Bob Erbst: Katella’s New Hero

Times Staff Writer

Bob Erbst grew up worshipping Katella High School basketball.

He began attending Coach Tom Danley’s Christmas basketball camps in the second grade and always was impressed when star players such as Randy Whieldon, Ray Donnelly, Dan Wright and Roger Lemons would joke around as they walked into the gym with their shoes untied, their worn-out shorts and Katella shirts on, and breakfast in their hands.

“Then, they’d throw down a few dunks and I’d think that I wanted to do that some day,” Erbst said.

Erbst has done that and more.


A 6-foot 9-inch forward entering his senior season at Katella, Erbst will go down with Whieldon, Lemons, Wright and Co. as one of the Knights’ best players. Considered Orange County’s leading recruit this season, Erbst already has signed a letter of intent to play at USC.

And along the way, he also got his wish.

“Now, I walk into the gym (during Danley’s camps) with my doughnuts, my shoes untied, my sweats on, and park it in the back with the rest of the team,” Erbst said. “I see all the little kids shooting around and looking at me wide-eyed.”

Meet Bob Erbst, child idol.


“I was in a pizza place the other day and ran into a kid who plays in the camps,” he said. “He told his mom, ‘Look, that’s Bobby Erbst!’ I looked over and laughed, because I used to say to my mom, ‘Look, that’s Dan Wright!’ ”

Many of the nation’s Division I basketball schools have been looking at Erbst since his sophomore year. The recruiting grew more intense during his junior year, when he averaged 19 points a game to lead Katella to a 21-5 record.

Erbst remembered reading a newspaper article last year about Mater Dei’s Tom Lewis, then the county’s top recruit who eventually signed with USC last April.

“He was saying how much trouble it was getting all that mail and those phone calls and I was thinking, ‘You poor baby. You have everybody at your heels and you complain about it,’ ” Erbst said. “When it started for me, I thought it was great, but then it started escalating.”


Erbst has two boxes filled with 58 pounds of mail he has received from about 70 schools. Forty schools wanted to visit him in his home. Fourteen did. On the average, he received six or seven calls a night from college recruiters. One night he got 17 calls.

Tom Lewis had one good piece of advice for Erbst: Sign early.

By October, Erbst had narrowed his choices to five schools--Arizona, Washington, USC, UCLA and Syracuse. On Nov., 13, he chose USC and signed a letter of intent Nov. 13, which he sent via registered mail to Trojan Coach Stan Morrison.

Morrison had Erbst signed and sealed, but not delivered. The letter had not reached the coach by Nov. 18, two days before the deadline.


“Morrison was saying that some heads were gonna roll unless he found the letter, but no one knew what was going on,” Erbst said.

Morrison sent another letter to Erbst, this one by express mail. Erbst signed it and hand-delivered it to the coach at USC’s exhibition game against Australia that Tuesday night in the Sports Arena.

The original letter got there on Wednesday, so Morrison destroyed one and kept the other. Had he not received a letter by Wednesday, the recruiting process would have started again for Erbst, and he would have had time to change his mind.

“I did not want to sign late,” Erbst said. “I couldn’t have put up with much more of that. It would have hurt the team and me.”


Danley is glad it’s over.

“We don’t have to worry about the phone ringing off the hook,” he said. “I can go back to doing the things I have to do to prepare for our season and to be athletic director. We have a happy ballplayer on our hands, and that’s what we’re here for.”

Erbst is taking a different approach to this season. He doesn’t have to worry about which college coaches are watching him or how to impress them. There won’t be as much pressure, so he thinks he’ll be able to have some fun.

“This year, I’m just going to be playing for Katella,” he said. “I’m set for next year, so I’ll work on the things I have to work on to help USC, but first I have to help Katella. I want to win a CIF (Southern Section) title. This is Katella’s 20th year and we’ve been to a few finals (three) but we’ve never won.”


Erbst heads what is shaping up as one of Orange County’s most talented classes of basketball players, which includes Ocean View’s Ricky Butler, Capistrano Valley’s Nathan Call, Santa Ana Valley’s Alonzo Jamison, Brea-Olinda’s Kevin Walker and Saddleback’s Bryant Walton.

Here’s a closer look, in alphabetical order, at Orange County’s best players:

Ken Ammann (Edison): The 6-2 senior guard/forward was first team All-Sunset League last season, when he averaged 13 points a game for the Chargers. He’s an excellent outside shooter who has improved other parts of his game, such as strength and rebounding.

