers football team to the CIF Central Section Division II playoffs, is a reliable long range shooter when called upon.

Steven Fuerte, guard: Fuerte could be the guy who runs and commands the Panther offense on the floor this winter.

Jayden Jones, forward: When you’re 6-foot-6 and 210-pounds, you’ll command a lot of attention and give your team the dominant inside option needed to thrive offensively. Jones, only a junior, gives PVHS just that.

St. Joseph

Tevesi Auau, forward: “Vesi” will likely be counted on to do the inside work for head coach Tom Mott and the Knights, as St. Joseph moves on without top scorer and rebounder Elihu Cobb (graduation).

Angel Ortiz, guard: He showed plenty of flash as a freshman last year: Averaging 10.3 points per game including 16 games that saw him reach past double figures in scoring.

Righetti

Caleb Thomas, forward: If the football star Thomas does play on the hardwood (he’s currently preparing for the Warriors’ second round battle against Bakersfield Frontier this Friday at RHS), then RHS has a much needed interior presence on the court, given his 6-foot-4, 270-pound frame.

Orcutt Academy

Kyle Zafiris, forward: The Spartans will be younger and in a new league, but the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Zafiris could be utilized a lot for head coach Ryan Smalley; who lost his top bigs Marc Pyle (18.4 PPG) and Dane Weeks (12.8 PPG) to graduation.

Lompoc

Andrew Villa, guard: He started fast in league play by scoring a combined 76 points in the first six LPL games. Then he energized the Braves’ CIF Southern Section Division 4A playoffs by averaging 11.25 points per game while winning in the first three rounds. He gives the 2017-18 state qualifier a much needed long distance scoring threat this winter.

Benecio Cayabyab, guard:  “Beans” played in 17 games for LHS, but delivered a breakout 13-point night at Desert Hot Springs to stay alive in the CIF-SS D4A playoffs and became a much needed role player for the Braves’ deep run.

Ryan Morgan, forward: If Morgan is healed from his broken collarbone he suffered during the football season, expect him to pull down the rebounds and energize LHS with his ability to attack the net.

Cabrillo

Blake Beecher, forward: Cabrillo head coach C.J. Simmons is preaching defense this winter. The returning senior is valuable in that regard for the Conquistadores.

Eddy Little, forward: Simmons has hinted at giving Little an increased amount of touches this fall. He gives CHS a much needed scoring option in the key.

Jeremy Hicks, point guard: Look for Hicks to take the leadership mantle for CHS this winter. He plans to distribute the ball and score past double figures.

Santa Ynez

Nate Rogers, guard: Also a boys volleyball standout on the campus, Rogers can help give new head coach Ray Vazquez a reliable guard to turn to in his first season as Pirates head coach.

Hancock College

J.T Riddick, forward: The sophomore got off to a good start: 21 points, seven rebounds and two rebounds in the 100-40 romp of West Hills last Saturday. Oh, those were stats off the bench. He brings a very stout stature at 6-foot-9, 195-pounds for the Bulldogs.

Glenn Jordan, guard: He could be the floor leader at guard for AHC with Shane Carney now at Arizona Christian University. Jordan was third on the Bulldogs with 10.6 points per game last season.

Spirit Ricks, forward: The 6-foot-7 forward is a walking double-double machine as a scorer and rebounder.

Next up: Top girls basketball players to watch from Nipomo to Santa Ynez.

Lorenzo J. Reyna covers sports for Lee Central Coast Newspapers, particularly in the Lompoc Valley. He can be reached at lreyna@leecentralcoastnews.com

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