Last week's men's basketball game between Santa Monica College and West Los Angeles College may have proved a couple of things.
The unbeaten Santa Monica Corsairs, who won 72-59 and out-rebounded the Oilers, 57-35, may be in a league by themselves. But WLAC could still be a contender in its new league, the Southern California Athletic Conference.
Charles Sands, coach of the Oilers since the school opened in 1969, said that SMC is probably "one of the top five teams in the state" and he is not disheartened that his team is off to a 1-3 start.
SMC Coach John McMullen, in his ninth year at that school, said this year's squad "has a chance to be among the best teams I have had. We have definite championship goals in mind."
Made '81 Semifinals
McMullen's best was the 26-8 team that went to the state tournament semifinals in the 1980-81 season. He also had one that was 24-8 in 1981-82, and last year's squad was 20-12 and tied Pasadena for second in the now-disbanded Metropolitan Conference.
This year's Corsairs were 4-0 as the week began, including a win over Mt. San Antonio, which many observers have said is the state's best team.
SMC will play this year in the Western State Conference, which, McMullen said, "looks very strong." So do the Corsairs.
Returning front-line players for Santa Monica are 6-8 center Kevin Parks, 6-8 forward Antwon Barnett and 6-6 Jason Woodruff. Parks is the former Crossroads School star, Woodruff was a standout for Culver City High, and Barnett, who had a team-leading 14 rebounds against WLAC, is from Cave Springs, Ga.
Westchester High Star
Another top player in the front court is 6-5 1/2 Michael Courtney, the former Westchester High star. Courtney was originally signed by Pepperdine but did not meet college entrance test standards. He wound up at Santa Monica after he was wooed by several other community colleges, including WLAC.
Transfers have given a strong infusion to the back court, including 6-4 guard-forward Randall Moos, 6-3 off guard Derrick Gathers and 6-0 point guard Darrell Gates. Moos, who prepped at Palisades High, spent his freshman season at the University of New Mexico. Gathers, whose brother Hank is redshirting at Loyola Marymount after playing as a freshman at USC, and Gates came to Santa Monica from Taft College, which dropped basketball after last season.
Troy Whiteto, a 6-2 guard and a top defender, is back from last year, and promising freshmen include 6-9 backup center Brian Preiss from Hollywood High, 6-5 power forward Bobbie Jordan from Palisades and 6-4 forward-guard Darius Henderson from Dorsey High.
With such a dominating lineup, it would be surprising if the Corsairs didn't make it to the state tournament finals, which will be held March 12-14 at Loyola Marymount.
But McMullen said that he expects tough competition from every Western State Conference team. The realigned conference includes Santa Barbara City, Glendale, College of the Canyons, Bakersfield, Moorpark, Oxnard, Cuesta and Allan Hancock.
The Corsairs will be at Cerritos for a non-conference game at 7:30 p.m. Friday and play their conference opener at home against Bakersfield at 7 p.m. Jan. 8.
Sands, whose Oilers were 9-16 overall last season and finished fifth in the old Mountain Valley Conference, will be in the National Division of the Southern California Athletic Conference, along with Harbor, Mt. San Jacinto, Rio Hondo, College of the Desert, East Los Angeles and Marymount of Palos Verdes.
He said he thinks that the strong teams will be Harbor, Mt. San Jacinto and Rio Hondo but that the Oilers will give them a tough fight.
Although the Oilers are 1-3, Sands said that their losses have been close, except for Santa Monica College. He said that the game with the Corsairs would have been closer, except that WLAC did not shoot well from the field or the foul line that night.
Returning WLAC players are 6-5, 225-pound forward LaVar Ball, who set a school record last season with 316 rebounds, and 6-3 guard-forward Cecil Whitmore, who established another by hitting 82.4% of his free throws last year.
Sands said that Ball, who did not play much prep basketball but was a good quarterback at Canoga Park High, was a pleasant surprise last year and should have a top year. In the season opener, a 102-89 win over Porterville, Ball scored 33 points and grabbed 18 rebounds.
The WLAC coach said he also expects more good things from Whitmore, who went to Westchester High and whose brother David is now starring for St. Bernard High. Whitmore scored 18 points in a 100-98 double-overtime loss to the alumni.
Freshmen Doing Well
He is already getting good things from three freshman starters: 6-2 guard Tracy Freeman, who started for state champion Crenshaw High last season, 6-2 guard Doyle Balthazar from Los Angeles High and 6-4 forward Stefan Kendrix from Birmingham High.
Freeman is averaging about 22 points a game, Balthazar about nine assists a game, and Kendrix is "a strong, steady, coachable player," said Sands.
Anthony Denmion, a 6-6 freshman who was a stalwart for Venice High, started the first two games for the Oilers but came down with an eye infection, missed the alumni game and played just a few minutes against the Corsairs.
'Lot of Potential'
Sands said that Denmion "may be the most talented player on the team. He has a lot of potential, although I know coaches who have lost their jobs with potential."
The Oilers will play Valley College tonight in the first round of the Moorpark tournament. Their conference opener is with Rio Hondo at 2 p.m. Jan. 7 at WLAC's home court, Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Culver City.