Rob Burrer (Troy): The 6-5 senior forward, who transferred to Troy after his sophomore year at Servite, had to sit out last season because his family did change its residence. Burrer started about half of the 1983-84 season for the Friars and is expected to be a big addition to a Warriors team that went 10-12 last season.


Ricky Butler (Ocean View): The 6-6 junior forward, a member of the varsity for three years, is beginning his second full season as a starter. Butler averaged 10 points and 11 rebounds last year but has improved his outside shooting and should be more of an offensive threat.

Nathan Call (Capistrano Valley): Entering his fourth season on the varsity, the 6-0 point guard averaged 12 points, shot 56% from the field and was the county’s assist leader, averaging 9.4 a game, as a junior. Call was recruited by the University of Utah’s football team as a receiver but chose to attend Brigham Young University on a basketball scholarship.

Bob Coady (Servite): College scouts like Coady’s 6-4 size for a point guard and are also impressed by his shooting and passing skills. He was a first-team, All-Angelus League selection last year when he averaged 11 points and 5.2 assists. Friar Coach Larry Walker rates Coady as one of the best point guards he’s had at the school.

Blaine DeBrouwer (Ocean View): A 6-0 senior point guard, DeBrouwer has signed a letter of intent to play basketball at New Mexico State. He became a starter late in his sophomore year and did an excellent job of running the Seahawk offense last year, as Ocean View advanced to the 5-A championship game, where the Seahawks lost to Mater Dei.


LeRon Ellis (Mater Dei): The son of former Lakers center LeRoy Ellis, LeRon, a 6-10 junior center, is a transfer from Parkrose High in Portland. Considered an excellent defensive player and shot blocker, Ellis wasn’t a big scorer at Parkrose, but he has a good shooting touch and will be more active in the Monarch offense.

Jeff Fryer (Corona del Mar): A 6-2 senior forward, Fryer was Orange County’s No. 2 scorer last year behind Mater Dei’s Tom Lewis. Fryer, who is accurate from long range, averaged 23.4 points a game for the Sea Kings and is expected to help them challenge for the Sea View League championship.

Steve Guild (Marina): A 6-5 sophomore forward, Guild started last year as a freshman and was a second-team All-Sunset League selection. He is one of four returning starters for the Vikings, who are expected to challenge for a playoff spot after going 11-14 last year.

Alonzo Jamison (Santa Ana Valley): A 6-6 senior forward, Jamison missed half of last season with a broken leg but came back and averaged 15 points and 9 rebounds in 15 games for the Falcons. He is one of the county’s best inside players, has improved his outside shot and should be an even bigger scoring threat.


Kevin Jones (Valencia): Beginning his third season as a varsity starter, the 6-3 forward is a strong defensive player and rebounder who can score from inside. Jones averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds and was a first-team All-Orange League selection last year, and led the Tigers to a 14-9 record.

Tim Knowles (Mission Viejo): A 6-7 senior forward, Knowles averaged 8.8 points and 9.2 rebounds for a Diablo team that went 23-5 last season. He is a strong rebounder who was a second-team All-South Coast League selection.

Richard Lucas (Katella): A 6-6 junior center, Lucas was expected to start last season, but he broke a bone below his knee in the first game against Rancho Alamitos and missed the season. Knight Coach Tom Danley said he is near full strength and may develop into a Division I player if he continues to develop at his present rate.

Coby Naess (Laguna Beach): A 6-4 senior forward/center, Naess led the county in rebounding last season with 15 a game while averaging 18.7 points and hitting 54% of his shots. Naess may not be the tallest, but the 215-pounder is one of the county’s strongest post players.


Tony Panzica (Ocean View): A 6-6 senior, Panzica will be starting his third season at another position for the Seahawks. He played point guard as a sophomore, small forward last year and will be a shooting guard this season.

Mitch Pelichowski (Costa Mesa): A 6-2 senior guard, Pelichow- ski went unnoticed last year playing for a Mustang team that finished 9-15, but Costa Mesa Coach Craig Falconer thinks he will be as good as any of the Sea View League’s players.

Steve Pemper (Huntington Beach): Because he transferred from Huntington Valley Christian after his sophomore year without moving, Pemper had to play his junior season on the junior varsity, but the 6-7 senior center will play a key role this year on an Oiler team that is expected to improve on its 9-12 record.

