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Granada Hills Fades on a Gray Day

Times Staff Writer

Gary Gray won’t be playing basketball in the L.A. Games anymore, not after his Granada Hills High team was eliminated by Fairfax in the quarterfinals Saturday. But Gray will be playing somewhere, whether it’s a pickup game or a summer league contest.

“I can play all the time,” Gray, the Highlanders’ center, said after his 17 points had paced Granada Hills past Dominguez, 37-34. The 6-8 1/2, 225-pound senior then scored 24 points in a later game against Fairfax, but the Highlanders lost, 62-57.

Granada Hills held a 10-point lead in the second half, but the Highlanders, who had only six players for the two games, tired and could not keep pace with the Lions.

“To be honest with you,” Granada Hills Coach Bob Johnson said, “I didn’t think it would be close with just six guys.”

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Granada Hills did stay close, however, because one of the six guys was Gray, who had another summer league game scheduled just 90 minutes after the conclusion of the Fairfax game.

Two seasons ago, Gray was a 6-6, 235-pound sophomore who didn’t look anything more than your average high school center. He has progressed to the point where he is challenging Simi Valley’s Don MacLean for dominant big man in the Valley.

The two hooked up in a recent Slam ‘N Jam League playoff game. “That game,” Johnson said, “I felt Gary played better than MacLean.”

Gray is at his best, Johnson said, when he’s up against the best.

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“He goes through periods where his motivation is not that good,” Johnson said. “He’s not always pushing himself. This summer he was in Slam ‘N Jam. I had coaches tell me that he started it as a pretty good player and ended it as a major-college prospect.”

To prove his point, Johnson held up a stack of letters sent to Gray from several universities.

Gray’s top five schools right now are USC, Arizona, Duke, Georgia Tech and Stanford.

“I’m leaning toward USC,” he said. “George Raveling has really impressed me.”

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Gray impressed a lot of people last season when he averaged more than 18 points and 16 rebounds a game for the Highlanders. He was named to The Times’ All-Valley first team after helping Granada Hills advance to the quarterfinals of the City 3-A playoffs.

But Gray’s season ended on a sour note. Granada Hills trailed Jefferson by one point with one second left in overtime when Gray stepped to the free-throw line for a one-and-one. At that point, Gray was 10-for-10 from the line.

He was soon 10 for 11.

His attempt spun around the rim, fell out and Jefferson had the win.

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“It’s something I always think about,” Gray said. “I hear about it all the time from the other jocks at school. I’ll be messing with them and they’ll say, ‘Free throw.’ ”

Gray is using the missed free-throw as motivation for his last season. “We want nothing less than a City title,” he said. “We want to go out with a bang.”

It figures that Gray will get banged around a lot this season. He’ll undoubtedly be the man opponents most try to stop.

“Everyone will probably play zone,” Johnson said, “and have two, three people around him. He’ll have to take the punishment when he gets the ball and turns around to the basket.”

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Gray is relishing the role of being the center of attention.

“I love it,” he said, “it’s great publicity. I think I can handle it, theres no’s pressure. I expect to play well. I expect a 100% improvement from last year.”

Johnson has marveled at Gray’s improvement since his first year.

“It’s just been phenomenal,” he said. “When he was a 10th grader, I made up my mind to start him from the beginning. Learn by fire.”

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Desmond Cerceo was the Highlanders’ dominant inside player that season. Gray averaged just more than eight points and five rebounds a game. Then came his junior season in which he earned All-City honors.

And now in his final season he’s earned the attention of college scouts.

Johnson, who is entering his eighth season as the Highlanders’ varsity coach, said Gray could be the best player he’s ever had. “He has the most potential. We’ve never had a guy go to a major college. He’s the first one to be heavily recruited.

“It’s something new for me and it’s kind of nice.”

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Notes

Cleveland, with wins over Serra (55-40) and Pius X (53-50), was the only Valley team to reach the L.A. Games semifinals. The Cavaliers play Fairfax today at 11 a.m. The other semifinal matches Crenshaw against Manual Arts at 10 a.m. The championship game is scheduled for 3 p.m. The two other Valley teams who reached the round of 16 both lost Saturday. Westlake fell to Ocean View, 52-47, while Taft dropped a 49-44 decision to Fairfax.

Taft’s Kevin Franklin learned first-hand last week what the Lakers go through when they visit Boston. Franklin was playing for a youth team against a local team at Boston University. “When we first came onto the court,” Franklin said, “they booed us. But after we went up by 18 with five minutes left, they turned for us.” Franklin also got to shoot around at the Boston Garden. “I don’t know how to explain the feeling,” he said. “It was something I’d never seen before. The people eat, drink and sleep basketball there.” Franklin was Taft’s leading scorer against Fairfax on Saturday with 18 points. . . . Fairfax played Saturday short-handed, as its two best players, Sean Higgins and Chris Mills, were in New Jersey for an invitational camp. Simi Valley’s Don MacLean is also at that camp. Fairfax also was missing 6-6 Cardell Walker, who was on vacation. And 6-4 Clarence McDuffie was not expected to show because of a death in the family, but he arrived in time to play the second half against Taft. . . . Taft Coach Jim Woodard wasn’t too pleased with taking on a Fairfax team minus Higgins and Mills. “If they don’t beat us, then they didn’t do it without their best,” Woodard said before the game. Even worse, Woodard figured, was the thought of losing to the Lions without their stars. “If they have all their guys,” Woodard said of Fairfax, “I think they’ve got the best talent in the state.”

Cleveland was impressive in its two wins, especially because point guard Damon Greer was not with the team. Greer, one of the top juniors in the Valley, is playing with an all-star team in Canada. . . . Granada Hills Coach Bob Johnson probably will field a varsity team of only 10 players this year. Johnson had only six players available Saturday. Sean Brown and Kyle Jan were playing for the Highlanders’ football team Saturday, while Jeff Langman and Todd Lytle had to work, Johnson said. Brown and Lytle are probable starters. . . . Dominguez Coach Ernest Carr was impressed with one of Taft’s players Saturday. “See that No. 7,” Carr said from the stands, “he ran a 10.55 in the 100 and he’s only 15. And he’s a pretty good basketball player.” Actually, sprinter Quincy Watts ran only 10.56 in the 100 this season.

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The two remaining Valley girls basketball teams were eliminated Saturday in the quarterfinals. Simi Valley lost to Lynwood, 48-41, while Louisville lost to Crenshaw, 33-31. . . . Alemany reached today’s 1 p.m. baseball championship game against Loara by beating Los Alamitos, 5-0, in the semifinals. In the quarterfinals Saturday, Alemany tied Katella, 2-2, in 14 innings but advanced on more total bases. . . . Burbank’s boys soccer team lost in the semifinals to Damien, 2-1, on Saturday after winning a quarterfinal game with Capistrano Valley, 1-0, in the morning. The Alemany girls soccer team plays Arcadia today at 1 p.m. in the title game. . . . Thousand Oaks’ softball team advanced to today’s 11:30 a.m. semifinal against Puis X with a 1-0 win over Mary Star. . . . Eight teams will play for the girls volleyball championship today, including Burroughs and Canyon.


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