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BOYS’ BASKETBALL PREVIEW : Prep Basketball Powers Remain Strong Despite Loss of Star Players

Times Staff Writer

Some of last season’s top Westside high school basketball players are now playing on some the better college teams in the nation.

Jason Mathews and Brian Williams of St. Monica are at Pittsburgh and Maryland, respectively, and David Whitmore of St. Bernard plays for Georgia Tech. Danny Price of Santa Monica is at Weber State. And Crossroads’ starting five are scattered across the country playing college ball.

Without these players, you might expect St. Monica, St. Bernard, Santa Monica and Crossroads to be rebuilding. Such is not the case. Basketball tradition is strong at these schools and new players replace the stars usually without any drop in success.

Crossroads will attempt to break a CIF record by reaching the Southern Section championship game for the sixth consecutive year.

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Santa Monica, which won the 4-A championship last year, has made it to playoffs six consecutive years under Coach Cliff Hunter.

St. Bernard missed the playoffs for the first time in 10 years last season but looks more than ready to return to its familiar niche.

St. Monica, which lost by a point to Mater Dei in the 5-A championship game, jumped from 1-A to 5-A four years ago and is beginning to show the power it displayed against smaller teams in 1-A, despite an enrollment of only 700.

A look at the Westside’s Southern Section basketball teams in alphabetical order:

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Bel-Air Prep--"You caught me at a bad time,” said Coach Mike Whitting as he picked up the phone and was asked about his team. “Two of our starters moved and a third sprained his ankle.

“But we are not going to cry over the losses. We are going to try to find ourselves before league.”

Bel-Air finished 16-8 last season and qualified for the CIF playoffs in its first year in the 1-A Division after winning the Small Schools Division two years ago. Whitting lost three starters including all-CIF Derrick Thorton, who averaged 13 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists per game. The only experienced varsity player is two-year starter Sean Lewis at forward. Lettermen who will be counted on heavily are Billy Treazas, Jason Plozala, Zaid Alhaim and Adam Clayton.

Beverly Hills--Last season’s biggest weakness will be this season’s strength: experience.

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The Normans return four starters, including left-hander Chris Plummer who hit over 50% of his three-point shots and scored more than 30 points several times in summer league games.

Plummer is joined in back court by point guard Derrik Patton, a flashy 6-0 senior who averaged 10 points last year and will lead an up-tempo offense.

Willie Crawford and Monroe Gordon, both 6-1, are back at forward while 5-10 senior Scott Turner will be the center.

“We’ve got the best athletes we’ve ever had,” said Coach Jack Dyck. Beverly Hills finished 13-11, 5-5 in the tough Ocean League. “Our only fear is that we won’t get a rebound for six to eight minutes because we don’t have a big stud in the middle.” Without the stud, Dyck will rely on the muscular, 215-pound Crawford--an all-league tailback in football--for rebounds and leadership.

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“He’s not a rah-sis-boom-bah leader on the court,” Dyck said. “But he’ll slap a teammate on the head if he needs to be waked up.”

Brentwood--Coaches always grumble and mumble that basketball is a contact sport and their players don’t play physical enough. But Brentwood Coach Bob Ingram has anything but that complaint.

“There’s a lot of fists flying in practice,” said Ingram, whose team finished third in the Delphic League last year. “Aggressiveness is something I welcome. I don’t promote dirty play. Just aggressiveness.”

Ingram, who doesn’t go to his bench much, said the aggressiveness is the result of younger players fighting for playing time. The competition is so keen, he said, that nine players will play regularly. The youth should mix well with four returning starters, including guard Mike Victor (6-0) and forward Jeremy Lappen (6-2), both all-league players who averaged in double figures. Center Mark Milstein (6-3) and guard Brian Good (5-10) also return to the starting lineup.

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Crossroads--Crossroads won the state Division III title last year. One more and they’ll have a CIF record. Yet, second-year Coach Dave Benezra speaks of elevating the program--and he is.

The Roadrunners will go national Dec. 16-22, traveling by plane to Louisville, Ky., to play in one of the top five prep tournaments in the nation.

“All the best schools from Kentucky will be there,” Benezra said. “And you know basketball is a religion there.”

For a school with an enrollment of only 500, Crossroads takes basketball pretty seriously itself. All of last season’s starters are now playing at the college level, three in Division I.

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The player missed most is 6-8 shot blocker David Wolfe (BYU). However, straight from the hospital is Rudy Henry, a 6-8 and 215-pound junior coming off knee surgery for the second consecutive year. His development could be the key to the season.

“He hasn’t played in two years,” Benezra said. “But if he gets his timing back, he could be a dominating player.”

The other new starters include guards Mike Arnold, last season’s sixth man, and Joe Perkovich, a 6-7 transfer from Palos Verdes, and forwards Darren Kalish and Brandon Wilkerson.

Culver City--If Culver City is to shoot to the heights of past Centaurs teams--Ocean League champions for three consecutive years but fourth last season--they must be able to shoot the ball.

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“We had a good team last year but just couldn’t shoot,” Coach Marty Siegal said. “We have the same mold of team as last year, so we’ll try to compensate with scrappy, aggressive play.”

