SMCHS is gaining talent, challenges Mater Dei on the basketball court

By Dan Arritt     10/31/2018

A  crack in the armor began to show through last season, or maybe was it just a glimmer of hope for the rest of the Trinity League.  

When the Mater Dei boys’ basketball team lost to St. John Bosco on Jan. 10, it was big news to anyone who follows the sport in Southern California. That’s because it was just the second loss for the Monarchs since the Trinity League was formed prior to the 2006-07 season, and the other came against Orange Lutheran way back on Jan. 7, 2011. 

Mater Dei still managed to regroup and win its 12th consecutive Trinity League title, then proceed to beat Sierra Canyon to capture the CIF-SS Open Division championship, ending a three-year run without taking home a section banner. 

But the cupboards are beginning [Text Wrapping Break]to look a little bare at Mater Dei heading into coach Gary McKnight’s 37th season. 

The top four scorers from last season’s team graduated, leaving 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Wilhelm Breidenbach as the top returning scorer at 6.7 points a game.  

As has become the norm at Mater Dei, the Monarchs gained some transfers in the offseason, but not the type of game-changers they’ve added in the past. 

Meanwhile, the landscape has become much more competitive in the Trinity League, mainly at Santa Margarita, where the Eagles return their top two scorers, both Pac-10-bound seniors. 

Jake Kyman averaged 17.5 points last season while shooting 45 percent from 3-point range. Kyman, who has committed to UCLA, has been a starter at Santa Margarita since his freshman year, but has yet to beat the Monarchs in six tries, despite averaging 12.2 points in those games. 

The closest he came to knocking off Mater Dei was the second meeting of his sophomore season. Kyman made a 3-point basket to give Santa Margarita a one-point lead with 37 seconds left, but the Monarchs scored on the other end with six seconds remaining and held on for the 64-63 win. 

Santa Margarita also returns a sizable front court that includes 6-8 senior power forward Max Agbonkpolo, a USC commit who averaged 14.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and a team-leading 4.5 assists last season. 

And if Agbonkpolo doesn’t give the Eagles enough of an edge up front, he’ll be joined again by 6-11 senior center Shengzhe Li, a foreign-exchange student from China. Li made enormous strides since last season, when he averaged 6.8 points and 5.6 rebounds in his first season at the school. 

Li committed to BYU on Oct. 17. 

The Eagles did lose Ryan Evans and Nick Davidson, both of whom transferred to Mater Dei during the offseason.  

Davidson, a 6-8 sophomore forward, played sparingly for Santa Margarita as a freshman, but was expected to be a main contributor this season. Evans, a 6-3 junior shooting guard, was Santa Margarita’s fourth-leading scorer last season at 10.8 points a game. 

Santa Margarita’s season begins Nov. 24 against Modesto Christian at the NorCal Tip Off. 

The Eagles open league play on Jan. 8 at St. John Bosco before hosting Mater Dei on Jan. 16. 

Because Trinity League schools are in such demand for national showcases and tournaments – yet limited by the amount of games they can play during the regular season – league officials decided to schedule just one league game between the schools this season, rather than two.