THE ELITE : Ten Basketball Stars Named County's Best Over the Past 20 Years

Times Staff Writer

Tom Lewis was the scoring sensation and Rich Branning was a point guard extraordinaire.

LeRon Ellis was the graceful center, and Wayne Carlander was a powerful blue-collar forward.

Matt Beeuwsaert was the ultimate team player, and Mark Wulfemeyer was a legend.

For the past 20 years, some of the Southern Section's most talented basketball players have gained fame, notoriety and scholarships to some of the nation's top major colleges while playing for Orange County high schools.

County players dot the section's career scoring list with five listed among the top 11 players who have competed in the past 76 years.

Mark Wulfemeyer of Troy, the most electrifying player in county history, is second on the list with 2,608 points in 4 seasons. The Wulf averaged a stunning 27.5 points per game.

Forward Tom Lewis (Mater Dei) is fourth at 2,456 points, Wayne Carlander (El Toro-Ocean View) sixth at 2,314 points, Adam Keefe (Woodbridge) eighth at 2,212 points and Johnny Rogers (La Quinta) 11th at 2,012 points.

The Times has extensively covered the county's best players for the past two decades, and began selecting an all-county basketball team 14 years ago.

The criteria for picking the all-star teams have always followed a simple formula: The 10 best players regardless of position have been selected with no second team.

Following this formula, for the sake of a good argument or some great memories, here is The Times' all-Orange County high school basketball team covering the past 20 years--which was based solely on the athletes' high school careers.

RICK ABEREGG

Aberegg was a seasoned veteran by the time he reached Katella, having played 6 seasons on traveling all-star teams for Pete Liapis at the Fullerton Boys Club.

Aberegg was starting on sixth-grade teams as a third-grader and lost only 1 game in 6 years of youth basketball.

He teamed with another standout guard, Bob Sherwin, at Katella in 1969 to lead the Knights to the 2-A championship game in his junior year. Katella lost to Verbum Dei, 90-87, in what some consider the greatest basketball title game in Southern Section history.

"It was 32 minutes of craziness," Aberegg recalled. "Both teams pressed the entire game. Defense created a lot of the points. The next year was my team and it was the most fun I ever had playing basketball."

Aberegg later starred at Fullerton College with Sunny Hills' Brad McNamara and transferred to Cal State Long Beach where he played for Jerry Tarkanian.

Aberegg, 37, plays for fun in an Anaheim recreation league where he admits he has developed a liking for the 3-point shot. "It's nothing to make those," he said. "Where were they when I played?"

MATT BEEUWSAERT

Was there anything Matt Beeuwsaert couldn't do?

"He did everything for us," said Gary McKnight, Mater Dei coach. "He brought the ball up the court. He scored. He rebounded. Plus, he was a great kid who always put the team ahead of himself."

Beeuwsaert was named the Southern Section's 4-A Player of Year in 1982 after leading Mater Dei to its first of five 4-A championships as a junior, but his overall game suffered his senior year when McKnight moved him to point guard.

Beeuwsaert's scoring, rebounding and field-goal percentage marks dropped from the previous year as the spotlight shifted to center Tom Lewis.

"When I look back, the moves only broadened my game," he said. "I looked at the added responsibilities as a challenge."

Beeuwsaert started for three seasons, earning All-Southern Section honors each year. Digger Phelps signed him without ever seeing him play a game.

Beeuwsaert went to Notre Dame, the school he said he always wanted to attend, but left after his sophomore year because of lack of playing time and is now starting for the University of California.

RICH BRANNING

Branning always seemed to be a step ahead of opposing defenses. He had the rare quality of seeing the entire court and making split-second decisions while running the offense.

"I get more enjoyment out of making a nice pass than I do making a basket," he once said. "I get more of a feeling of being involved with the team by passing than I do shooting."

"By far, the best high school point guard I've seen," said Steve Popovich, Marina coach. "The only one who comes close is (former Verbum Dei star) Roy Hamilton."

Many thought Branning and Hamilton would be matched in the 4-A championship game in 1975, but Palos Verdes upset Verbum Dei in the semifinals and then beat Marina in the title game.

