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They Want ‘San Diego Basketball’ to Mean Something

The outdoors here is so miserable--108 degrees, buzzing locusts, Elvis Presley’s face embossed everywhere--that maybe Courtie Miller has no excuse for that slow-footed reach-around foul he has just made in the 70-degree comfort of a gymnasium.

“Let’s not play San Diego basketball,” yells Miller’s coach, John Farrell.

What did Farrell, who lives and coaches in San Diego County at Torrey Pines High School, mean by “San Diego basketball”?

Said Miller: “I’m not sure what the coach meant.”

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Teammate Kevin Flanagan had an idea.

“I think San Diego basketball players in the past have been seen as being a little slower, a little less intense,” said Flanagan, dripping sweat. “One of the reasons we came here was to show that San Diego had more talent than people think.”

Said Farrell: “I was referring to a ticky tacky call.”

Farrell’s team, the San Diego Shooting Star, and 58 others from various parts of the country were here for the Las Vegas Invitational, a showcase tournament for the nation’s standout high school players.

Although it would be stretching to say that the San Diegans played with the in-your-face bravado of youngsters from Harlem, the South Bronx and Oklahoma, they did show that their game is not the softened, sun-and-surf brand many think it to be.

The Shooting Star--led by Torrey Pines’ Miller and Flanagan--won 2 of 4 games. Even in defeat, the San Diego youngsters were impressive. They led Kentucky much of the way before losing by six points, and Farrell took pride in seeing five of his players hit the deck for a loose ball against Bloomington, Ind.

Maybe high school basketball in San Diego is improving. Maybe it had no other direction to go.

“Assess boys’ basketball in San Diego?” asked scout Don Mead, the corners of his lips turning downward. “Boy, this will be a short conversation.”

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Meade, who provides colleges with scouting reports on West Coast players, considers prep basketball in San Diego County to be the worst in Southern California.

But he and Jim Brovelli, a former coach at the University of San Diego who is now at the University of San Francisco, say this year’s crop of high school players is the best since about 1980, when eventual California standout Michael Pitts and current Atlanta Hawk Cliff Levingston played.

They say also that Eric Meeks, a 6-8 player who will be a sophomore at San Pasqual next month, will be among the most heavily recruited players in the county this decade.

Weeds grow even in the desert. San Diego has lacked solid youth programs, many say. A former assistant athletic director at a San Diego university said, for example, that a feeder school to Torrey Pines had three basketball coaches in as many years. “The person (who hired them) said they were hired because they were tall and nice--that’s wonderful--but they knew nothing about basketball,” he said.

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Perhaps more fertile ground is being tilled.

Two years ago, William McClelland and David Morway formed the Youth Basketball Assn. The YBA does not equal the corporate-sponsored leagues in Los Angeles, McClelland says, but it is a start.

“Basketball in San Diego is not at the level it should be,” said McClelland, a native of Detroit who is an engineer in San Diego.

“Even if we’re not able to beat the heck out of some of the L.A. teams, I think we’re going to get to that point.

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“I think things are snowballing. I think you’re going to see a dramatic improvement in San Diego talent.”

The YBA is funded by three individuals who wish to remain anonymous. The league, for players ages 13-15, consists of 500 players in the summer, 150 in the fall. Young athletes play with fellow residents of their high school districts. For example, an eight-grader who lives close to Morse High will play for “Morse.” Further, his YBA coach probably will teach the Morse system.

But McClelland said players must maintain a 2.0 grade-point average and attend drug-awareness sessions.

Until those youngsters bloom, players such as Miller, Flanagan and Terrence Hamilton of Patrick Henry have shown they can carry the banner.

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Miller, a 6-foot 7 1/2-inch swingman, displayed smooth moves within 10 feet of the basket, rebounded strongly and led San Diego in scoring three times here. Flanagan, a stocky 6-9, repeatedly banked in jumpers off a low-post power move and played perhaps the strongest defense of any big player in the tournament--no zone defenses were allowed. The sleeper, though, could be 6-6 Hamilton, whose passes, slashing drives and slam dunks are beyond most 16-year-olds, which he is.

It comes with effort. Theirs is a year-round pursuit in a region that discourages gym-rat dedication. For example, while other Del Mar youngsters were vacationing, Miller went to New Jersey for a tournament, came back to San Diego for summer league games, then went to Las Vegas. Next week he will be in Arizona.

Miller, Flanagan and Hamilton all will be seniors next month--just two months before the early signing period for letters of intent.

“This is a pivotal summer,” said Miller, who, like Flanagan, has been contacted by more than 40 colleges. “You know, when I first came to Torrey Pines, I wanted to play baseball. But I didn’t. I play basketball, year-round, because I decided I want to be the best basketball player I can be.”

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That can be harder in San Diego.

Said Flanagan: “The life style here. The girls, the sun, the beach.”

Said Miller: “The beach, the girls.

Said Flanagan: “The girls, the beach.”

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Nonetheless, the San Diego players effectively showed how the game is evolving. As did others:

--A 5-11 player from Dallas drives the lane, leaping from the dotted line about 10 feet in front of the rim. “I thought he was going to just finger roll it,” recalled Allen Tolley, a 6-3 swingman from Louisville Eastern in Kentucky. “But he just cocked that sucker back, and wham.”

--The Gauchos, a team from Harlem and the South Bronx, play trapping full-court defense for most of the game. Those who cannot dribble and pass, big players included, are a liability.

--Taller players from throughout the country repeatedly score with the pull-up jump hook, a shot that is becoming more prevalent.

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But perhaps because of television, the styles of basketball are not as geographically distinctive as one would think. In Kentucky, there are two things, Tolley says--horse racing and basketball. But that state’s team plays much like any other.

“The only difference in the type of basketball from Kentucky, or anywhere, is New York ball--they play street ball, get up and go,” said Travys Ziegler, a 6-7 forward from Louisville.

San Diego?

“They were good--especially that one guy (Miller),” Tolley said. “They weren’t as cocky as I thought they were going to be. Seems like all the teams from California think they are better. They’ve got a lot more to choose from.”

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Said Flanagan: “Basketball is basketball. Doesn’t matter where it is: East Coast, West Coast, San Diego or Los Angeles.”

Yet San Diego’s reputation has kept Flanagan from receiving invitations to other top tournaments, Miller said.

“People still think California players are real soft,” said Miller, who added that his big aim is to iron soft spots from his game.

“Hopefully, at the Nike Tournament (in New Jersey), I set a trend for people back here. When we (Torrey Pines) beat Camden (N.J.) last year, I think people started to respect San Diego. I think we showed against Kentucky what kind of ball we play in San Diego.

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“I’ve seen a lot of (standout high school) players, and there are three types,” Miller continued. “First, there are guys who want something from the college. Money, cars, girls, whatever.

“Others are trying for the NBA. Others, for education. That’s what Kevin and I are doing (each has a GPA of at least 3.2).

“If you want to make it to Division I, you’ve got to make sacrifices--pump in the weight room, running, doing whatever you’ve got to do to make it. That’s what I think San Diego players are starting to do. I think if Kevin and I sign in November it will bring some prestige to San Diego, bring people to see some other kids.

“People will mention us with New York, L.A., some of the places in Florida.”

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When Miller gets talking, it’s like his game. Quick and hard to stop. By now, Flanagan is shaking his head and smiling at his teammate.

“Courtie, I guess you are the ambassador of basketball.”


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