Snappy nicknames, of course, come with time. Over the next two or three years, selected players talented enough to compete at the major-college level will start picking up flashy names like Stilt or Sleepy, Mailman or Magic.
For Adonis Jordan and Dedan Thomas, however, their given names already have catchy, literal meaning.
According to Greek mythology, Adonis was the love interest of Aphrodite, but in more contemporary usage, an Adonis is a very handsome young man.
"I never really figured out what all that stuff was supposed to mean," said Jordan, a junior at Cleveland High who cuts a pretty rakish figure on the court. "It's just a name to me."
Dedan is an abbreviation of a Swahili word which, loosely translated, means the last warrior in the forest. Thomas' mother, Francis, came up with the name.
"I don't pay much attention to all that stuff," said Thomas, a junior at Taft. He laughed and said: "When she talks about it I just sort of nod my head and pretend I'm listening."
Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian philosopher of some renown, once said that the name of a man "is a numbing blow from which he never recovers." McLuhan must have been numb when he said it, because these two are living up to their names and then some--both have been named to The Times' All-Valley team.
Jordan and Thomas play the same position, point guard. They are the same age, 17. Both live in Canoga Park and play in the Valley League. They are the same size, 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds. And if their on-court play seems similar, there is a reason. They practice and compete in pick-up games together at gyms all over the West Valley.
"We stay on the same team and win all day," Thomas said. "I like to play with him because he can go to the point, or I can go to point and he can go to off-guard.
"I hate for him to stick me, though. He knows all my moves."
Thomas and Jordan are two of four juniors named to the 10-member All-Valley team, a collection of players who do plenty of sticking and moving. Mitchell Butler of Oakwood and Brent Lofton of El Camino Real, both juniors, also were selected.
Four juniors on the first team may sound like a disproportionate number, but there is a reason. College recruiters concede that this year's seniors are certainly a proficient bunch, but most agree that the Class of 1989 has more depth.
"From top to bottom, from point guard to center, in the Valley, Southern California and even nationwide, there is a heckuva lot of talent in this year's junior class," said Kris Jason, a UCLA assistant coach who is primarily a recruiter.
"Looking at this year's seniors, there are some great players out there. As far as quality, it's a good class. But the juniors are deep. You could sign your No. 3 or No. 4 choice and still get a very talented player."
And while recruiters are prohibited from discussing specific underclassmen, some agree that the junior class in the area is on par with any in the nation.
Mike Boyd, an assistant at Michigan who was in the Valley last week watching spring-league competition, agreed that juniors nationwide and locally offer a better selection.
"There's no question," said Boyd, who was involved last year in the signing of forward Sean Higgins of Fairfax. "Looking at the different scouting services, and what we hear from coaches, alumni and other sources, the junior class is loaded."
Boyd has seen it himself, in Southern California and across the United States, and it is no coincidence that Michigan is heavily recruiting two juniors from the area, both from the Valley League, he said.
Yet perhaps the most recruited player next fall will be Oakwood's Butler, the Southern Section Small Schools Player of the Year the past two seasons. Butler (6-5, 185) led Oakwood to its first Smalls Schools title this season and virtually made the school record book obsolete.
He averaged 32.3 points and 17 rebounds a game and scored a school-record 50 points in Oakwood's 55-47 win over Ribet Christian in the playoff quarterfinals.
In college, Butler likely will play at small forward or off-guard. While playing in summer-league games last year, Butler showed he could play with taller players--such as 6-10 Simi Valley center Don MacLean--and hold his own.
"I've seen all the juniors in Southern California," said Rich Goldberg of the American Roundball Corp., an organization that fields teams for players at the grade-school level and up. "I'd have to rate him the No. 1 player. And talking to recruiters, that's the impression they give me, too."
Butler is currently playing on an ARC team and making the transition from forward to off-guard.
"I think that's where he'll play in college," Goldberg said. "He's working on his outside shot--he hit a couple of three-pointers in a Las Vegas tournament--and he's still devastating inside. He could be the ultimate off-guard or swingman."
Lofton also will join the ranks of the ballhandlers next season. After playing forward most of the season, Lofton was moved to off-guard for El Camino Real's last few games.
