Some people may be in awe of “The Shaw,” winners in the boys’ basketball playoffs by an average of 44 points a game, but this team doesn’t compare with the great Crenshaw squads of the past, says the man who should know best, Coach Willie West.
Not even with a junior leading the City Section in scoring. Not even with a pressing defense that can be downright offensive. Not even with a team that has scored more than 100 points in 11 of its last 12 games, one shy of Dorsey’s 1975 state record.
This team, West said, lacks the dominating player in the mold of John Williams, who was so dependable in the clutch in leading Crenshaw to the City title last season. But Williams couldn’t get the Cougars to Oakland for the state tournament, and that may be another difference with this group.
These players may be the ones who will get there and win it.
But that’s looking too far ahead, Coach Reggie Morris of Manual Arts wants the world to know. There is still this little matter of a game tonight at 9:15 at the Sports Arena. There, Crenshaw’s rarely challenged Cougars, top-ranked in California at 20-0, will meet Morris’ Toilers (20-5) for the City 4-A championship. The road to Oakland starts there.
“I think they have an outstanding team, without a doubt,” Morris said. “But I think they have their vulnerabilities. That means that any team with weaknesses can be beaten. We plan on winning. We’re expecting to win. And we think we have a good chance to win.”
Manual Arts won the title as recently as 1981 with a pretty dominating player of its own, Dwayne Polee.
Although Crenshaw may not have the superstar West alluded to--Stevie Thompson will have to wait until next season to earn that designation--they have been beating teams this season with defense as much as offense. One hundred points a game is just icing on the cake when you’re only giving up 41.4, as Crenshaw did during league play.
“All 20 teams that played them said the same thing that we are--that we have to break their press,” Morris said. “Of course, that’s easier said than done. That’s a matter of confidence and execution, and we’ll have to put those together.”
The plan is similar for containing Thompson, the 6-3 junior who led the City with an average of 28 points a game. Asked who will guard Thompson, Morris didn’t miss a beat, saying: “Our team. We wouldn’t put all that responsibility on one person.”
That could leave plenty of openings for the other guard, David Carter (11.1 points), or forwards Dion Brown (13.6) and 6-6 Paul Weakley (13.3).
Manual Arts’ best player, 6-7, 200-pound Marco Fleming, has been a late-bloomer, although he was held to five points before fouling out in the Toilers’ 72-70 victory over Banning last Friday in the semifinals at the Sports Arena. He is averaging 17.5 points and 10 rebounds a game. Center Tony Martin is averaging 12.4 points and guard Shaun Birdsong 10.2
“He’s our best player, whenever he plays,” Morris said of Fleming. “At the beginning of the season, he wasn’t coming to play. But when we started into league, he got hot and has been really consistent since.”
Looking for his first undefeated team since the 1973 team went 17-0, West rates the game even. By the time it ends late tonight, he should have a better idea of how to rate this team.