Oh, how those smug Californians — me being one of them — love to brag about their beaches and scenery, movie stars and weather.
They don't mind boasting about their sports teams either — the reigning World Series champion Giants, the Super Bowl-marching 49ers and the currently struggling, but always interesting 16-time NBA champion Lakers.
And Southern California front-runners are now jumping on the newest showtime train conducted by the Clippers.
If that wasn't enough, Californians now appear to have the corner market on the high school boys basketball scene. At least for the 2012-13 season.
No less than 10 teams have run, hopped and shot their way into the MaxPreps Xcellent 25
national rankings, including the top dog Monarchs from Mater Dei
in Santa Ana.
The two-time defending Division I champions lost their two top players and scorers off last year's squad — Katin Reinhardt (now at UNLV) and Xavier Johnson (Colorado) — and weren't even ranked to start the season.
But the state's winningest coach Gary McKnight has meshed the Monarchs quicker than anyone could have imagined and Mater Dei is 19-0 with five wins over out-of-state squads.
This season, it may be more impressive that the Monarchs have breezed past their own Californian brethren.
They have a 79-67 win over St. John Bosco (Bellflower)
, the nation's No. 25 team, and solid wins over state-ranked squads JSerra Catholic (San Juan Capistrano)
(twice), Bishop O'Dowd (Oakland)
, and Orange Lutheran (Orange)
. The combined records of those teams are 60-16.
But that percentage pales into comparison to McKnight's 953 wins, nine state titles and 21 section crowns, all state records. His winning percentage (92%) also also sets the state standard.
"I'm pretty sure I told myself two years ago that I would never exclude Mater Dei from our preseason top 25 again as long as Gary McKnight was the head coach there," said MaxPreps national basketball editor Jason Hickman. "Unfortunately, I made the same mistake again this year and, lo and behold, they end up ranked No. 1 nationally."
But if McKnight finishes at No. 1 this year it will be one of his greatest coaching accomplishments.
For the first time California has implemented an Open Division once regional play arrives. If it's not tough enough to get through the rugged Southern Section, which boasts a hefty 580 schools (more than all but four states), the Monarchs will face the cream of the crop in the next round.
Steve Galluzzo, who has covered high school sports for the Los Angeles Times since 1996, said Southern California has always been a hotbed for boys basketball, and this year is no exception. He noted that eight of the top Division I 10 teams (including the top six) are from Southern California.
"But I can't recall this many nationally ranked teams from the area in one season," he said.
In Southern California alone, besides Mater Dei, there is No. 4 Long Beach Poly
(17-1), No. 8 Bishop Montgomery (Torrance)
(20-0), No. 20 Centennial (Corona)
(18-1) and No. 25 St. John Bosco (12-3). Loyola (Los Angeles)
(13-4), powered by a couple of national recruits, has also been nationally ranked.
Three Northern California squads — Salesian (Richmond)
(14-3), Mitty (12-3) and Sheldon (Sacramento)
(13-4) — opened the season in the rankings and could easily resurface with strong finishes. Central Section power Bullard (Fresno)
(14-2) has a win over Salesian and was also among the elite.
"There's just so much depth this year," said Salesian coach Bill Mellis. "There are real top-level teams all over the place. It's fun for fans, but tough on coaches."
Tough on those who rank for a living as well.
"I'm certainly not above making bad decisions in our national rankings, but none of the 10 California teams were a bad pick and I think most analysts would echo that," Hickman said. "The depth of quality teams in California seems to be at a high point in the time that I've been doing this."
That goes for top recruits as well.
Ten of the Top 100 seniors hail from California, according to Hickman's player rankings. That's an average number for the Golden State, but the next tier of recruits is loaded with Californians, and that goes along with large quantities of underclass standouts in the region as well.
The top senior recruit from the state is 6-8 do-it-all forward Aaron Gordon
, who has led Archbishop Mitty (San Jose)
to back-to-back state Division II crowns. Gordon is ranked No. 5.
The uncommitted star — his finalists are Arizona, Washington and Kentucky — will have a tough time carrying Mitty to another crown considering it will likely be pulled up to the Open Division as well.
Salesian and Sheldon are major obstacles from the North — Salesian already routed Mitty 72-51 — let alone whichever national juggernaut bulldozes through the South.
"The road to a state title this season will definitely be a tougher one," Gordon said. "But I like big challenges. We love to challenge ourselves."
Like Mitty, many of the elite California teams have an elite senior go-to player. Such as:
* St. John Bosco — No. 16 Isaac Hamilton
* Salesian — No. 25 Jabari Bird
* Long Beach Poly — No. 48 Roschon Prince
* Sheldon — No. 83 Dakarai Allen
(San Diego State)
Mater Dei doesn't have a major senior recruit, but the Monarchs have the No. 8 junior in the country in Stanley Johnson
, a 6-7 guard who leads the team in scoring at 19.5 points per game.
They also have definite future college players, such as 6-4 guard Elijah Brown
, son of former NBA coach Mike Brown (18.5 ppg), highly-touted 6-6 sophomore Troy Kramer
and two of the country's top freshmen in 6-9 M.J. Cage
, son of former NBA standout Michael Cage., and Jayce Johnson
, also 6-9.
Kramer, Cage and Jayce Johnson are in the rotation but aren't big scorers. Jordan Strawberry
, a 6-1 senior guard and son of baseball's Darryl, and Mario Soto
, a 6-5 junior, each average 6.2 points per game.
McKnight said he had a good sense about the squad following a sparkling 36-4 summer that was played largely without Stanley Johnson and Strawberry.
"I didn't know what we had heading into the summer," McKnight said. "But the kids really jelled and shared the ball and played exceptionally well offensively. We played better offensively than we are now. But our strength overall has been on defense. These guys really get after it."
To get through even the regular season unscathed the Monarchs will likely need to play better offensively. They have St. Edward, St. John Bosco and Orange Lutheran still on the schedule along with five-time state champion Westchester (Los Angeles)
, which won the MaxPreps Holiday Classic with a victory over previously nationally-ranked Fort Bend Travis.
All that before a rigorous run through a land mine of state and national powers.
"The parity is probably as good or better than it ever has been," McKnight said. "Bishop Montgomery is really
good. Poly is really
good. We're good. There's a lot of talented teams. As many as six or eight teams could win a CIF state title."