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HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL PREVIEWS : ALPHA LEAGUE : Handschu Sets the Style at Montclair Prep

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Montclair Prep co-Coach Howard Abrams may know about coaching basketball, Craig Handschu says, but he doesn’t have a stitch of knowledge when it comes to choosing uniforms for the school’s team.

“My freshman year he had some pale blue tops with orange block letters,” Handschu said. “We looked like we were on ‘Hee-Haw’ ”

Enter Handschu, the team captain, who quickly took over the chore of choosing the team’s wardrobe, which now sports sleek North Carolina-like light blue jerseys in addition to $70 Nike high-tops.

“If it was up to me, we’d wear these,” quipped Abrams, pointing down to the well-worn pair of sneakers on his feet that looked as though they dated to the Carter Administration.

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Many would expect that a player in Handschu’s position would be eager to step in and take control of the Montclair Prep basketball team on the court because he already has done so off the court. After all, for the past 7 seasons the Mounties have had a big man--first 6-foot, 7-inch Todd Bowser, then 6-8 David Sanger--in the middle to score. But this year 6-2 sophomore Marcus Wilborn is starting at center.

But Handschu, the highest-scoring returning guard in the state, does not see his job as being any different.

“Not having a big guy doesn’t matter,” Handschu said. “It’ll be other guys on the team that pick up the slack and get more points.”

As a junior, Handschu averaged 25.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists a game en route to being named the Alpha League MVP. He also helped the Mounties capture a share of their second consecutive league title.

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Handschu has set different goals for this season.

“I was looking through the Southern Section book, and I figured out that if I averaged 32 points a game, I’ll be listed with the career leaders for scoring average,” he said.

A self-described gym rat--he shoots around every day before school--Handschu played on the Mid-Valley entry in the American Roundball Corp. summer league against some of the area’s top talent.

“Playing against the Mitchell Butlers of the world, you have to improve,” Abrams said. “Craig was a good player last year, but he’s really developed into a serious college prospect this year.”

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Handschu, who has been recruited by Stanford, Washington, Washington State, Oregon, and Oregon State, also worked out this summer with Mountie co-Coach Bob Webb, who played for John Wooden at UCLA in the early 1970s. Joining them on occasion in the Montclair Prep gym was Marques Johnson, the former UCLA and NBA star who is a friend of Webb’s.

“Marques taught me some post moves,” Handschu said.

Those moves may come in handy. Because of the team’s lack of height, Handschu will be used more often as a forward in the low post, but he will continue to be the team’s primary outside shooter.

With Handschu and sophomore point guard J. T. Billingslea returning, the Mounties are expected to repeat as league champions. Co-champion L. A. Baptist (19-6) has just 1 returning starter, but the school always has been competitive under Maury Neville. Village Christian is expected to improve on last year’s 6-16 performance.

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Montclair Prep

COACH: Bob Webb, 2nd season; Howard Abrams, 13th season

LAST SEASON: 17-7 overall; tied for first in league at 9-1

PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Mounties have just 2 returning starters from last year’s team, which advanced to the Southern Section semifinals, but they formed the core of the squad. Craig Handschu (6-1) averaged 25.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists a game and Webb is expecting even more from the senior. “He could probably play for any Pac-10 school except UCLA or Arizona,” Webb said. The other returning starter is J.T. Billingslea (5-8), who started at point guard last year as a freshman. In the backcourt, Billingslea will be teamed with senior Michael Harris (5-7). Jason Gerber (5-11) was a part-time starter at forward last season and will start at power forward this season. Sophomore Marcus Wilborn (6-2) has won the starting center job over 6-2 junior Robert Thomas, who expects to see plenty of action off the bench. Junior Jackie Shemtov (6-0) is a strong outside shooter who will play at guard. Also expected to play a lot are sophomore forward Chris Sanger (6-4) and junior forward Michael Jones (6-1), a standout tailback on the football team.

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OUTLOOK: “I think as far as the Alpha League goes we’ll still be able to match up pretty well,” Webb said. “The key for us will be how well the younger guys coming up develop.”

L. A. Baptist

COACH: Maury Neville, 11th season

LAST SEASON: 19-6 overall; tied for first in league at 9-1

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PLAYERS TO WATCH: Despite the fact that 8 players are being brought up from the junior varsity, which was undefeated last season, no one is expecting Neville to field a losing team. The Knights were hurt by the loss of their lone returning starter, senior Brett Craig (6-2), a strong outside shooter. Craig sprained his ankle in a tournament game and is expected to miss a month. The Knights also lost Craig’s replacement, forward Reid Chobnian, for the season (broken ankle) and are down to 7 players. “Basically we were fielding last year’s JV team,” Neville said. “Now we can’t even do that.” Senior Dave Unter (6-3) likely will start at center and handle the rebounding chores. J.D. Strong (6-1) is another senior and a strong defensive player who will fill out the frontcourt. Seniors Dave Garcia (5-8) and Mark Phillips (6-0) are the guards. Glenn Dodson, a 6-0 sophomore, will be the first player off the bench. “We’ve become very aware of tempo,” Neville said. “We’re an aggressive and fast team, but we’re not afraid to slow it down, either.”

OUTLOOK: L. A. Baptist advanced to the Southern Section semifinals last season, but this is not a rebuilding season. “Nine of our players are going to be seniors, so there’s really nothing to build around,” Neville said. “We’ll try to work with what we have.”

Village Christian

COACH: Mike Henzie, 2nd season

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LAST SEASON: 6-16 overall; sixth in league at 2-8

PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Crusaders like to do 2 things: run and shoot from 3-point range. “The 3-point shot is just another part of our offense,” Henzie said. “I don’t care where they shoot it from as long as they’re open.” Leading the Crusaders is returning power forward Scott Danielson, a 6-1 senior. Last season, Danielson averaged 17.2 points a game. “He’s the one we’ll go to,” Henzie said. Running the Crusader offense is their other returning starter, 6-foot senior point guard Elvis Balladares, who averaged 7.7 points and 3.1 assists last season. Returning letterman Paul Heater, a 6-1 senior, has been replaced by senior Michael Curl (6-3) at forward. Senior Dan Finerty (6-4) started the first 2 games at center before going down because of an ankle injury, which is expected to keep him out 6 to 8 weeks. Rodney Anderson, a 6-4 junior, will fill in until Finerty returns. Rounding out the starting lineup is court-smart senior Ben Evans, a 6-foot transfer from Kentucky. Coming off the bench will be 6-1 senior Kevin Ebenhoch and 6-0 junior Dave Brownfield.

OUTLOOK: If the Crusaders hope to improve on their ’87-88 performance they will need plenty of scoring from Danielson when he comes back and leadership from Balladares. “I think we’ll improve,” Henzie said. “I think we have a chance to be up there and competitive.”


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