El Camino: Prep Basketball's Fun Bunch : To Say the Wildcats Are Loose Would Be Using That Term Loosely

They laugh. They rap. They "scratch." They go by nicknames like Mr. Air-o-Dynamics and Captain Funkdunk.

The El Camino boys' basketball team, losers of only six games in the last two seasons, is not what one would call a somber group.

One word to describe the Avocado League-champion Wildcats, who meet rival Oceanside Saturday in the San Diego Section 2-A final, is loose. With their flashy monikers and penchant for needling their coach, the opposition and each other, the Wildcats are cool and, occasionally they border on being cocky.

"We can be confident when we have to be, but when we have to get down and get dirty, we can do that too," forward Eric Martin said. "We do whatever we have to do win."

For most of the past two seasons, winning has not been a problem for the Wildcats. This has not always made things easy for Coach Ray Johnson, who had to keep a tight rein on the team's free spirits.

When asked whether the Wildcats had a team clown, Johnson replied wearily, "We have about six guys who are clowns."

Power forward Ken Crawford and guard Kevin Taylor are "Sir Slam-a-lot" and "Ice-T," respectively, while 6-foot 7-inch center Nate Reed goes by the exalted title of "Captain Funkdunk."

Along with Steve Heard, Randy Hale and Edmond Johnson, they have joked together through two very successful seasons.

"We do have a lot of clowns on this team, like Kenny and myself," Taylor said. "We just like to have fun, make fun of people and generally be crazy."

Said Crawford: "(The team clown) has to be Kevin. He's crazy. He likes intimidating people and then coming back and laughing at him."

Crawford has lived up to his nickname, leading the team in scoring with 16.8 points a game. The team's playful nature caused some consternation for Johnson, who complained that his players have not always demonstrated enough maturity or practiced proper "mental preparation" for games.

The players agree, recounting stories of their antics before and after key games.

"We went to a game at Mission Bay and there was they had this carnival going on across (the street) from the school, so before the game, we went over and went on the rides," Crawford said.

As winning became commonplace through midseason, the players began to cultivate outside interests. When not mixing it up on the court, Crawford, Taylor and Reed--the tallest saxophonist in the El Camino marching band--did some "mixing" musically, forming a group to play "rap" or "scratch" music.

The group made its debut during an impromptu rap session after El Camino won a tournament in El Centro.

"We had a lot of fun in El Centro," Crawford said. "A lot of things happened that shouldn't be put in the paper. It might embarrass some guys."

However, things stopped being fun for El Camino about two weeks ago when they played host to Ramona.

The Wildcats, proud owners of an 18-game winning streak and perfect league record, were blown off the court in the first quarter by the third-place Bulldogs. By the final minute, El Camino had closed its deficit from 11 points to 2, but could get no closer, as Edmond Johnson's desperation shot with five seconds left missed.

There was no good-natured kidding after this game. Instead, Heard blasted his teammates' lackadaisical play, telling one reporter, "Some of the guys are so empty-headed it's ridiculous. Hopefully, (this game) will show them the light."

El Camino had gained a game in the loss column, but had learned an important lesson.

"I think losing to Ramona woke us up," Johnson said. "We had won 18 in a row up to that point and I don't think we were mentally prepared to play. We expected people to roll over for us."

The players agree that the loss shocked them out of their complacency.

"We didn't get cocky, we just didn't get as pumped as we should have," Crawford said. "We'd been having fun at the beginning of the season but after we lost to Ramona, everything's been serious. All of us are pretty serious about winning CIF."

This new seriousness, while perhaps depriving the players of a few laughs, has pleased Johnson.

"The maturity level is much better," he said. "We work much harder in practice."

But has this new-found maturity put a crimp in the Wildcats' style? After all, "Ice-T," "Slam-a-lot" and "Captain Funkdunk" have yet to mix a video entitled "The CIF Shuffle."

"We should do that," Taylor said. "But after the game Saturday."

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