Branning developed into a scorer his senior year, averaging 27.4 points per game, but Marina was upset in the first round of the playoffs by Estancia.

"Rich had two bad ankles, a 104-degree temperature and we never had a chance," Popovich said.

WAYNE CARLANDER

Jim Harris, Ocean View coach, claimed he always knew when Wayne Carlander was going to have a big game because his knees were shaking during warmups.

One particular night, Carlander's knees were rumbling. Playing against arch-rival Katella, Carlander scored 50 points and had 19 rebounds in what many consider the best single-game performance in county history.

Nicknamed "The Franchise" at Ocean View, Carlander once had 33 rebounds in a game as a senior and ranks fourth on the section's career list with 1,325 rebounds.

The lefthander seldom displayed emotion and rarely spoke, but he never backed off. He wasn't the quickest player, but no one questioned his competitive spirit.

Carlander was also an iron man. He never missed a game in high school or college, starting every game in four years at USC where he became the career scoring leader.

Carlander attend El Toro as a freshman, then transferred to Ocean View where he played from 1978-81.

LeRON ELLIS

A Renaissance man at Mater Dei, Ellis cooked gingerbread houses, auditioned for the school play and even doubled as a hole man in water polo when he wasn't busy leading the Monarchs to the State Division I title as a senior.

Ellis was named the state's player of the year in 1987 after averaging 23 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocked shots and 2 assists per game.

"The most graceful big man I've ever seen in high school," McKnight said. "There wasn't anything he couldn't do athletically."

Ellis proved McKnight's point by high jumping 6 feet 8 inches in his only track meet as a senior. He was also the water polo team's leading scorer that season.

Still, some questioned his intensity, aggressiveness and mental toughness. He proved the doubters by starting seven games as a freshman at Kentucky last season.

"LeRon probably can run the floor as well as any big man I've ever seen," said Kentucky Coach Eddie Sutton.

ADAM KEEFE

The victories, scoring and rebounding exploits and MVP trophies were great, but Woodbridge Coach Bill Shannon said one of the great tributes to Keefe was that he never heard an opposing coach, player, member of the media or teacher say a negative thing about the redhead.

"That's a reflection upon his family and the way he was raised," Shannon said. "He's a class guy. When it came time to sign with a college, he didn't give academics lip service." Keefe signed with Stanford.

Keefe, along with talented teammates David Townsend and Vince Bryan, led Woodbridge to the State Division II championship as a junior in 1987, but was two games shy of repeating as a senior with a less talented supporting cast.

Keefe worked diligently to become a good player, playing in hundreds of summer league and pickup games. "A workaholic," Shannon said.

Keefe is almost certain of being selected to the all-Pacific 10 freshman team and there is a good possibility he will be selected to play for the West team in the Olympic Festival this summer.

TOM LEWIS

The most publicized player in the county's most publicized program, Lewis helped Mater Dei compile an 86-5 record in three brilliant seasons. Mater Dei finished 29-0 in 1985, the only county school ever to finish undefeated.

Lewis once scored 20 points in a quarter against Banning in the Tournament of Champions and most of those came during a 4-minute stretch in which Mater Dei used a fullcourt press.

Lewis was strong, quick, and above all, determined. He could score inside, outside or from 3-point range. He played in three straight championship games and the only player who ever stopped him was DeMatha's Danny Ferry, now considered one of college basketball's best players.

Lewis also made headlines off the court during a troubled recruiting period before finally signing with USC, turning down offers from Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada Las Vegas, Syracuse and UCLA.

If one player were to be selected as the county's best over the past 20 years, Lewis would win the honor.

JOHNNY ROGERS

Johnny Rogers, a prolific shooter, was described as "a guard trapped inside a center's body." Former USC Coach Stan Morrison once called Johnny Rogers "the best shooting big man I've ever seen."

J.R. could flat-out shoot. He never brought the ball down below his numbers and seldom put the ball on the floor. He scored 40 or more points nine times during his senior year.

Rogers shot 60.6% from the field and 78% from the foul line as a senior. He scored 40 and 45 points in playoff victories over West Covina and Dominguez that season. In his junior year in 1980, he led his team to the 3-A championship.

