Key Players

PG Antonio Salinas - One of the the Yakima Valley’s top overall players. Incredibly graceful shooter than can drop 30 points without breaking a sweat. Abundance of experience makes him invaluable come crunch time. Natural born leader that embodies Zillah Basketball.

SG/SF Brock Ellis - Him and Salinas form a back court as good as any in the state. True slasher that can create his own opportunities. Capable of carrying the program in emergency situations.

SG/SF Cesar Diaz - Normally a basketball team carries two captains. But coach Mengarelli was so impressed with Diaz’s off-season, he named him the third captain along with Salinas and Ellis. Fundamentals are top notch on both ends of the court. Plays much larger than his 5-9 160 pound frame would suggest.

Overview

Zillah Basketball is the winningest team in the state since 2010 with a record of 197-21. Every year the expectation is to win a state title, and they mean it. But this year they really mean it.

The term ‘a year ahead of schedule’ is overplayed at this point. But the Leopards may have been a year ahead of schedule when they finished 25-2 and made it to the semi-finals last season.

A 76-67 playoff loss to Freeman was devastating in the moment, but it also set the table for this upcoming season.

With all five starters returning and nearly the entire bench, this is an easy preseason pick to hoist the hardware come March.

It all starts with do everything point guard Antonio Salinas. He’s a four year contributor, and the only remaining starter from the 16-17 state championship squad. If there were MVP odds in high school basketball, he’d be a front runner.

Mengarelli plans to reel in Salinas a little bit when they play weaker opponents; In order to keep him fresh. He feels he can do this because of the trust he has in the players around him.

The other team leaders are his backcourt mates Brock Ellis and Cesar Diaz. According to Mengarelli, both have gotten bigger and stronger, and are fully healthy heading into the season.

What makes this trio so unique is they average 5-10 across the board. Extremely rare to have a group so dominant be so undersized.

Balancing out the starting lineup will once again be power forwards Weston Ide and Sebastian Godina.

Their roles this year will not so much be on the scoring front, but doing the heavy work underneath the glass. Rebounds and stout defense are what they’ll be known for.

Rotating in at guard will be highly dependable returner Cody Vance, and also a new face in freshman Clayson Delp.

He’s a jack of all trades type of player that’s similar to his older brother, Trey Delp. Trey is now playing for Yakima Valley College. Incredibly versatile that can play all five spots.

Also expected to step ups this year is 6-2 senior forward Kaden Magana, and 240 pound bruiser Dakota Hibbs. Both have been patiently waiting for a spot, and they should find that this season.

It’s worth noting the Zillah administration is trying to move the first two games of the season.

Their first two games are against huge 2A opponents Ellensburg and Selah.

Right now the Zillah Football team is making a push for their own state championship. This would overlap with basketball season, and would not allow Zillah to be at full strength.

This is a storyline worth monitoring as the season draws nearer.   

Projection: There is one huge target on Zillah’s back this season. They could very well be the team to beat. The top player at the 1A level may resides in Lynden Christian with 6-7 Michigan commit Cole Bajema. But one through eight, this team is as deep as you’ll find. The regular season has never been a problem for Zillah, it's can they overcome the one or two special teams at state. Given the dedication of this group to reach their goals, pencil them in very lightly at the top of your rankings.

Key Games

12/4 Selah

12/28 Lynden

1/19 La Salle

For more Eastside Basketball previews, follow me on Twitter! @micah_chen