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UCLA-bound Holiday soars to new heights

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Standing at the entrance to the gymnasium at North Hollywood Campbell Hall and wearing a Disneyland hat with the name "Grumpy" emblazoned on its front, a smiling and playful Jrue Holiday hardly fit the profile of an All-American high school basketball player who, in a couple of years, could be playing with or against Kobe Bryant.

He was joking around with a girl, then hanging out with a seventh grader.

"Honestly, he thinks he's normal," girls' tennis Coach Steve Kuechel said. "He's not normal. He's one of the most incredible athletes I've seen in 27 years."

That's the contradiction with Holiday, a 6-foot-3 senior who's on the verge of leading the Vikings to their third state Division IV basketball title in four years. Campbell Hall (30-5) plays Albany St. Mary's (33-1) at 1:30 p.m. today at Arco Arena in Sacramento.

In many ways, Holiday is a typical 17-year-old. He has to clean dishes at home, he argues with his mother whether he's left-handed or right-handed and he has served as manager for the girls' tennis team, writing down stats and scores.

"I made sure I took a picture with him so one day when he's in the NBA, people will believe he was my manager," Kuechel said.

Then there's Holiday's other life, where he politely poses for photos with young boys and girls after games, signs autographs, makes mind-boggling moves while driving to the basket and dunks left-handed while shooting threes right-handed.

"He defies the laws of physics," Coach Terry Kelly said. "It looks so effortless. He seems to be a step ahead of everyone else."

Holiday has scored 2,647 points in his high school career and should pass NBA standout Jason Kidd while moving into 14th place in state history, according to CalHiSports.com. He's 36 points away from becoming the all-time scoring leader in San Fernando Valley history. He has accepted a scholarship to UCLA and leaves in two weeks for Milwaukee to play in the McDonald's All-American game.

The state championship rings are important to him, but so is the high school experience.

Asked what memories he'll retain once he leaves Campbell Hall, Holiday said, "It's just having fun and being a kid with my team."

That's the way he is, on and off the court.

"Some people get in front of a camera and they change and talk differently," he said. "I'm the same."

He can be flashy and playful on the court, but he refuses to engage in trash talking away from basketball.

Last year, former Compton Dominguez guard Brandon Jennings, a senior at Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy, offered a little dig at Holiday, saying, "He's real smooth, goes to work in the first three quarters -- but he's not a killer yet. Me, I'm a killer."

And Jennings, who has signed with Arizona, added, "I don't respect West Coast point guards. They're too Hollywood."

The words didn't fluster Holiday.

"Brandon knows he's a West Coast point guard," Holiday said. "That's where he was brought up. That's where he's lived his whole life until last year. . . . It's doesn't hurt my feelings. It just makes me work harder."

Holiday's passion and fierce competitiveness are visible on the court, but they particularly come out when he happens to overhear a spectator say something derogatory about a teammate, Campbell Hall or his future team, UCLA.

Suddenly, he'll stare into the bleachers, giving off the message, "Don't mess with me." Then he'll do something, whether scoring, pulling down a rebound or making a steal, to quiet his tormentors.

That leads one to wonder how he's going to respond next season, when the fans at USC's Galen Center or Oregon's McArthur Court can be a little rambunctious with visiting players.

"In high school, it's pretty funny," Holiday said. "At the college level, I'm not going to be able to score at will."

Holiday can thank his genes for his immense athletic talent. His mother, Toya, was an All-City basketball player at Granada Hills Kennedy before moving on to Arizona State, where she met her husband, Shawn, who played for the Sun Devils in 1982-83.

"I couldn't beat my mom [playing one-on-one] until I was 12, and I beat my dad last year, so I know how good they were," Holiday said.

By now, everyone has found out that Holiday is the real deal.

"He's taken our program to a different level and set the bar high," Kelly said. "He's done it with poise and this youthful enthusiasm. He's the ultimate winner. I've never seen the kid not succeed."

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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