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Private schools benefit from influx of international basketball players

Eric Sondheimer
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A number of private schools are welcoming international students, who come with strong academic backgrounds

Lots of high school basketball coaches hope for the moment Dominic Sermeno of Rosemead Bosco Tech experienced last year.

"Honest to God, this was truly one of those random, remarkable stories," he recalled. "I got a call from my athletic director. 'There's these kids wanting to transfer in. One is 6-9, another 6-6 and 6-4.' They were attracted to our academic and technology program."

Seniors Amir Kamgar (6 feet 9), Ali Valamanesh (6-6) and Erfan Samaei (6-4) came from Iran to the United States in 2012 as sophomores. Two of them first attended Los Angeles Ribet, another was in New York. They joined up at Bosco Tech last year.

They've helped lead Bosco Tech to a 7-1 start, rare for a school with little basketball success. All three are excellent students and seem to have blended in well at Bosco Tech.

"Ever since I walked on campus, there's no difference between me and them," Kamgar said of the other students. "I feel like I'm still back home."

What's happening at Bosco Tech is hardly unique these days in Southern California. Private schools enjoy welcoming international students, because many come with strong academic backgrounds and are willing to pay full tuition.

Santa Margarita has 62 international students attending its school, including one basketball player from Germany.

L.A. Cathedral has been attracting basketball players in growing numbers. This year's team includes a standout from the Philippines, Kobe Paras, a junior committed to UCLA, and 6-8 junior Lucas Siewert from Brazil. Montebello Cantwell-Sacred Heart has two players from Serbia and two from Montenegro. Balsa Dragovic, a 6-10 senior, is headed to Harvard. Gligorije Rakocevic, a 6-11 senior, is set for Oregon State.

Bellflower St. John Bosco will unveil in January a newcomer from Australia, senior guard Clayton Carfino.

All have to make it through CIF eligibility rules to play sports.

Sermeno said seven of his 12 players have grade-point averages of 3.5 or higher and he believes his team is "everything that is right about high school basketball. They play hard, play as a team, [they're] academic studs and just quality young men."

Kamgar said he has enjoyed his three years in America.

"I totally love it," he said.

Off to college

Former San Pedro High quarterback Kenny Potter will finally get the opportunity to play college football, something he always believed he could do.

Potter signed with San Jose State on Wedneday after spending two years as quarterback at Long Beach City College.

At San Pedro, Potter was a three-time all-leaguer and co-Marine League player of the year. He set a school record with 27 touchdown passes in 2011. He also ran for 835 yards and 13 touchdowns.

But for some reason, the scholarship offers didn't come and he was forced to prove himself in junior college.

“I really feel they missed the boat on him,” San Pedro Coach Mike Walsh said. “He's in the top five of any player I've seen or coached in 25 years in high school.”

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATSondheimer

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