ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

A standout stays close to home

In an era of frequent transfers, Kyle Caudill, who stands 6 feet 101/2, plans on staying at Brea Olinda.

The start of school each September can be cruel for any high school basketball coach waiting to learn if rumors of summer transfers out of his program turn out to be true.

However, Brea Olinda Coach Bob Terry received the equivalent of a winning lottery ticket with the arrival of 6-foot-10 1/2 freshman Kyle Caudill, one of the tallest players in the state.

Caudill has lived in Brea all his life, but that hardly guaranteed he would be walking the hallways of Brea High on the first day of school. In fact, he visited several high schools who gladly rolled out their welcome mats.

In the end, though, Caudill said, "I've always liked living in Brea and grew up with a core group of friends that have been going to school together since kindergarten, and I think we're going to have a good program here."

Of course, in this strange and unpredictable era of high school basketball, someone who's happy with his school one day can change his mind the next.

In December 2003, I traveled to Bellflower to interview the Fab Four from St. John Bosco High -- freshmen Alex Jacobson, Daniel Hackett, Quinton Watkins and Kertd Elisaldez. They vowed to win a championship together. By their senior year last season, they had gone their separate ways, with Jacobson at Santa Ana Mater Dei, Watkins at Compton Dominguez, Elisaldez at Villa Park and Hackett at USC.

This month, Renardo Sidney, a 6-10 junior center who helped Lakewood Artesia win the state Division III championship, left for Los Angeles Fairfax.

Dominguez has picked up a group of transfers, led by former L.A. Dorsey guard Jordan Hamilton.

Demetrius Walker, a junior guard from Fontana, has moved to Serra in San Juan Capistrano.

Another Fontana junior guard, Josh Johnson, is now at Pomona Diamond Ranch, whose coach, Loren Grover, was at Artesia last season.

Four players from Sylmar have transferred to Van Nuys. Malik Story, a key player from Artesia's championship team, is at Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill. Junior Jessee Hazely, who's 6-7, has left Irvine Northwood for Santa Margarita. And 6-3 Monique Oliver, one of the best juniors in girls' basketball, has left Las Vegas Cheyenne for Long Beach Poly.

Yes, transfers and player defections happen in all sports, but when a top basketball player switches or a highly regarded freshman enrolls, it has the potential for greater impact because only five players can start at one time.

That makes Caudill's arrival at Brea a big deal. He's going to be monitored, scrutinized and analyzed over the next four years, and seeing how he holds up and what kind of progress he makes will surely make for Internet fodder.

That's why I woke up at 5 a.m. two weeks ago to drive to Brea to watch a morning basketball class for an early peek at Caudill, who wears size 18 shoes (the same as 7-1 Jacobson, who lived in Brea). He turned 14 last May, which makes him unusual in that many of the top freshmen these days were held back a year.

"When I was in seventh grade, I had to take a birth certificate with me everywhere I went," he said, referring to people who questioned his age and size in AAU competitions.

Terry coached Caudill as an eighth-grader because his son played on the team and has seen him improve through the years.

"He's kind of a freak of nature," Terry said. "He looks a lot older than he is. He's got very good skills for his age. He did a real good job this summer."

Caudill was the team's second-leading scorer during a 21-9 summer. He still needs to improve his mobility and strength if he's going to be a dominant varsity player, but his potential is obvious. He's also an A student, humble and willing to work hard.

"I learned I had to step up my game because it's a lot faster," he said of his summer experience.

Many of Brea's other freshmen barely come up to Caudill's chest. Being the new big man on campus hardly bothers him.

"Since I've been so tall so long, I've gotten used to it," he said. "There's still moments in the hallways, 'Dang, I can see over everybody.' "

The basketball season doesn't start until late November, but Caudill said, "I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be fun. I like the team I'm on."

It was a little uncomfortable asking the question, "Do you think you'll be at Brea for four years?" But player movement has become such a part of the high school basketball scene.

"I really hope I stay here all four years," he said.

That's an honest response at a time when no coach can know who's really on the roster until school starts each September.

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.
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