By SHEL SEGAL
ALHAMBRA – Longtime Keppel boys basketball coach Hung Duong has many accolades to credit, winning several Almont League titles and going far in the CIF-Southern Section postseason a number of times during his 15-year career with the varsity squad. But Duong said he knows this season might be a tough one for the Aztecs.
“We’re in a little bit of rebuilding mode because we lost eight seniors from last year’s squad,” said Duong, whose teams have finished first in league nine of the last 15 years and six straight. “But our youth are really solid. We have a really good group of (freshmen and sophomores). I like our chances in a year or two. Next year we’ll be better. The next year we’ll be even more solid.”
Duong said Keppel will definitely be tested in league by Schurr and Alhambra as both squads have several seniors.
“For us, we’re really young,” he said. “On the varsity, we only have eight kids: two freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors and two seniors.”
The Aztecs will be relying heavily on their two returning players: Nick Fong and Josiah Ojiri.
“Nick is our point guard and Josiah is our off guard,” Duong said. “Josiah is probably one of our best defender, if not probably the best defender in our program. They have the experience.”
Moving up from junior varsity and lower squads are Esteban Rodriguez, Brusen Hy, Michael Grandos and Laird Anderson Jr. And while Duong said he is hoping they will make an impact immediately, he realizes there is a learning curve involved.
“We got a lot of learning to do,” he said. “A lot of these kids lack experience. We played a lot of games this past summer. We’re way better than we were in summer. So, hopefully in preseason we can gain some more experience.”
Duong said there is one area the Aztecs are already doing well in.
“Our strength is our on-ball defense,” he said. “We’ve gotten better. Our on-ball and our pressure are our strength.”
But he added it will be tough because of a lack of physical stature on the Aztecs’ part.
“Our weakness is our help side and our height,” Duong said. “We have no height. Our biggest kid is about 6-foot-1. We kind of have to scrap and play that scrappy type of game and hustle. They play hard. What I like about this group is they play hard. They’re a hard-working group of kids. They’re just undersized. When we play against bigger teams rebounding is an issue for us.”
And what about the Keppel offense?
“Shooting-wise, it will be a little bit of a struggle,” Duong said. “Our perimeter game is a little bit of a struggle. It’s inconsistent. Some days we’ll make shots. Some days we can’t hit any shots. That’s where it’s a problem.”
Ultimately, just by being on the court Duong said he knows his players will improve and that will translate into more championships down the line.
“To win the league title, you got to have some experience,” Duong said.