Rogers signed with Stanford, transferred to UC Irvine for his junior and senior seasons and then was drafted on the second round by the Sacramento Kings.

He played two seasons in the NBA before signing with Real Madrid of Spain, one of the best club teams in the world.

JACK TUZ

Students would chant, "Jack Tuz is what it's all about" whenever Tuz made a difficult play look routine.

He had a memorable dunk against Long Beach Poly's Dino Gregory in the Tournament of Champions as a senior that dazzled the media and college coaches.

"Of all the players I coached, he had the most physical abilities," said former Corona del Mar Coach Jack Errion. "He was strong, could run like a deer and really jump."

Tuz averaged 16.4 points as a senior, leading Corona del Mar to its first Southern Section title in 1977 with a 56-50 overtime victory over Ramona.

MARK WULFEMEYER

Football star Mickey Flynn of Anaheim and guard Mark Wulfemeyer of Troy are the county's legendary prep stars.

Wulfemeyer, a 4-year starter from 1970-74, played with a style and flair that no one since has come close to matching.

Last-second shots? Wulfemeyer was the master, frequently hitting halfcourt shots at the buzzer to end a quarter.

Ball-handling skills? Wulfemeyer could dribble faster than most of his opponents could run. He faced every gimmick defense devised and averaged 27.5 points every time he suited up.

He signed with USC and several weeks later with the Angels, both of which he said he would change if given the opportunity to do over again.

"But I had a lot of fun playing the game, and no one can take that away from me," he said. "I'm having a lot of fun coaching my son these days. He's going to be a good athlete some day."

NOTABLE OTHERS

Dave Meyers, Sonora: The 1971 2-A player of the year at Sonora. He averaged 22.7 points his senior year and was later a 2-time All-American at UCLA.

Kevin Heenan, El Dorado: The 1975 2-A Player of the Year. He averaged 22.3 points as a senior. El Dorado won two consecutive 2-A titles and was 47-13 with Heenan in the lineup.

Steve Trumbo, El Modena: A 3-year starter who earned first-team 3-A division honors in 1978, averaging 23.8 points per game as a senior. Later played at Brigham Young University.

Clayton Olivier, Los Amigos: He averaged 27.2 points as a junior, making first-team All-CIF, then averaged 30.5 points per game as a senior to earn co-MVP honors of the 3-A division with Rogers in 1980.

Tony Neal, Santa Ana Valley: He averaged 24.8 points per game in 1981 and was one of the county's best rebounders for 3 seasons.

How the Team Was Picked

Tom Hamilton began reporting on Orange County high school sports for The Times in the fall of 1968, the year the Orange County edition was started. He has covered county high schools longer than any other newspaper reporter. His selections for this all-county team were based on performances of athletes in the past 20 years and were based on the athletes' records in high school, irrespective of college or professional accomplishments.

PROFILES OF THE TOP 10

Rick Aberegg Katella 5-10, Guard Looking Back: Two-year starter from 1968-70 who averaged 17.4 points as a junior and 27.5 points as a senior. Named second-team All-Southern Section both seasons. Teamed with Bob Sherwin in the backcourt to lead Katella to the 2-A title game in 1969. Holds school single-game and season scoring records. College Career: Played two seasons at Fullerton College and transferred to Cal State Long Beach, where he played on teams that were 50-5 under Coach Jerry Tarkanian. Personal: Living in Yorba Linda and works as a tile setter. Married with two children, Courtney, 6, and Brian, 4.

Matt Beeuwsaert Mater Dei 6-6, Forward Looking Back: Three-year starter from 1980-83, earning All-Southern Section honors each season, averaging 19.2 points as a sophomore, 15.7 as a junior and 15 his senior season. Led Mater Dei to the 4-A division title as a junior and was named the section's player of the year. College Career: Signed with Notre Dame but left after his sophomore season and is currently a starting forward at California. Personal: Gary McKnight, Mater Dei coach, named his third son, Matthew, after Beeuwsaert.