Siegal returns two starters, front-line players Steve Jeter and Sean Guthrie. Jeter, a 6-2 all-around player, averaged 18 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Guthrie, a 6-5 senior, is “a real bull who doesn’t back down to anyone,” Siegal said.

Others who will play major roles are seniors Danny O’Fallbon, Al Guitierrez, Ken Shelton, Mike Sakamoto and Terrance Dawson.

Clearview--No longer can opponents look for an easy victory against Clearview, which had its first winning season in three years last year. The two previous years Clearview won only three games.

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“We tasted winning and know what hard work can do,” Coach Alvin Gilmore said. “There is a definite change in attitude in practice and at school. Our players used to be talked out of coming out for the team by classmates because we lost so much, but that has changed.”

Clearview finished 9-8 and 5-5 in the Westside League a year ago, missing the playoffs by one game. With its entire front line--Josh Newell, Bryan Antin and Carl Marthonis--and guard Andre Bullard returning, the Cobras have a solid four. Newell, a 6-1 senior, averaged team-highs of 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Daniel Murphy--Daniel Murphy, which finished 5-18 last year and doesn’t have a player taller than 6-3, scrimmaged Wednesday against Crenshaw, the perennial powerhouse in the City.

“I was going to take them off our schedule because we might get beat by 50 or 60 points,” Coach Terry Mathews said. “But the team told me they wanted to play Crenshaw. That’s typical of their gutty attitude on the court.

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“We’re small but going to try to intimidate our opponents by getting in their face all over the court, pressing full-court and playing man-to-man defense.”

Leading the scrappy attack are guards Oynx Anderson and Eric Williams, returning starters. Anderson, a 5-11 senior, averaged 18 points and 4 assists last year and is “a coach on the floor,” Mathews said.

Newbridge--With a largely freshman team, Newbridge Coach Bill Ruehl faces the task of improving on last season’s 5-13 record.

“Whether we win or lose is secondary,” Ruehl said. “It’s going to be strictly fundamentals. I’d rather have a fundamentally strong team next year.”

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Only four lettermen return and only one senior: Joel Rivlan, a 6-3 center. Scoring punch should come from freshmen Danny Schrier and sophomores Jackson James and Eric Fitzgerald.

Santa Monica--The defending 4-A champion lost all-CIF Danny Price but returns another, Keith Neal, a 6-3 senior forward who averaged 17 points and 8 rebounds. William Benjamin and Sirus Yarbrough, guards who averaged double figures, give Santa Monica a solid core, and that’s all Coach Cliff Hunter usually needs. Hunter, in his seventh season at Santa Monica, has a career record of 127-32.

Other players expected to make an impact are Jacoby Day, a 6-7 sophomore, and Fred Slaughter, a 6-2 freshman whose father played on John Wooden’s first national championship UCLA team in 1964.

St. Bernard--A sign should hang outside Coach James McClune’s office that says: Wanted: 27-point scorer.

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That’s how many points David Whitmore averaged. He’s at Georgia Tech. However, even with Whitmore, the Viking finished in fourth place in the Angelus League, missing the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.

But McClune, who has four returning starters, says missing the playoffs has made his team hungrier. Center Ed Stokes and forward Eric Nelson are among the Westside’s best players. Stokes, a 6-10 senior center, averaged 10 points and 8 rebounds last year. Nelson, a 6-5 senior, made the all-league football team as a wide receiver the past two years and averaged 13 points last season in basketball. Juno Armstrong and Keith Armstrong also return to the starting five at guard. Contesting for the final forward position are Aron Williams, a 6-8 senior, and Damon Woodruff, a 6-6 senior.

St. Monica--St. Monica reached the championship game of the CIF 4-A playoffs last year, losing to Mater Dei by a point. But Brian Williams is now at Maryland and Jason Mathews at Pittsburgh. Does more need to be said?

Williams, at 6-10, averaged 18 points, 13 rebounds and 9 blocks while Mathews averaged 27 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists.

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“They’ll be hard to replace,” Coach Leo Klemm said. “But if five guys work well together, like we can, then one can’t stop five.”

St. Monica will have a more balanced team this season, but one player does stand out: Jason Joe, a 6-2 guard who has recruiters drooling. In the shadow of Williams and Mathews, Joe averaged 15 points, 5 assists and 3 steals last year. Starters Chris Cotten at guard, forward Bobby Reason and top reserve Gordon Cubley also return.

“We’re looking at the good in losing Williams and Mathews,” Klemm said. “It’s made the team hungrier. And we know if each person accepts and does his role, we’ll have a fine team.”

Windward--Elbow in, feet square to the basket, knees bent, wrist cocked and follow through. Swish.

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“This year is going to be a basketball class, not a team,” Coach Bernie Goldfine said. Windward finished 10-11 last year but graduated all starters. “We need a heavy dose of fundamentals: proper shooting, rebounding and defense techniques,” Goldfine said. “We’re at the stage where we should not worry about wins and loses, just learning.”

Enrolled in class are junior starters John Webb and Todd Czerwinski and sophomores Kevin Brent, Chris Kikuda and Josh Carroll.


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