Ako Kaluna has committed to play basketball at Northern Arizona.
West Ranch boys basketball did something last season no other Wildcats hoops team had ever done before.
Win a Foothill League championship.
And in all fairness it was shared with the Canyon Cowboys.
But what makes it even more amazing for West Ranch is it was won by a first-year head coach, the uber-energetic Shant Bicacki. The bullseye will clearly be on the Wildcats’s back this year as they return ten varsity players, one of the leading scorers in league in Kevin Harris and the Player of the Year — Ako Kaluna.
“Well obviously very excited having Ako and Kevin back,” Bicacki said on the upcoming season. “Having ten guys coming back for us is obviously a dream come true for a coach. So we’re very excited . (We’re) playing in a lot of good tournaments, playing a lot of good competition, trying to get our name out there and trying to make a name for ourselves.”
The Wildcats finished 17-11 last year, 8-2 in league. They averaged over 70 points a game of offense, 71.5 in league. They made it to the quarter-finals in the CIF Southern Section Division 1-A playoffs before losing a heartbreaker to Mission Viejo. Despite returning all those players that have big game experience, this year’s Wildcats squad will be different.
“I think we’re a lot deeper,” Bicacki said. “Last year we came in saying we weren’t going to run too much, we want to slow it down. But this year we are saying, hey, we are a transition team and instead of adapting to other teams, they’ve got to adapt to us. We’ve got the biggest and baddest fricking kid out there (Kaluna). We’ve got a kid who, if open, is going to shoot. He (Harris) has already hit ten 3-pointers in a game. We’ve got other guys that are role players that are very confident and have varsity experience and have played in big games.”
Ako Kaluna is a 6-foot-8, 250-pound beast of a reigning player of the year. Last year he averaged 16 points and 11 boards a game, and even made 70 percent of his free throws.
Kevin Harris averaged over 17 points a game, shot 45 percent from the field and nearly 80 percent from the line.
“It’s no secret. We don’t have a hidden play or a hidden thing we’re going to do,” Bicacki said. “They’re the two best players and we are going to give them the ball. That’s it. If you can stop them, great. You did your job. If not, we’re probably going to win. It’s like that. As long as we play hard and we play the way we know we can play, we’re going to beat you.”
“I expect no less than last year… Foothill League championship and going deep into playoffs,” said Kaluna, who has committed to Northern Arizona. “Our team is looking better than last year.”
Of course, two players do not a basketball team make. Seniors Kyle Williams, Zach Nuttal and Cody Sanders, and sophomore point guard Ryan Beddeo are all expected to make contributions to the success of the Wildcats.
“Kyle Williams has been one of the hardest workers for the past four years in our program,” Bicacki said. “Last year, being his first year on varsity, I think he played off Ako a lot. This year we’re putting him on the perimeter. We are very confident with him out on the 3-point line, taking it in, he rebounds the heck out of the ball. He’s kind of our enforcer, the kind who will do all the dirty work.
“Ryan Beddeo played varsity last year as a freshman. He’s gotten taller, he’s gotten stronger, he’s gotten more confident. It’s tough being a point guard in my system since I played point guard, so he gets it the worst. And he’s done a great job.
“Guys like Zach Nuttal and Cody Sanders… they’ve done their job. Last year Cody didn’t play much. This year he is one of our main guys. Zach Nuttal last year played limited minutes, maybe 15 or 20 a game. This year he’s one of our starters. Just them being here for another year with me and them being together, just helps them even more.”
The Wildcats have already opened up the 2012-13 season 10-3 and are ranked third in the CIF Southern Section Division 1-A poll and 18th in Southern California by the Los Angeles Times.