The usual suspects are once again leading the way as league play gets underway for boys basketball.

The West Catholic Athletic League is strong -- very strong -- almost from top to bottom.

El Camino, despite four nonleague losses, just might be the area's top public school team as it aims for a Peninsula Athletic League North Division title.

Palo Alto, led by swingman Aubrey Dawkins, son of Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins, is off to another solid start. The Vikings have lost just once and opened Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division play with a 13-point win over Milpitas.

Piedmont Hills won't start 19-0, as it did last season, but the Pirates have strung together a nice run. They have a quality win (Palma) and two quality losses (Mt. Eden and Oakland Tech). They also are 9-2 entering their Blossom Valley Athletic League Mount Hamilton Division showdown Friday night at unbeaten Willow Glen.

But, as usual, the area hotbed starts with the WCAL, which last season walked away with three Central Coast Section championships (Bellarmine College Prep, Archbishop Mitty and Sacred Heart Cathedral) and one state title (Mitty).

Mitty lost only one WCAL game a year ago but figures to have a much tougher time this season as teams attack star forward Aaron Gordon with numerous defenders.

Two days after a hard-fought 65-63 win over Bellarmine in its league opener, Mitty returns home Friday to play red-hot St. Ignatius (10-1), which began WCAL play with a 54-49 victory over Archbishop Riordan.

Mitty coach Tim Kennedy has an idea what to expect Friday and the rest of the season. He said the Bellarmine game "showed what kind of league it's going to be this year. Night in and night out, it's going to be a war."

He'd get no argument from Bellarmine coach Patrick Schneider, whose team brought a 10-0 nonleague record into the Mitty game. Schneider says it's possible the WCAL champion might finish with three league losses -- two more than Mitty lost on its way to the title last season.

Point guard Elijah White and forward Michael Smith led El Camino to a PAL Bay Division title last season. The Colts might be even better this season as they begin their first year in the geographically-based PAL North Division. Three of El Camino's four losses have been by single digits, including to Bellarmine and St. Ignatius.

"El Camino's very good," Schneider said.

Palo Alto looks as if it will be the team to beat in the De Anza Division as Dawkins and Aldis Petriceks are averaging a combined 34 points per game.

Piedmont Hills coach Pete Simos expects challenges from the likes of Leigh, Willow Glen and Leland as his team seeks to repeat as Mount Hamilton champion.

"The good thing," Simos added, "is we haven't nearly hit our peak yet."