Not Afraid of Heights : Major Additions Help Turn Torrey Pines Add Up to One of County’s Best Teams
John Farrell could rest easy. It was mid-July, and plans for his 1987-88 basketball team at Torrey Pines High School were set.
Courtie Miller (6-feet 7-inches) and Kevin Flanagan (6-9) would only be juniors, but they were two experienced players with good size.
With the addition of 6-6 sophomore Chris Stevens, Farrell would have one of the biggest teams in the North County.
Then Neal Pollard and Jeff Fleig arrived, and Farrell’s plans changed considerably.
Pollard is a 7-foot senior center who transferred from Orem, Utah, in July. Fleig, a 6-7 senior from Reno, appeared the first day of school. Suddenly, the incumbent big guys at Torrey Pines didn’t seem so big.
Farrell wasn’t turning cartwheels just yet.
“I’ve been coaching a long time, and there are times when you have transfers come in and it doesn’t work out,” Farrell said.
But Torrey Pines, reshaped with Pollard and Fleig, has started with an 11-0 record. This was supposed to be a team that would fastbreak with three guards and two post players.
“We had to readjust to the talent we have now,” Farrell said. “That’s high school. Some years you’re going to have people, and some years you’re not. For size, you just have to adapt to what you have.”
The other players said they have welcomed changes they have undergone to deal with a 7-footer. Only starting point guard Tom Underwood, 5-10, is playing the same role.
- Miller expected to be one of the big players on the front line, but with Pollard and Fleig, he has been moved to guard.
“That has been good for him,” Farrell said. “It will make him a more desirable prospect as a senior. But that’s not why we did it. We did it for the good of the team.”
Said Miller: “When Coach Farrell moved me out to wing, I had a lot more freedom. It has become a lot easier for me to move around on the floor, because the defense has to worry about Kevin and Neal.”
- Flanagan was supposed to be the team’s center this season. But when Pollard arrived, Farrell moved the 6-9 junior to a post position.
“That moved me out quite a bit,” Flanagan said. “From my point of view, that’s great for my position, because in college, that’s the position I will have to play.”
Fleig had always been the tallest player on every team he had played for. That meant that the only position he had been asked to play was center.
“I always wanted to be a forward,” said Fleig, who scored 1,500 out of a possible 1,600 on his Scholastic Aptitude Test. “Now, I’m just one of the guys on the court . . . one of the small guys, really.”
Even Pollard was forced to make some changes. He, too, had always been the central figure on his team. Offense and defense were developed to suit his needs.
At Torrey Pines, he had to become involved in a faster-paced game.
“They have all that quickness here, they can just leave me in the dust,” Pollard said. “The whole team was fast, so I didn’t have much of a choice but to become faster.”
Pollard also has the luxury of not being double-teamed as much.
“It’s nice having guys who are almost as big as me,” he said. “Every time a team tries to double-team me, I know I can pass to Kevin (Flanagan), and he will take it at them. Or I can pass out to Courtie or give it to the (other) guards.”
Most high school coaches are content building a program around one or two players taller than 6-4. Imagine being an opposing coach preparing for Torrey Pines’ towering front line.
“Initially, the shock of playing against much bigger players than you are used to playing against is something you have to overcome,” said Ray Johnson, El Camino’s coach. “It’s hard to deal with their two big kids, plus Courtie Miller because he is so mobile.
“He can play inside or outside. If you pay a whole lot of attention to him, you leave the big guys open inside.”
Johnson’s team lost to Torrey Pines, 79-76, in the final of the Lt. Mitchell tournament last Wednesday. Farrell called the Mitchell tournament a major test. It was the first time Torrey Pines has played in a pressure situation similar to the playoffs.
Size is fine, but Farrell is most concerned with whether this group can play as a team.
“It took a while for us to adjust as a team,” Stevens said. “When Neal and Jeff came we really weren’t playing as a team. Now we finally are beginning to play together.”
Farrell said Pollard’s determination to fit in was evident at a camp the team attended last August in Arizona.
“Neal and I knew we had work to do,” Farrell said. “We knew we had to get him assimilated with everyone else on the team. By the middle of the week, he showed a lot of improvement, so we knew we were going to have a diamond in the rough.”
This is the first year either Pollard or Fleig have played varsity basketball. Both missed the bulk of their sophomore seasons with injuries. Pollard had torn ligaments in his left ankle and Fleig was out with a sprained knee. Because of the missed time, both remained on the junior varsity the next year.
Pollard said he was quickly accepted by his new teammates.
“They all looked up the first day I walked into the gym,” he said. “Everyone’s enthusiastic when a 7-footer walks in. They were really cool about it, they just kind of took me in.”
Now Pollard refers to the team as a family. In fact, it is similar to Pollard’s family, only shorter.
Pollard’s father, Pearl, is 6-8, and played for the University of Utah in the late 1950s. His mother, Marilyn, is 6-2. There are six kids in the Pollard family, and the only one shorter than 6-feet is the youngest, Scott, 12, who is 5-9.
Pollard’s brother Mark (6-11) is a freshman on the San Diego State team, and his brother Alan (6-9) plays at USC. Another brother, Carl (7-2), played at USC last season.
Several schools have shown an interest in Pollard, which seems almost amazing considering his days in junior high school, when his coach called him Lurp.
The nickname was coined to poke fun at Pollard’s uncoordinated play when he was about 6-2.
“Everyone thought it was funny until they had to do pushups when they laughed at me,” Pollard said. “I was real raw back then. I could barely dribble and pass, and that was about it. Usually I would just get the ball and shoot it, and then I would have a tough time putting it in.
“I survived mainly because of my size.”
By now, Pollard has grown into his 7-foot frame, and he has become much more coordinated. No longer does he get by just by with size alone. His teammates won’t let him.
“I have to keep working all the time,” Pollard said. “I can’t sit back and wait for the ball, because if I’m not open someone else will be. So I can’t get the attitude that I can ever take it easy out there.”