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THE COLLEGES / MIKE HISERMAN : Gray Develops Into Force Inside for UCSB, Proves It Against UNLV’s Johnson

The blue and gold-colored keys on the basketball court at UC Santa Barbara’s Events Center have become the Gray area.

Gary Gray, the former Granada Hills High standout whom critics said played too soft to be a force in NCAA Division I basketball, has become one of the top frontcourt players in the Big West Conference.

Never was that more obvious than last Monday night at UCSB where, before a packed house of more than 6,000 and a national television audience, Gray outmuscled and outplayed Nevada Las Vegas All-American Larry Johnson.

Yes, that Larry Johnson.

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Gray, matched man to man against Johnson at both ends of the court, scored a career-high 27 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Johnson had seven rebounds and a season-low 12 points.

Gray, a 6-foot-9, 247-pound senior, leads the Gauchos in rebounding with a 7.1 average and is second in scoring at 16.8.

Consistency is his trademark. Gray has led Santa Barbara in scoring 10 times and has scored in double figures in all but one of the Gauchos’ 16 games.

His 12th point against UNLV made him the 11th player in Gaucho history to score 1,000 points. In his career, Gray has 1,032 points and 574 rebounds, which is ninth on the school’s all-time list.

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Hoop-scotch: Jermoine Brantley, an All-City Section guard for Granada Hills last season, said he has left the Cal State Los Angeles basketball team and enrolled at Cal State Long Beach.

Brantley averaged 20.2 points and nine assists a game last season for Granada Hills. He was redshirting the season at Cal State L.A.

Bob Braswell, a Cal State Long Beach assistant, said Brantley will attempt to make the 49ers’ roster next season as a walk-on.

Option football: The future of the Division II Western Football Conference--if there is a WFC--will begin to take shape based on the results of meetings next week at Southern Utah State.

A resolution prohibiting schools with Division I athletic programs from playing football at the Division II and III levels passed at the NCAA convention earlier this month, threatening the existence of the conference. Four of the WFC’s six teams hail from Division I schools, including Northridge.

For WFC members, option football has taken on a whole new meaning.

In an effort to salvage the conference, Commissioner Vic Buccola has considered forming a Division I-AA conference that conforms more closely to Division II guidelines in terms of scholarship ceilings. The Division I-AA scholarship maximum is 63; the limit in Division II is 40.

Expect that idea to be sacked. Conference coaches say they have little interest in such a setup because it would place them at a disadvantage in the playoffs and, more importantly, when recruiting against other Division I-AA schools.

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If you are going to ask football teams to play at the Division I-AA level, do it right. Don’t tie their hands by tinkering with scholarship levels.

Out on a limb: The junior college baseball season does not start until Friday, but two teams already have lost key sophomores to injuries.

Mission shortstop Mike Rogers will undergo surgery Monday for a rotator-cuff injury in his right (throwing) shoulder. He is out for the season. Also, Mike Kerber of Canyons underwent a Magnetic Resonance Imaging test Wednesday on his injured left knee and will be lost for several weeks.

Rogers batted .339 with 26 runs batted in and 30 stolen bases last year. Kerber a first baseman and catcher, hit .316 with seven doubles, five home runs and 24 RBIs.

Briefly: Former Cleveland High standout Tyrone Mitchell averaged 10.7 points a game as a senior for Cal State Long Beach last season, but it is his defense and leadership qualities that this season’s 49ers miss most.

With Mitchell leading the way at point guard, Long Beach was 23-9 last season. Without him--Mitchell is the only starter who did not return--the 49ers are off to a 7-9 start after being picked to finish second or third behind Nevada Las Vegas in Big West Conference preseason polls. “Having Tyrone out there was like having another coach out on the floor,” said Bob Braswell, a 49er assistant. Mitchell now teaches at a junior high school in Compton. . . .

Lucious Harris, another former Cleveland standout, played shooting guard beside Mitchell last season in the Long Beach backcourt. Recently, perhaps out of desperation, the quiet and introspective Harris has taken over Mitchell’s role as team leader and point guard.

Harris, whose forte is shooting, is averaging 22.1 points and 5.5 rebounds. He has scored 20 or more points in 12 of the 49ers’ 15 games, but his ballhandling has left a lot to be desired. He has 51 turnovers and only 45 assists. . . .

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Travis Bice is the best pure jump shooter I have ever seen. At least in practice. Bice is in his fourth season at Nevada Las Vegas after making the team as a walk-on out of Simi Valley High. Before Monday’s nationally televised game at UC Santa Barbara, Bice practiced taking bounce passes then firing three-point shots from the baseline area. In one stretch he made 15 in a row--none of which appeared to so much as touch the rim. . . .

Was Albert Fann looking forward to playing in last Sunday’s All-American Bowl? According to his mother, Fann toted a football around the house with him in the days before his departure for Tallahasee, Fla., site of the college all-star game. She says he also slept with the football. Fann will leave Feb. 8 for the National Football League Scouting Combine. . . .

Moorpark and Ventura have fine basketball teams and their game Wednesday was probably the highlight of the local season so far. One complaint: The aspect of a Ventura County rivalry loses impact when few of the players are from the county. Only three of the 10 starters--Mike Waggoner (Westlake), Sean Doyle (Newbury Park) and Nate Hantgin (Ventura), all of Moorpark--are locals. So much for “community” colleges. Two of the three best players in the game are from Los Angeles, the other from Chicago.


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