Talented Mission League basketball is pushing to be best in Southern California again

Mission League title favorites from Harvard-Westlake
Mission League title favorites from Harvard-Westlake: Coach David Rebibo, Robert Hinton, Christian Horry, Trent Perry, Nikolas Khamenia. (Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

It's going to be tough to top the 2022-23 high school boys' basketball season for Mission League teams since Harvard-Westlake won the state Open Division championship and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame took the Division 1 title.

Based on Wednesday's Mission League basketball media day, there's lots of talent returning, so the league could be the best in Southern California again for 2023-24.

The league has already added a high-profile head coach in former Lakers guard Derek Fisher, the new coach at Crespi. In his first public appearance, Fisher, who used to coach the New York Knicks and L.A. Sparks, admitted that one of his new experiences as a high school coach was cleaning the practice jerseys.

Fisher brought along with him his son, Drew, and his stepsons, freshmen Isaiah and Carter Barnes.

"I don't do anything lightly," he said of his commitment to high school coaching. "This choice is not for any reason other than to grow the game of basketball the right way. It has something to do with helping my own boys, but more to do with helping all these boys."

Harvard-Westlake remains the favorite even though the Wolverines must replace key contributors Brady Dunlap (St. John) and Jacob Huggins (Princeton). The big three are back with Trent Perry, Robert Hinton and Nikolas Khamenia, plus sixth-man Christian Horry. The Wolverines should be right in the Open Division title hunt with Corona Centennial and St. John Bosco.

"We all have the fire in our belly to win everything possible," Hinton said.

Horry's father, Robert, was a Lakers world championship teammate of Fisher, so that Harvard-Westlake vs. Crespi game on Jan. 10 at Crespi will have lots of bragging rights at stake.

Bishop Alemany has three new transfer students who should make the Warriors an intriguing team. They will be eligible after the transfer sit-out period ends on Dec. 24. They are 6-foot-7 Michael Baba and 6-foot-8 Bourgeois Tshilobo-Nzambi from San Gabriel Academy and 6-foot-9 Samuel Mbingazo from Iowa.

Sherman Oaks Notre Dame won't have Sierra Canyon transfer Bryce James until Dec. 24. Coach Matt Sargeant said Mercy Miller is "the best scoring guard in the country."

That caused Sierra Canyon assistant coach Chris Howe to call returnee Isaiah Elohim the best scoring guard in the country.

Loyola is waiting for its leading scorer, Jonas de Krassel, to recover from a broken ankle.

St. Francis coach Todd Wolfson, in his 16h year in the league, said, "From a crowd standpoint, there's nothing better."

From a coaching standpoint, the Mission League has few peers, which is why teams usually compete so well outside of the league.

"Any perceived flaws are going to be exposed," Loyola coach Damaine Powell said.

After missing much of last season with a back injury, Justin Pippen of Sierra Canyon has been earning rave reviews as perhaps one of the league's most improved players. He has grown to 6-foot-4.

Also there will be a Mission League tournament at the end of the season, with the championship game being played at the highest seed still alive in the tournament.

The Mission League girls' basketball competition is all about defending Southern Section Open Division champion Sierra Canyon. Asked if Sierra Canyon or defending state champion Etiwanda will be beaten, Harvard-Westlake coach Melissa Hearlihy said, "On paper, no. That's two talented teams."

Even though Sierra Canyon lost Juju Watkins (USC) to graduation, coach Alicia Komaki said she thinks this team can be even better. The big addition is 6-foot sophomore Jerzy Robinson from Arizona. She's considered the No. 1 player for the class of 2026. But the continued improvement of seniors Mackenly Randolph and Izela Arenas will keep the Trailblazers one of the best in the state.

Torn ACL injuries have knocked out at least two top players. Bella Spencer is gone for the season for Harvard-Westlake as is Leia Edwards of Sierra Canyon.

Chaminade and Notre Dame have new coaches in Jason Ancrum and Jena Laolagi. Chaminade sophomore Payden Montgomery came on strong last season with a 26-point, 16-rebound performance in the playoffs against Mira Costa.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.