Andy Karich's uniform number is as unconventional as his life style.
The Mater Dei High School forward wears "00" on the back of his red and gray jersey, the first player basketball Coach Gary McKnight has allowed to wear double zero.
"I don't particularly like that number," McKnight said. "It's not conventional, and I'm a conventional-type coach. But I gave in when we ordered new uniforms last year and made an exception in Andy's case."
McKnight made the exception for an exceptional athlete who excels in sports, in the classroom and in the ocean, surfing near his beachside home in Surfside.
Karich, a 6-foot-6 senior, was named the most valuable player in the Angelus League, averaging 10.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists and shot 50% from the field for a Monarch team that has five players averaging between nine and 14.8 points a game.
"He has a great understanding of the game," McKnight said. "He does everything real well. He's like having another coach on the floor."
Karich was a standout free safety and wide receiver on Mater Dei's football teams in his freshman and sophomore seasons. He quit the sport because of a stress fracture in his lower back.
"The wear and tear of playing football since the fifth grade took its toll," Karich said. "Although I thought about playing this season. Danny O'Neil (Monarch quarterback) tried to persuade me to play all summer."
Karich spent the summer playing in the countless number of basketball tournaments in which Mater Dei participates, but admitted, "I wish I could have had more time to go surfing."
He started surfing as a 7-year-old when his family moved from Fountain Valley to Surfside. His favorite surfing spots are Trestles and Huntington Beach, and he says the sport has helped improve his upper-body strength.
Karich is equally talented in the classroom, where he has a 4.2 grade-point average at Mater Dei, receiving only two Bs in four years. He scored a 1,160 on his Scholastic Aptitude Test and received a basketball scholarship to attend the University of Santa Clara in the fall.
Karich visited Baylor and San Jose State before accepting the offer from Santa Clara, where he plans to study medicine.
"Santa Clara is a strong academic school with a small-school atmosphere that I really like," he said. "I also thought it was the best opportunity for me to play right away."
Karich began playing basketball in the fifth grade and was a member of a seventh-grade traveling all-star team that included current teammates Jason Quinn and Derek Stone, Mater Dei football star Ryan Motherway and Marina point guard Travis Boyd.
He has worn "00" throughout his career and was the tallest player in the eighth grade at St. Bonaventure before enrolling at Mater Dei. He played on an undefeated freshman team and then as a sophomore was a starter on a junior varsity team that lost only two games, both to varsity teams.
Last season Karich started for the Monarchs' varsity team that finished 25-3, but became the first McKnight-coached team at Mater Dei that failed to reach a Southern Section championship game, losing to St. Monica in the quarterfinals.
"Everyone naturally thought we were going to win," Karich said. "We were 25-3, but it's hard to please at the school when you're used to winning championships every year. Most of the students felt sorry for us, but some others couldn't understand. They think we should win every game.
"We learned one thing from that loss: We're not invincible. Over the summer, we made a commitment to try and win every game this year."
Mater Dei's only defeat came against Long Beach Poly in the final of the Tournament of Champions at Ocean View. The Monarchs (29-1) meet Loyola (23-3) for the 5-A Division championship at 6:45 tonight in the Los Angeles Sports Arena, and Karich expects a high-scoring game.
"They'll take a lot of shots and run whenever they can," Karich said. "Our biggest problem will be to stop their transition game. I don't know what to expect. I don't know if I'll be nervous, but our practices have been intense this week.
"Win or lose, this has been a great season. This is a great team. "
5-A BOYS' CHAMPIONSHIP GAME LINEUPS
MATER DEI (29-1) Coach Gary McKnight
Name Hgt. Yr. PPG Pos. Charlie Andres 6-7 Sr. 11.1 G Andy Karich 6-6 Sr. 10.1 F Derek Stone 6-8 Sr. 9.0 C David Boyle 6-5 Sr. 14.8 G Jason Quinn 5-11 Sr. 6.2 G
LOYOLA (23-3) Coach William Thomason
Name Hgt. Yr. PPG Pos. Jamal Adams 6-6 Sr. 15.5 G Joe Burghardt 6-6 Sr. 12.3 F Ryan Jamison 6-11 Sr. 18.8 C Okwi Anhluoha 6-3 Sr. 5.5 G Eric Jones 6-2 Sr. 14.0 G