"That's where he'll be next year," El Camino Real assistant Jeff Davis said. "It's for his development as much as ours. He's one of the best ballhandling big guys in the Valley.
"He has all kinds of potential as a college off-guard, since his outside game is improving."
Lofton (6-5, 180), the first junior in El Camino Real's 19-year history to make the All-City team, did more than score from the outside, however. In 18 games, he averaged 21.7 points and 11.7 rebounds and he also had a team-high 38 steals. Against tough Valley League competition, Lofton averaged 24.6 points and 12.2 rebounds.
Perhaps most impressive were his shooting totals, since Lofton carried much of the Conquistadore scoring load and drew added defensive coverage; he made 171 of 298 shots (57%) and was equally consistent in league play, making 110 of 192 (57%). From the free-throw line, Lofton was 66 of 88 (75%).
By next year, Lofton should break the school scoring record, burying the likes of Mike May (BYU), Steve Gray (Duke), Anthony Hines (Tulsa) and Sean Davis (San Jose State). After being called up to the varsity midway through his sophomore season, Lofton has scored 558 points in 32 games, fourth on the school list behind Davis' 824. Davis spent his entire sophomore season on the varsity.
"He's scoring better as a junior than Davis did as a senior," Jeff Davis said. "He might even reach 1,000 points."
Jordan will not reach 1,000 points, but opponents swear he has forced that many turnovers in his first year at Cleveland. Jordan, who moved to the Valley from Yonkers, N. Y., last summer, averaged six steals and 13.8 points a game. His unselfish play and tireless defense brought out the best in his teammates and created numerous opportunities for Cleveland's opportunistic fast break.
"He has the fastest hands I've ever seen," Cleveland Coach Bob Braswell said.
Jordan also displayed a soft touch from long range, balancing Cleveland's inside game with deadly accuracy from beyond the three-point line.
Thomas, who averaged 13.9 points, 10 assists, 4.6 steals and shot 51%, also was named to the All-City team. Even though Thomas says Jordan is capable of shutting him down, Thomas had a school-record 20 assists in Taft's 69-68 upset of the Cavaliers, a loss that cost Cleveland a share of the league title.
Taft Coach Jim Woodard would have a hard time believing anyone could slow Thomas.
"He's the best ballhandler we've ever had, no question," Woodard said.
It is Thomas' ball-hawking ability that sets him apart. Despite frequently facing a double-team and trapping defenses, Thomas led Taft to the City quarterfinals.
"It's not the scoring that's his most significant contribution," Woodard said. "He can have a good game without scoring lots of points. It's the ratio of turnovers to assists that's important, and he averaged less than three turnovers and more than 10 assists."
In voting for the Valley League Player of the Year, Thomas finished second. Only Fairfax center Chris Mills, who will attend Kentucky and recently was named the Cal-Hi state Player of the Year, received more votes.
While Jordan and Thomas are rather small by Division I standards, they make up for a lack of height with superior speed.
"There's some very good quickness at point guard in that league," Boyd said. "That's something that's hard to ignore."
The pair must be difficult to miss when they are together, which is often--even though they attend rival schools. And Thomas and Jordan don't just hang out together on the court.
"Sometimes we double-date with our girlfriends or go out and do something," Jordan said. "You know, like going to see a movie."
Their girlfriends, coaches and schoolmates--as well as those of Butler and Lofton--look forward to another highlight film of moves next season.