Rich Branning Marina 6-1, Guard Looking Back: Three-year starter from 1973-76 who led Marina to the 4-A division title game in 1975 as junior. Averaged 19.2 points as a junior and 27.4 points as a senior. College Career: Was a four-year starter for Notre Dame. Holds the school mark of 460 career assists. Personal: Drafted by the Indiana Pacers in the fourth round in 1980, but never played professionally. Involved in real estate, married and living in Corona del Mar.

Wayne Carlander El Toro/Ocean View 6-8, Forward Looking Back: Played his freshman year at El Toro and then transferred to Ocean View, where he was a 3-year starter from 1978-81. Averaged 26.4 points as a junior and 33 points as a senior. Sixth on the Southern Section's career scoring list with 2,314 points. College Career: Signed with USC, where he was a 4-year starter. Holds the school's career scoring mark of 1,524 points. Personal: Drafted on the fifth round in 1985 by the Clippers. Played 2 seasons in Spain.

LeRon Ellis Mater Dei 6-11, Center Looking Back: Two-year starter from 1985-87 after transferring from Parkrose High in Oregon. Averaged 23.2 points as a senior, leading Mater Dei to the State Division I title with a 32-1 record. Named the state's Player of the Year in 1987. College Career: Signed with Kentucky and is the team's starting center. Personal: Ellis was also an excellent water polo player at Mater Dei and high jumped 6 feet 8 inches on the track team. Father, LeRoy, once played for the Lakers.

Adam Keefe Woodbridge 6-9, Center Looking Back: Three-year starter from 1985-88; named the Southern Section's 2-A Player of the Year as a junior and senior. Led Woodbridge to the State Division II championship in 1987. Finished 11th on the state career scoring list with 2,212 points. College Career: Signed with Stanford, where he is a reserve player as a freshman. Personal: A versatile athlete, Keefe also started for 2 years on Woodbridge's volleyball team. Charlie Brande, Corona del Mar volleyball coach, once projected Keefe as a potential Olympic volleyball player.

Tom Lewis Mater Dei 6-7, Forward Looking Back: Three-year starter from 1982-85 who helped Mater Dei win a 4-A title in 1983 and a 5-A title in 1985. Averaged 30.7 points as a junior and 32 points as a senior. Fourth on the Southern Section's scoring list with 2,456 points. College Career: Signed with USC and was the leading freshman scorer in the nation. Left USC after his freshman season and is a junior and starting forward at Pepperdine. Personal: Continued his scoring antics at Pepperdine last year where he led the West Coast Athletic Conference with a 22.9 average. Third-leading scorer among sophomores in the NCAA.

Johnny Rogers La Quinta 6-9, Center Looking Back: Three-year starter from 1978-81 who led La Quinta to the 3-A division title in 1980. Averaged 28.5 points as a junior and 32.4 points as a senior. Named the 3-A Player of the Year as a junior and senior. College Career: Signed with Stanford but transferred to UC Irvine for his junior and senior seasons where he led the team in scoring both seasons. Personal: Drafted in the second round by the Sacramento Kings in 1986. Played 2 seasons in the National Basketball Assn. and is now playing for Real Madrid in Spain. Married a year ago.

Jack Tuz Corona del Mar 6-6, Forward Looking Back: Two-year starter from 1975-77 who teamed with Alex Black and Paul Akin to lead Corona del Mar to the 3-A division title in 1977. Averaged 16.4 points as a senior. College Career: Signed with Colorado, but an ankle injury plagued him throughout his college career. Personal: Plays professional basketball in New Zealand and lives in Corona del Mar in the off-season.

Mark Wulfemeyer Troy 6-1, Guard Looking Back: Four-year starter from 1970-74 who averaged 27.5 points in 95 career games, totaling 2,608 points. Named second-team All-CIF as a sophomore, first team as a junior and Player of the Year as a senior when he averaged 36.5 points per game. College Career: Signed with USC and several weeks later accepted a $42,500 bonus to sign with the Angels. Played less than two seasons at USC and finished his career at Marymount College, an NAIA school in Kansas. Personal: Living in Corona and working as an athletic shoe salesman and bartender. Son, Mark, is an aspiring 9-year-old athlete.

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