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PREVIEW:Sailors seeking identity

BOYS' BASKETBALL

BASKETBALL: Coach Larry Hirst's Newport team gets ready to play in the Sunset League.

December 11, 2006|By David Carrillo PeƱaloza

Right now Newport Harbor High's searching for an identity.

Losing a dozen players to graduation can leave a boys' basketball team in a crisis.

"It's going to take awhile for us to figure out who we are and who does what on this team," Newport Harbor Coach Larry Hirst said. "We just have to get used to playing with each other."

The Sailors will also need to adjust to their new league, the more competitive Sunset. Two players return off last year's team that went 21-7 overall and placed second in the Sea View League.

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Newport Harbor plans to rely on its big man, returnee Kyle Caldwell, to help 11 new players get settled. At 6-foot-8 and 215 pounds, the junior is solid inside, making him tough to guard because of his left-handed shot.

"He's the best player we have," said Hirst of last year's part-time starter. "He's also going to have to, as we progress, understand that we're going to give him the ball, but he has to make everyone around him better."

Fresh off a solid showing in Newport's Bill Reynolds Classic, Hirst is looking for others to contribute.

Weston Dunlap, a 6-7 returning senior forward, added 10 points in the second game after Newport Harbor lost the Battle of the Bay at Corona del Mar, 53-46, where senior guard Chad Stassel scored 10.

This season is almost a mirror image of what Hirst started off with — 11 seniors — last year.

"It's good and bad. You would like to have a little more of a mix just because that way you don't end up in a situation you are in now," said Hirst, in his 12th year at Newport Harbor. "The last couple of years we lost 95% of our kids to graduation."

None of those losses will be more difficult to replace than Dennis Heenan and Robert Koon, members of last year's Daily Pilot Dream Team.

Heenan provided the Sailors with a go-to-guy as the 6-6 forward averaged 19 points per game and earned player of the year honors.

Koon, a defensive specialist, kept the opposing team's premier player in check.

Without those two, the Sailors could struggle competing in the Sunset League, which features CIF Southern Section Division I-AA champ Los Alamitos.

"We are one of the small schools in that league now. We're about 2,400 (students), where some of those schools are 3,000," said Hirst, adding that the last time the Sailors were in the Sunset League was in the early 1980s. "Fountain Valley is good. Edison always plays tough. Marina has instituted a Loyola Marymount run-and-shoot offense. Esperanza is in there, (and) you're playing against a school that has 3,500 kids.

"In our other league there's definitely some teams that were the bottom feeders, and in this league there is none."

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