Player School Yr. Ht. Ps. Danny Enowitz Grant Sr. 6-3 G Tory Stephens S.Fernando Sr. 6-2 G Joe Mauldin S.Fernando Sr. 6-2 G Mitchell Butler Oakwood Jr. 6-5 F Dedan Thomas Taft Jr. 5-11 G Quincy Watts Taft Sr. 6-3 G Adonis Jordan Taft Jr. 5-11 G Rich Branham Cleveland Sr. 6-5 F Brent Lofton ECR Jr. 6-5 F Jon Drezner Calabasas Sr. 6-4 F
Player School Yr. Ht. Ps. Michael Bell Monroe Sr. 6-2 F Alvin Brown Granada Hills Jr. 6-3 F Alonzo Galloway Van Nuys Sr. 6-2 G Craig Handschu Mont.Prep Jr. 6-2 G Bruce Heicke Notre Dame Sr. 6-2 G Kenny Hicks Notre Dame Jr. 6-2 G Dominic Nappi N.Hollywd Sr. 6-7 F Nick Sanderson Bell-Jeff Jr. 6-2 F Uba Satterfield Kennedy Sr. 6-3 G C. Williams Kennedy Sr. 6-5 C
Player Profiles: Mitchell Butler
The 6-5 junior forward was the closest thing to a one-man team the Valley offered. Butler dominated Small Schools play in leading Oakwood to the Southern Section title. He averaged 32.3 points and 17 rebounds and scored a school-record 50 points in Oakwood's 55-48 quarterfinal win over Ribet Christian. He added 47 points in a 61-60 title-clinching win over Hesperia Christian.
Thomas, a 5-11 junior, ran Taft's offense from the point guard position. By season's end, he not only led Taft further than any other Valley 4-A Division City team, but he replaced pages in the school record book. Thomas set a single-season record for assists (230 in 23 games) and had a single-game high with 20 against Cleveland in the Valley League finale. Thomas, who was named All-City, averaged 13.9 points and 4.6 steals.
One of the most dangerous outside shooters in the Valley area, Stephens averaged 26.4 points a game to virtually run away with the Northwest Valley League scoring title. The 6-2 senior guard from San Fernando also was lethal from behind the three-point line, making 55 of 144 shots (38%) to lead the Tigers. Stephens also led San Fernando in rebounds (7.1 a game) and free-throw percentage (74%).
Just days before the 1987-88 school year started, Jordan was found ambling about the Cleveland campus, a few weeks removed from Yonkers, N. Y. A couple of months after that, Jordan was removing basketballs from the grasp of area guards. Jordan, a 5-11 point guard, averaged 5.9 steals a game and ran the Cavaliers' offense like he had been with the team for years. He averaged 13.8 points.
Imagine the look of the coaching staff at El Camino Real when they measured Lofton, a junior guard-forward, at the beginning of the school year. A 6-footer as a sophomore, Lofton sprouted last summer and reported for the 1987-88 season at 6-5. Lofton experienced similar growth in offensive production. Lofton, named to the All-City team, averaged 21.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and shot 57%.
A 6-3, 170-pound senior, Enowitz was a surprisingly effective forward who led an equally surprising Grant team to the City Section 3-A Division championship game. Enowitz averaged a team-high 16.7 points, was second in rebounding (7.9) and second in assists (2.3). Enowitz was the East Valley League's most valuable player and made the All-City team. "He's a great leader," Coach Howard Levine said.
Taft Coach Jim Woodard was pleased to hear that Watts, a track and field standout, had reconsidered a decision not to play basketball. By the end of the season, Woodard was more than happy, he was ecstatic. Watts, a 6-3 senior who played off-guard, averaged 19.4 points and five rebounds a game for the Toreadors. Watts, who did not play his junior season, came back without missing a beat and shot 58.1%.
Mauldin, a 6-2 senior guard, teamed with Tory Stephens to provide perhaps the best backcourt tandem in the Valley. Mauldin, who will attend Cal State Fullerton in the fall on a football scholarship, averaged 18.7 points and led San Fernando with 4.7 assists a game. He also was 10 for 35 (29%) from three-point range. Led by Mauldin and Stephens, San Fernando won its first league championship since 1981.
Branham, a 6-5 senior forward, regularly wore neckties and other fashionable attire to Cleveland games. All gentlemanly comparisons ended there, however, because when Branham took the floor, there was no tougher power forward in the area. His slam dunks often served as a catalyst for the Cavaliers, who needed his bulk inside. Branham, who has signed with Cal, averaged 16.9 points in Valley League play.
When Calabasas needed quick points, it gave the ball to Mr. Three From the Top of the Key. Drezner played guard, forward and center and made 44 of 114 three-point attempts (38.5%) and 48% of his field-goal attempts. He set school records for most rebounds (34), points (45) in a game and most career rebounds (696). He was selected All-Southern Section and co-MVP of the Frontier League.