Lowell has challengers 

Tons of returning talent and a number of key newcomers should make the race to the Academic Athletic Association boys’ basketball championships exciting and unpredictable.

Lowell (11-2) appears to be the favorite, as the defending AAA champ returns first-team all-league guard Travis Hom and second-teamer Arthur Jones from a team that won 30 games last season and made NorCals.

But before the Cardinals are anointed, coaches mentioned as many as six teams as title contenders, including Galileo, International Studies Academy, Lincoln, Wallenberg and Washington.

Here is a preview of the teams (in alphabetical order):

Lang Division

BALBOA (0-8): Jay Simon has emerged into one of the Buccaneers’ top scoring threats.

JORDAN (0-0): The Jaguars are the mystery team of the league and have yet to play a game in their first season as a program.

LINCOLN (6-8): Kevin Robinson (16.2 points per game), Drew Bologna (11.3) and Aaron Hall (11.2) are all averaging in double figures for the Mustangs as new coach Mike Gragnani has the team playing an up-tempo, in-your-face style.

MARSHALL (2-8): Guard Derrick Hines is one of the league’s quickest players and most explosive scorers. Diminutive forward Adrian Reis has surprisingly emerged into one of the Phoenix’s top rebounders.

MISSION (4-4): Point guard Demaree Hampton was named first-team All-AAA as a freshman last season and returns alongside backcourt mate Harry Howard and frontcourt presence Ronnell Foster for the Bears.

WASHINGTON (9-6): Jahrail Taylor is an inside-outside threat with the speed to dribble around bigger players and the size to control the paint. The Eagles can play with anyone, as evidenced by their 45-41 win over Marin power Terra Linda earlier this season.

Neff Division

BURTON (4-6): The Pumas should have great chemistry, as many also play football and run track for coach Duane Breaux. Point guard Daniel Lindsey can get into the lane, while Lonnell Britton is a strong finisher around the basket.

GALILEO (4-7): The interior play of Deante Bernstine and John Maldonado looks to be the Lions’ strength. Guard Asante Delacruz has proven he can score during the nonleague schedule.

INTERNATIONAL STUDIES ACADEMY (3-5): The record is deceiving, considering the Cobras are 2-0 with star twins Dominic and Marseilles Stewart on the floor. The talent for a title run is certainly there, but depth could be an issue.

LOWELL (11-2): The defending league champs appear to be just as cohesive and talented as last season. Slightly built forward Jacob Hanft (6-foot-1, 140 pounds) plays bigger than his size, while football crossover Pat Schock (6-3, 220) gives the Cardinals a physical presence inside defensively.

O’CONNELL (0-7): Freshman guard Jamil Morgan has been a bright spot during a challenging nonleague stretch for the young Boilermakers.

WALLENBERG (8-4): Twins Rodney and Ronney Freeman lead an athletic team that is often undersized but always tenacious on the glass. Guard Kurtis Wong will be counted on to break pressure and distribute the ball.

melliser@examiner.com

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