COUNTDOWN TO THE CIF FINALS : The Three Who Shine in Sophomore Shadow : Simi Valley's Rise Includes Untold Story of Seniors Johnson, Hankins and Wilcox

Times Staff Writer

Where would the Simi Valley High basketball team be without Don MacLean and Shawn DeLaittre?

Probably the same place they'd be without Mike Hankins, Todd Johnson and Tippy Wilcox.

You say you haven't heard much about Hankins, Johnson or Wilcox?

Don't worry. Not too many people have outside Simi Valley.

When the Pioneers play Muir for the Southern Section 4-A championship tonight at 7, they will be led by MacLean and DeLaittre, the super sophomores with the rising numbers and growing reputations.

But it is safe to say that without the contributions of the three senior starters--Hankins, Johnson and Wilcox--the Pioneers would never have made it to the Sports Arena.

"I don't think we would have even won league without them," MacLean said.

"Certainly, the main focus of the team offensively has been our talented sophomores," Simi Valley Coach Bob Hawking said. "But the seniors have really done their jobs. They have been steady all year--no real ups and downs. They have played their roles to the hilt."

Johnson is the team's point guard, the floor general.

"The old saying, 'He's a coach on the floor,' couldn't be more apropos," Hawking said.

Hankins is the off-guard, capable of hitting outside jumpers in bunches.

"Mike is the silent guy. It's hard to get a word out of him," said Hawking. "He does all his talking between the white lines."

Wilcox is the forward opposite DeLaittre. His nickname is Rambo II.

"Just watch the way I play," is his explanation for the moniker.

Said Hawking, in the Pioneers' media guide: "Tippy can taketh, and he will giveth (punishment in the paint) when opposing big men enter his territory."

MacLean and DeLaittre are No. 1 and No. 2 in both scoring and rebounding for the 27-2 Pioneers. MacLean, a 6-8 center, is averaging 21.5 points and 14 rebounds a game. DeLaittre, a 6-4 forward, posts averages of 14.8 points and 9 rebounds.

Each of the three seniors excels in his own area.

Johnson is the team leader in assists with 6.7 a game. Hankins, who is hitting 51% of his shots, averages 9.5 points a game, third on the team. Wilcox is third in rebounding at 4.4 a game.

But their contributions are not well represented in numbers.

They are the consummate role players.

"My role is to take control of the game and keep it in control," said the 5-10, 155-pound Johnson. "I have to be able to bring it up and get it into the hands of those who can score."

Johnson and Hankins are the only returning lettermen from last season's varsity team. Johnson was bothered much of his junior season with pulled hamstrings in both legs.

"He was never at full strength," Hawking said. "He kind of had to gimp through his junior year."

Johnson missed four games at the beginning of this season with a pinched nerve in his neck. He spent December in therapy for the injury, but it no longer bothers him, he said.

A healthy Johnson has meant a happy Hawking.

Johnson faced perhaps his biggest test in the semifinals Tuesday against top-seeded Capistrano Valley. The Cougars' press had forced an average of 25 turnovers a game in the playoffs.

Simi Valley had just three turnovers in its 97-69 win. Johnson not only handled the press masterfully, but also scored 11 points. His season average is 6.6.

"I think we're seeing vintage Todd Johnson in the playoffs," Hawking said.

The many facets of Hankins have been in view during the playoffs.

In the first post-season game against Glendale, the 5-11, 165-pounder made his first four shots and finished with 19 points. Simi Valley won, 67-56.

Against Capistrano Valley, Hankins had two points, attempting only three shots. MacLean and DeLaittre each had a field day inside, scoring 30 points each.

"If they don't need me to shoot," Hankins said, "I'll throw it into the post. If they need me, I'll shoot from the outside."

Hankins started as a junior and averaged 6.9 points a game.

"Mike and Steve Jenner are outstanding perimeter shooters," Hawking said. "They really take the pressure off our inside guys."

Said MacLean: "With Mike, other teams can't sag off on us in the middle. That's where he really has helped us."

MacLean and DeLaittre also appreciate the presence of Wilcox.

"He takes up a lot of room," DeLaittre said.

When Wilcox starts banging in the middle, it frees up MacLean.

"Tippy's got a good body and he leans on people," Hawking said. "He provides a lot of defense and a lot of spirit."

Wilcox, who became a starter in the middle of league play, is among the most vocal of the Pioneers on the court. When he's not diving after loose balls, he's exhorting a teammate to play better defense.

"He sacrifices his body for whatever," DeLaittre said. "When he comes in, he can really psych out other players."

When the 6-2, 180-pound Wilcox hawks an opponent with the ball, he gives new meaning to the term "In your face."

"I'm sort of like a spark to the team," Wilcox said. "I'm a pretty emotional player."

Wilcox, who averages 2.5 points a game, knows what is expected of him.

"Defense," he said. "I'm not much of an offensive threat, but I can be, when given the chance."

Wilcox, an all-league linebacker, suffered a broken nose in Simi Valley's football playoff loss to West Torrance. Hence, he wore a face mask when the basketball season began.

"I didn't let up with it on," he said. "I played like it wasn't even there."

And that earned him the tag Rambo II from the coach.

Even before they played their first game for the Pioneers, MacLean and DeLaittre became the focus of the team in the media.

As the season progressed, their names appeared more and more in the newspapers.

If the seniors resented the publicity the two sophomores received, they never let on.

As Johnson said: "I had seen some of their games in ninth grade, so it was pretty exciting to me to have them come here and play. I knew it was only going to help the team."

The seniors have no problems with MacLean and DeLaittre earning the accolades, as long as people remember that, in the words of Johnson, "it's not just a two-man team."

"At some schools, the seniors are an elite group that look down their noses at the underclassmen," Hawking said. "But that has never been the case here."

MacLean said the seniors have never complained about the imbalance of publicity.

"They've been real positive about it," he said. "They've shown real maturity."

If Simi Valley wins tonight, if may not be the only time Hankins and Wilcox celebrate a title this year.

Hankins, an all-league third baseman last season, will soon join the Pioneer baseball team, a legitimate contender for the 4-A title this year.

"I want to get a ring in both sports," he said.

Wilcox, who played baseball as a sophomore, will try out for the team once the basketball season is over.

Next year, Wilcox will play football at Cal Lutheran. He received his acceptance letter to the school last week.

Hankins, who has been academically accepted to UCLA, should be playing baseball for a Division I school next year. He's not sure which one, however, since he is waiting for a scholarship offer.

Johnson is considering playing basketball at Pomona-Pitzer next season.

For now, though, the trio is intent on delivering to Simi Valley its first Southern Section title in basketball.

"That is my No. 1 priority in life right now," Wilcox said. "I want it over everything else."

For the Pioneers to win, they will need big games from MacLean and DeLaittre. But they know they will also need contributions from T.J., Hank and Rambo II.

Said MacLean: "They are as much a main ingredient of this team as Shawn and I are."

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