Dave Roth (Orange): The 6-5 senior forward begins his third season as a varsity starter after averaging 17 points and 8 rebounds to lead the Panthers to the Century League championship last season. Orange Coach Ed Graham said that Roth has improved his mental attitude and should be an even better player this year.


Ryan Rycraw (El Modena): An excellent student, Rycraw, a 6-1 senior guard, is considering the University of Pennsylvania, Clemson and New Mexico. A good ballhandler and perimeter shooter, he averaged 16.5 points last season and shot 90% from the free-throw line.

Jim Sammon (El Dorado): A 6-3 senior guard, Sammon averaged 13.8 points and 7 rebounds to lead the Golden Hawks to the Empire League co-championship. He also earned a reputation as one of the league’s best defensive players, and was a second-team All-Empire League selection.

J.T. Snow (Los Alamitos): The 6-2 senior was considered one of the county’s best point guards last season, when he averaged 12.8 points and 7.3 assists, but Griffin Coach Steve Brooks will move Snow to shooting guard.

Ralph Tallant (Fullerton): A 6-2 shooting guard who averaged 13.5 points and was an All-Freeway League first-team selection last year, Tallant will be moved to small forward, as Indian Coach Randy Forgette hopes to get more quickness in his lineup. Tallant is being recruited by New Mexico State.


Stuart Thomas (Mater Dei): The 6-9 forward signed a letter of intent to play at Stanford. He averaged 8.5 points and 5.1 rebounds, when the Monarchs were relying on the offense of Tom Lewis and Mike Mitchell, but Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight says Thomas “blossomed over the summer and is the most improved player on the team.”

Jason Trask (Capistrano Valley): A 6-7 senior forward, Trask is the team’s toughest player, and is a strong inside player and offensive rebounder. He signed a letter of intent to play at Weber State.

Eric Turner (Santa Ana): A quarterback for the Saint football team, Turner got off to a slow start last year but came on in league, averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds. He is still competing in the Southern Conference football playoffs, but will be the Saints’ team leader and best basketball player when he returns.

Gary Wade (San Clemente): The 6-6 senior will play center this year, but he can handle the ball and is being recruited as a big guard. He averaged 16 points and 6 rebounds last season and was a first-team, All-South Coast League selection.


John Waikle (Capistrano Valley): The 6-9 center transferred to Capistrano Valley three weeks before last season and didn’t see much playing time, but Cougar Coach Mark Thornton says Waikle has gotten stronger, has developed some inside moves and will be a good high-post man this year.

Kevin Walker (Brea-Olinda): Walker is a 6-10 center but has an excellent shooting touch from the outside and is a good ballhandler. The three-year starter averaged 20.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and shot 57% from the field last year to lead the Wildcats to a 22-5 record and the Orange League championship.

Bryant Walton (Saddleback): Considered by many to be the best all-around player in the Sea View League, Walton has signed a letter of intent to play for California. The 6-4 guard averaged 16.8 points and 5.4 assists last season and shot 55% from the floor.

The Players


Player School Ht. Yr. Po. Ken Ammann Edison 6-2 Sr. F/G Rob Burrer Troy 6-5 Sr. F Ricky Butler Ocean View 6-6 Jr. F Nathan Call Capistrano Valley 6-0 Sr. G Bob Coady Servite 6-4 Sr. G Blaine DeBrouwer Ocean View 6-0 Sr. G LeRon Ellis Mater Dei 6-10 Jr. C Bob Erbst Katella 6-9 Sr. F Jeff Fryer Corona del Mar 6-2 Sr. F Alonzo Jamison Santa Ana Valley 6-6 Sr. F Kevin Jones Valencia 6-3 Sr. F Tim Knowles Mission Viejo 6-7 Sr. F Coby Naess Laguna Beach 6-4 Sr. F/C Tony Panzica Ocean View 6-6 Sr. G Steve Pemper Huntington Beach 6-7 Sr. F Dave Roth Orange 6-5 Sr. F Ryan Rycraw El Modena 6-1 Sr. G Jim Sammon El Dorado 6-3 Sr. G J.T. Snow Los Alamitos 6-2 Sr. G Stuart Thomas Mater Dei 6-9 Sr. F Jason Trask Capistrano Valley 6-7 Sr. F Eric Turner Santa Ana 6-5 Sr. F Gary Wade San Clemente 6-6 Sr. F Kevin Walker Brea-Olinda 6-10 Sr. C Bryant Walton Saddleback 6-4 Sr. G