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LEAGUE PREVIEWS : Granada Hills Will Not Be the Only Team With a Middle Man : NORTHWEST VALLEY

Times Staff Writer

In each of the past two seasons, Granada Hills High coasted to the Northwest Valley League championship behind the dominant play of center Gary Gray.

Now he’s a senior.

So it’s no surprise that all of the league’s coaches favor Granada Hills to win the title again. But they also agree that the Highlanders could be unseated because three contenders have their own big man on campus.

Shelton Boykin of San Fernando, Kendell McDaniels of Chatsworth and Keith Owens of Birmingham are also players who can dominate. But as Granada Hills’ big man, Gray is as important to the Highlanders as Clarence Clemons is to the E Street Band. A 6-9 center, Gray earned All-City Section honors last season after averaging 17.5 points and 14.4 rebounds.

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“He’s been super for two years,” Chatsworth Coach Gary Shair said. “They say he can play for a major college, and I don’t doubt that. He’s the best player in the league.”

Chatsworth does not return any players, but McDaniels gives the Chancellors a modest chance to upset. A 6-5 senior, McDaniels transferred to Chatsworth from Kennedy after the first week of school. He averaged 11.4 points as a forward at Kennedy last season, but Shair will play him at center as well as forward.

Shair had not seen McDaniels play before this season, but was impressed by his performance in a scrimmage against Kennedy.

“He’s got all the tools,” Shair said. “He’s more of a power forward, but he’s going to have to guard other teams’ big players. He can play with anybody.”

Gray, who is a close friend of Boykin, compared the San Fernando forward with McDaniels: “Boykin and McDaniels are about even, but McDaniels can do more things.”

Boykin, who averaged 12 points and 11 rebounds as a junior, is only 6-4 1/2, but his aggressive style enables him to compete with taller players. When asked to estimate Boykin’s height, every coach in the league said 6-6.

“Two years ago I thought he was a 12th grader,” Birmingham Coach Jeff Halpern said. “He’s so physically mature.”

Said Shair: “Shelton is much more physical than Gray. He has more natural talent and he’s quicker and jumps better.”

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Owens plays more passively than the others, but last season averaged 13 points and 10 rebounds in leading Birmingham to a third-place finish.

“He’s a very good rebounder and he helps his team a lot by playing unselfishly,” Gray said. “He’s a good passer, but I think he’ll have to score more this year.”

He should, along with the league’s other three Big Men.

BIRMINGHAM

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LAST SEASON: 12-11, 5-5 in league

THIS SEASON: Charles Johnson, a 5-11 senior who averaged 10.4 points last season, and Derrick Cunningham, a 6-0 senior, will start at the wing positions in Birmingham’s offense, which does not have a center. Adam Zuckerman, a 5-11 senior with varsity experience, will be the point guard. The forwards are Keith Owens and Ennerea Maxwell, a 6-4 senior. The Braves’ sixth man is senior Damon Buford. Rookie Coach Jeff Halpern also expects Jason Moore and Dana Mathis to contribute. Moore, a 6-0 junior, will play at forward. Mathis will back up Zuckerman at point guard. “We have good quickness and we’ve played good man-to-man defense in our scrimmages,” he said.

CANOGA PARK

LAST SEASON: 0-19, 0-10 in league

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THIS SEASON: Three players return for Coach Joey Nakasone. Oral Elrington, a 6-4 senior, returns at center. Craig Galowitsch, a 6-1 senior, and Jeremy Mears, a 6-0 junior who was a wide receiver on the football team, will start at the forwards. Dennis Hackney, a junior with B experience, will play one guard. Nakasone is undecided about the other spot, but he is considering Cleveland Jackson, a 5-10 freshman. Canoga Park picked up two transfers this season: Fred Wilson, a senior guard from Ohio, and Ralf Hinrich, a 6-4 senior who is an exchange student from Germany.

CHATSWORTH

LAST SEASON: 8-11, 5-5 in league

THIS SEASON: Ten seniors graduated from last season’s team, but the league’s coaches expect the Chancellors to contend for the league title because of the addition of center/forward Kendell McDaniels. Coach Gary Shair has decided on only two members of McDaniels’ supporting cast. David Waco, who played on the B team last season, will fill one spot. Stewart Thompson, who played center on junior varsity, will start at forward. Jeff Martin, with junior varsity experience, and Eric Markel, the league’s B player of the year last season, are the leading candidates for the other two spots. “Our strength is that we’re a very intelligent team,” Shair said.

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GRANADA HILLS

LAST SEASON: 18-4, 10-0 in league

THIS SEASON: The rest of the league will be gunning for the Highlanders, but they came through in that position last season, finishing 18-4 and defending their league title with a 10-0 mark. “I feel very comfortable being the favorite,” said Gary Gray, a 6-9 senior center. “I’m confident that we can repeat.” Gray will be joined on the front line by forwards Sam Puathasnanon and Brett Wendorf. Puathasnanon, a 6-5 senior, was first-team all-league after averaging 11.8 points and 4.6 assists. Wendorf, a 6-8 forward, has no varsity experience. Terrell Smith returns at point guard, where he averaged 10 points and 5.5 assists. Coach Bob Johnson has not decided who will start at the other back-court position. Sean Brown, a junior forward and all-league football player, also returns.

SAN FERNANDO

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LAST SEASON: 15-8, 8-2 in league

THIS SEASON: Fifth-year Coach Dick Crowell is optimistic about his team, saying it could be his best ever. “We have kids that have talent and who are fairly intelligent players,” Crowell said. “If they can execute, we’ll be real difficult to beat.” Two starters return from last season’s second-place team. Shelton Boykin and Sean Declouet are beginning their third varsity season. Boykin, a 6-4 1/2 senior forward, averaged 12 points and 11 rebounds. Declouet, a 6-1 senior guard, averaged 11 points. Charles Thomas, a 6-5 senior transfer from Kennedy, will start at center. Joe Maudlin, who played quarterback on the football team, will be the point guard. Terry Hill, a 6-3 senior with junior varsity experience, and Tory Stephens will contend for the other guard spot.

MONROE

LAST SEASON: 5-11, 2-8 in league

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THIS SEASON: Coach Cliff Burems can’t be accused of setting too lofty of standards for his team, which is coming off a fifth-place finish. “I’m going to have to work a magic act this year,” he said. Burems has not named any of his starters, but said he thinks Anthony Ray, a 6-3 senior, will play center. Roosevelt Johnson is expected to start at one forward, but the other three spots are undecided.


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