The New Year is upon us, which means the start of Orange Empire Conference-play where nine teams will battle it out for the chance to raise a championship banner in their gym rafters.

The 2018 season will be an exciting one that welcomes two new colleges to the OEC in Copper Mountain and Santiago Canyon Colleges.

Currently, there are three teams in the OEC ranked in the state's top 20, according to the last poll posted on January 8th. The conference as a whole is going to be a tough one to win as it is loaded with some very talented teams. Before 2018, the Orange Empire had a collective record of 87-51 with a .630 winning percentage over a majority of teams outside of the conference.

OEC games began last week with two of the games going into double overtime. Currently, there is a five-way tie for third place with eight of the teams at .500 overall or above.

#4 Fullerton College won the Orange Empire Conference title last season ending Saddleback College's five-year reign as champion in head coach Perry Webster's second season at the helm. FC was the only team to win both of its OEC games last week and looks to be the front-runner for another title in 2018. They are 2-0 in conference and 13-4 overall and riding a six-game win streak. Fullerton won both of their games on the road against Santa Ana (95-89) and Riverside (61-48). The Hornets are led by sophomore guard Jason Richardson who is averaging 18.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. Sophomore Nigel Carter is back after an injury and is averaging 11.8 points and 3.6 rebounds in five games played. Sophomore Khalil Stevenson averages 10.3 points and 3.9 rebounds a game. Two other players to keep an eye on are sophomore Akil Reese (9.6 points) freshman Vaj Rice (9.3 points).

Santiago Canyon College has been impressive overwhelming teams in their program's first season under head coach Todd Dixon. The Hawks are ranked #15 in the state with an overall record of 14-5 and an OEC record of 1-1.  Last week, SCC had a quite a welcoming to the OEC playing in two tough games against Riverside and Copper Mountain. They lost to RCC 90-87 in double overtime and then beat a ranked Copper Mountain squad 103-96. Sophomore Rodney "Rocket" Henderson has been outstanding thus far averaging 24.8 points (ranked 4th in state). The former Hornet is also averaging 9.8 rebounds a game. Freshman Antoine Jenkins has been lights out for the Hawks scoring 25.1 points a game.

In their inaugural season, head coach Devin Aye has Copper Mountain College heading in the right direction. The team is ranked #15 in the state with an overall record of 14-5 and an OEC record of 1-1. The Fighting Cati split their OEC games last week beating Cypress 79-70 and then fell to Santiago Canyon.  Leading the way for the team are two sophomores in Murshid Randle and Ronald Bell. Randle averages 14.9 points a game and Bell averages 13.4.

Saddleback College is the other undefeated team in the Orange Empire Conference with Fullerton. They are ranked #15 in the SoCal Regional poll. The Gauchos will make strong push to get back in the title mix under a two-time state championship-winning coach in Andy Ground. Saddleback is 9-8 overall and 1-0 in the OEC. Led by two freshmen in JJ Overton and Shawn Stith, the Gaucho pair will no doubt be a force to reckon with. Overton leads the team in scoring at 13.5 points a game, while Stith follows with 12.5 points a game.

The Irvine Valley College Lasers come into OEC conference-play with an overall record of 12-7 and conference record of 1-1. They won the Consolation Championship at Saddleback's Bill Brummel Tournament a couple of weeks ago before losing to the Gauchos last Friday in conference-play 63-49. Prior to the loss, IVC was riding a four-game win streak. The Lasers have three players with a scoring average in double digits. Freshman Jake Linsky is scoring 12.6 points a game with 9.3 rebounds, while freshman Cameron Griffin is right behind averaging 11.2 with 5.7 rebounds. Sophomore Daniel Hernandez is putting up 10.4 points a game.

The Riverside City Tigers are 10-6 overall and 1-1 in the Orange Empire Conference. Their lone OEC loss came from Fullerton last Friday in a low scoring affair at 61-48. The Tigers are a dangerous team that has four players averaging in double-digits. Gifted sophomore Brae Ivy is back and scoring plenty with an 18.9 average. Sophomore Andre Wilson is also back averaging 16.8 points.

The Orange Coast College Pirates have had a successful start to the season with overall record of 10-7 and an OEC record of 1-1. The Pirates lost at Irvine Valley on Wednesday and then beat Cypress College at home in double overtime 84-82. The month of December was very good to OCC who won seven out of 8 games. Making a big impact on the Pirates is freshman center Joshua Davis. Davis stands at 6-6 and is a strong big with good feet averaging 17.7 points a game with 8.7 rebounds. Sophomores Lloyd Wright (15.8 ppg.) and Kupaa Harrison (14.6 ppg.) have been solid team leaders.

The Santa Ana College Dons are sitting at .500 overall at 7-7 with a 0-1 record in the OEC.  The Dons are a feisty team that gave Fullerton a run for their money last Wednesday before losing 95-89. Sophomore Cameron High leads the team with a 19.2 scoring average

The Cypress College Chargers have an overall record of 6-11 and an OEC record of 0-2.  In their OEC games last week, the Chargers lost at home to Copper Mountain 79-70 and on the road, in a double-overtime shootout to Orange Coast 84-82. Do not let sleep on this team as they are a well-coached team with some weapons that can bring down a worthy opponent. Cypress won their own tournament, the Don Johnson Classic, back on December 9th, a 68-60 win over Glendale College. Sophomore Brennon Palmer has been a good source for points averaging 15.8, along with freshman Mike Magee with 13.6 points per game.


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