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METRO CONFERENCE PREVIEW : League Games Beat the Christmas Rush

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It seems as if the high school football championship games were played just a few days ago, and here already the Metro Conference boys’ basketball season is about to get under way. How time . . .

Hey, wait. The football playoffs did just end Saturday. What is the Metro Conference doing starting basketball league play so early?

Had Chula Vista, whose basketball team figures to rely on a number of football players, managed to upset Morse in the 3-A football semifinals--which it almost did--the Spartans would be starting league play for basketball just four days after the football championship. That doesn’t seem right.

And what’s this? Sweetwater played and beat Mar Vista, 71-40, on Nov. 28? Suppose that was a Metro game as well.

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Actually, it was, but with reason. Sweetwater, because it is the only year-round high school in the county, has different breaks in the school year than the other schools and is forced to make certain scheduling changes at times.

“That’s the only day we could play it,” Sweetwater Coach David Ybarra said. “We didn’t want to, but the way the calendar is set up, that’s the only time we could play.”

Ybarra’s explanation could be used for the unusually early start of league play, too.

The Metro didn’t want to start on Wednesday, but it was almost forced to because of the way the calendar is set up.

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The Metro is an eight-team league that plays a double round-robin schedule.

With the holiday break running six days into January and teams having to play 14 league games before the middle of February when the section playoffs begin, the league determined four of those games should be played before Christmas.

How are the coaches responding?

Almost unanimously, they are opposed to the scheduling.

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“I don’t like the scheduling at all,” Montgomery Coach George Anderson said. “I wish I had more time. I’d like to have two more tournaments under our belt. Four league games before the Christmas break? It seems like they’re just pushing to get it over with.”

“Terrible idea,” Southwest Coach Steve Selland said. “Don’t get me talking about policy, because whenever I do, I get into trouble.”

The situation is even gloomier for Southwest. The Raiders are scheduled to play all four of their pre-break league games on the road.

The only team that seems content with the idea is Bonita Vista. The Barons (4-0) are playing well, having just won the Hilltop tournament championship over Chula Vista, 77-60.

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Most league coaches picked Chula Vista to win the league this season. They may be rethinking those picks now.

“Although Chula Vista is the favorite, I don’t think they’re a shoo-in,” Castle Park Coach Dan Winters said. “I don’t think they’re that far ahead of the others.”

Chula Vista finished second last year, but the Spartans no longer have Carnell Penn, an all-county guard last year. Penn moved to Virginia this fall with his mother, who is in the Navy.

Sweetwater, with its four-guard offense, was 14-0 in league and won the San Diego Section Division I championship last year. But the Red Devils were decimated by graduation.

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THE RACE

Top contenders: Bonita Vista (15-9 in 1989-90), Chula Vista (21-8), Sweetwater (29-1).

Surprise potential: Southwest (8-18).

Hoping for improvement: Hilltop (14-13), Castle Park (11-12), Montgomery (3-19), Mar Vista (2-22).

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Game of the year: Bonita Vista at Chula Vista, Feb. 1. This will be the third meeting between the schools, second in league play. It could determine the champion.

THE PLAYERS

The man: Rope Perry, the league’s most recognizable name, is also the league’s top returning scorer and, at 6-foot-5, the league’s premier inside threat. He is averaging 16 points and 12 rebounds per game.

“Right now, everybody knows about Rope, and everybody’s double- and triple-teaming him” Bonita Vista Coach Jim Conlin said. “But he’s been in double figures every game anyway.”

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Saturday in the championship of the Hilltop tournament, Perry had 23 points.

Who will fill the shoes of Joe McDowell, Carlos Campbell and John Gilbert? Last year, McDowell led the Metro Conference at 21.1 points per game, and Campbell was second at 19.8. Gilbert, a three-point specialist, added another 12 points per game. Together, they led Sweetwater to an improbable Division I championship.

“You just can’t replace those guys,” Red Devil Coach David Ybarra said. “They were special players.”

Trying to replace McDowell, Campbell and Gilbert is somewhat comparable to Loyola Marymount trying to replace Bo Kimble, Hank Gathers and Jeff Fryer. You don’t replace, you just hope some of the new guys can pick up some of the slack.

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Ybarra is hoping that Mendel Nafarrete, Melvin Rushing and Pateros Woodson can do just that. They are talented players and did their parts in helping Sweetwater to the title. Nafarrete (5-6) and Rushing (6-0) were starters last year, and Woodson (5-11) provided quality minutes off the bench near the end of the year.

Others to watch: Devin Patterson of Southwest is the second-leading returning scorer from last season. Patterson, a 6-3 senior forward, averaged 16.0 points per game.

Jerome Green, a 6-2 forward, started a number of games last year as a freshman. This year, he and Shane Howell (6-4, senior, forward) figure to be the catalysts for Chula Vista.

Chris White (Hilltop), Leslie Shaw (Montgomery), Mike Barnett (Bonita Vista) and David Rusk (Bonita Vista) also are expected to have big seasons.

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Castle Park’s Benji Gil, one of the best baseball pitchers in the county, is playing basketball again after taking last year off. Gil started as a sophomore for the Trojans.

THE INTANGIBLES If you can’t beat ‘em: One coaching change made for two this year when Tim Murphy resigned as coach at Montgomery. George Anderson, who coached at Mar Vista the past two years and who teaches at Montgomery, applied for the Montgomery coaching job and got it.

Anderson and Mar Vista finished last behind Montgomery last year, when Mar Vista lost to Montgomery in the final game of the season.

With Anderson leaving Mar Vista, Chuck Vallero took over as coach of the Mariners.

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Montgomery opens at home Wednesday against Mar Vista.

Frequent flyers, no more: Sweetwater had to cancel its annual out of the continental United States trip this season because of the rising cost of airline tickets.

The Red Devils, which have gone to Hawaii and Burnaby, Canada, in recent years were planning on going to Juneau, Alaska, later this month for a tournament before backing out in September.

“Economically, we just couldn’t afford it,” Ybarra said. “Air fares were just too high.”

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Sweetwater also received some unfavorable news last week concerning the tournament it conducts beginning Dec. 26. A team from the Phillipines that was supposed to play in the tournament could not get permission from its government to come here. Another team, Canada’s Burnaby Central, pulled out because of the cost of travel.

Down but not grounded: Bonita Perry is the tallest player in the league at 6-5. It’s no surprise, then, most Metro teams have gone to the running game made popular by teams such as Loyola Marymount, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Sweetwater won the Division I championship last year with such a game plan consisting of full-court, man-to-man pressing defense and a run-and-shoot offense. Many others--Chula Vista in particular--are going to that up-tempo game, too.

“We’re basically guard-oriented, so we have to play the full-court game,” Ybarra said. “We just don’t have any kind of size.”

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The running trend is certainly catching on more and more in the high schools, but not everyone is as quick to change.

“A few teams are tying to emulate the colleges and run more,” Castle Park Coach Dan Winters said. “We’re running more, but we like to emphasize defense, too.”

Said Bonita Vista’s Conlin, “That’s not our style. We want to push the ball up the court, but we’re working on our patience. We want to work on getting the good shot.”


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