Irvine Valley men's basketball Head Coach Jerry Hernandez and his staff have things running in high gear with their program.
The last four seasons, the Lasers have produced records of 27-5, 26-5, 23-8 and 22-7.
Playoff appearances, including two Elite 8 trips, have also been accomplished.
The Lasers look well on their way to continuing that streak this season.
And that is despite losing a number of players from a year ago, including the team's top two scorers - the all-Orange Empire Conference backcourt tandem of Kalob Hatcher and Ramon Mejia.
Seven players in all from the 2011-12 Laser team are playing this year at four-year colleges.
That also includes local products from Irvine, Christian Scott (University High) and Kirill Sergeyev (Irvine High) moving on after only their freshmen seasons at IVC.
"We have a lot of new guys this year," Hernandez said. "That is the challenge. We have a new backcourt to start with. We have had the luxury of a sophomore teaching a freshman and then handing the baton over to him with those positions in the past. You get some continuity. That is not the case this year. We are having to learn a lot this year."
Irvine Valley only has four returning players from last year's team.
"And only three of those guys have true game experience," Hernandez said. "Everything is new to us. That is the biggest challenge. It is just a team that is going to take time to develop. But I think we have the building blocks to do it."
Two returning starters and will be relied on heavily.
They are 6-5 sophomore forward Michael Bolden, who was named second team all-conference last season after averaging 6.4 points and 3.7 rebounds, and 6-5 sophomore forward Zach Mills, who averaged 7.9 points and 5.7 rebounds a year ago.
Both are expected to average around 15 points and 8 rebounds a game this year, according to Heranandez.
"They both remind me a lot of the great 6-4 to 6-6 all-around type guys we've had here in the past like Joe Eberhard and Travis Fulton and Durrell Norman," Hernandez said. "They are in the same make and mold. They are good athletes and are multi-skilled and multi-position players that happen to be your best players and also your best team leaders. That is always a positive. Both of them have a chance to move on to Division I programs."
Jeff Given, a 6-8 sophomore, will start at center. He started eight games last season and averaged 3.0 points and 2.2 rebounds per game.
"He is getting bigger and stronger," Hernandez said. "He is resilient and responsible and committed. He's had some physical setbacks as a lot of big guys do, but he refuses to let that hold him back from being successful. He has to be a strong contributor and rebound and defend his position and score a little bit around the basket."
IVC's starting back-court will be comprised of a new and old player.
Hernandez expects to get production from 6-1 freshman guard Shaquille Hunter, who red-shirted at Long Beach State last season. Hunter was a star player at Villa Park High, being named first-team All-CIF Division 2AA, as well as second-team all-county by the Orange County Register as a senior two years ago. He led all of Orange County and the Century League in scoring with 674 points.
"He is a guy that can be explosive," Hernandez said. "He can run off several points and can slash and get to the rim and spot up for three-pointers. He is bouncy. He has a lot of tools to work with. He's still a little inexperienced at this level. We need him to be a good passer and rebounder and defender too. He is very important to our team's success."
James Bailey, a 6-3 sophomore, will be the Lasers' starting point guard. Bailey played 10 games as a back-up point guard at Irvine Valley during the 2003-04 season.
"It is my first time having an adult come back to play," Hernandez said of the 28-year-old. "We liked him eight years ago. He is a big point guard. He is skilled and does a lot of things well. When he gets his timing and starts to feel comfortable with our content, he is going to be a really good leader for us."
Key back-ups for IVC will be 6-3 sophomore guard Steele Sylte, 6-1 freshman guard Brandon Ruffin (Corona Santiago High), 6-6 freshman forward Austin Priest (Canyon High), 5-11 freshman guard Dathon Spencer (Segerstrom High) and 5-9 freshman guard J.R. Parker (Sunny Hills High).
"Steele has to be a very versatile guy for us," Hernandez said. "He has to play multiple positions even though he is only 6-3 or 6-4. He's developed himself physically and his skills are better. He is going to get an opportunity to play. He is very important to us."
"Brandon is a guy that is going to come off the bench with energy and defend," Irvine Valley Associate Head Coach Andrew Alhadeff said. "Dathon is a great on ball defender and a tough competitor."
"Austin is a skilled 6-6 four-man that has a high basketball IQ and really fits our system well," Hernandez said. "He is a very good passer. When he learns to play a little faster he will be fine.
"J.R. is a smaller, quicker guard that played in a very transitional style in high school. We are asking him to come into a collegiate level program and be more of a traditional point guard. He is very good in the open court and can make the defense pay."
Rounding out the squad are 6-4 freshman forward Sean Witzcak (Santa Margarita High), 6-7 freshman center Tommy Walker (Aliso Niguel High) and 6-4 freshman forward Darius Porter (Temescal Canyon High).
"Tommy and Darius will be back-ups in the post for us," Hernandez said. "As they continue to learn our content and gain more confidence they can contribute."
"Sean has improved a lot," Alhadeff said. "He works so hard. He made our team as a red-shirt walk on last year and now has made the roster. He continues to show progress."
"We have good length and quickness and the character of the team is very high," Hernandez said. "The camaraderie is very good. We have to do things as a unit and a group. Our strength is going to be in how well we execute."