Junior Jaleel Howard missed all of last season due to an ankle injury.
If there’s one team in boys Foothill League basketball that has been consistently good for the last decade, it’s the Valencia Vikings.
The team has won 21 or more games in six of the last 11 years, and five league championships. They made the playoffs 11 straight years and hold an SCV record nine straight years with a playoff win, except last year, when the Vikings, despite getting 15 wins, lost their last four games, finished fifth in league and out of the post-season.
Every year is different, but the one consistency has been the head coach, Rocket Collins, who says this year’s Vikings have one sizable difference from past squads.
“We’re not as big as we usually have been,” Collins said. “I was kind of worried about that. But they’ve taken care of themselves and they’ve worked really hard. It’s really fun to coach them.”
This year the Vikings have opened up 8-2 and are ranked seventh in the CIF Southern Section Division 1-A. According to Coach Collins, there isn’t one player or one reason for the early success.
“I don’t know if we’re faster than we have been,” he said. “We still play fast. Our shooting has been pretty good at times, but they’re finding a way to win.”
Jaleel Howard broke an ankle in the fourth game last season as a sophomore. Despite nursing a new injury this year, Howard is expected to be a go-to guy for the Vikings.
“He’s a natural born leader,” Collins said about Howard. “He’s determined, a good shooter and goes to the basket hard. But he just gets everybody going.”
“It was hard sitting out last year, not being able to help my teammates,” Howard said. “But I feel like I can make up for it this year by being a leader on this team and helping the guys out.”
Collins is also expecting outside production from seniors Riley Honaker and Garrett Mike.
“Honaker is just a go-getter,” Collins said. “He’s a feisty little guy. His size and stature, he’s not going to let that deter him from his goal. He should be a junior, but he’s a senior. He’s younger than his grade.
“Garrett Mike is a quiet guy. Works hard, always in the gym. His dad works here (Jerry Mike is the girls varsity basketball coach), so of course he’s in the gym when everyone else is gone. But he would probably be in there regardless if his dad worked here or not.”
The key for Valencia success?
“We just do what we need to do, execute when we need to execute and play tough defense,” Collins said. “Even though we might need to play bigger guys, we just have to play smart team defense.”