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KIDS to WATCH : Even...

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The routine at St. Irenaeus Catholic School’s day care center was disrupted when a celebrity of sorts walked into the classroom, sending some of the preschoolers into a frenzy.

“Miss Kim, Miss Kim, Michael Jordan’s here,” one little girl said to the center’s director, Kim Kroll.

Well, not quite. As far as anyone knew, Jordan was still jamming in Chicago. But it’s easy to see how a 4-year-old could mistake Chevalier (Schea) Cotton for the NBA superstar.

Cotton, a muscular 6 feet and 180 pounds, looks as if he is chiseled in granite. His well-defined body and neatly shaven head gives him a Jordan-like look that a child could mistake for the real thing.

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Truth is, Cotton is only 12.

Cotton is the talk of the 38 Catholic grammar schools in Orange County that make up the Parochial Athletic League. He shoots 15-foot jump shots as well as most kids his age shoot three-footers.

Cotton’s passing skills are so advanced, he hit four unsuspecting teammates in the face with no-look passes the first day of practice at St. Irenaeus in Cypress.

He is the sixth-grade captain on a team with seventh- and eighth-graders. Despite being double- and triple-teamed, he averages 28 points and 10 blocked shots in 24-minute games.

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“I’ve coached youth basketball for 10 years, and never in my life have I seen a kid as good as him in the sixth grade,” said Dennis Kelly, St. Irenaeus coach.

Cotton’s exploits on the basketball court have been nationwide. Last summer, he was named most valuable player in a national AAU tournament in Salt Lake City. Playing for Performance Institute of Anaheim, Cotton had 38 points and 23 rebounds in a 72-69 victory over St. Richard’s of St. Louis in the championship game. It was the first time a California team won the national tournament.

Cotton has a staff of coaches monitoring his every move. He trains under Marv Marinovich at Performance Institute. Des Flood, who has helped some of the top high school standouts in the county over the past five years, is his shooting coach. Pat Barrett, who developed former Mater Dei standout Tom Lewis, coaches Cotton’s traveling team.

Cotton’s father, James, videotapes all of his games. It was James Cotton who named his son after singer Maurice Chevalier, but “he’s always been Schea because none of the kids could pronounce his name.”

Cotton’s parents have two rules for their son. First, he must maintain a B-minus average, or he doesn’t play. Last year, Cotton’s grades dropped, and he sat out three weeks.

Second, his father insists that he remain a “team player” no matter whom he’s playing for or against.

“I don’t want my son thinking he’s ‘The Big I’ and the rest of the team is ‘The Little You’ in any game,” said James, who emphasizes the point by not yet allowing Schea to talk to the media.

Cotton has learned well. He has a feel for the game that defies his age and an uncanny knack for seeing the court. He has the ability to go to the hoop from the low post position or hang in the air on a drive to the basket.

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Cotton is doubly tough for youngsters his age to defend because he’s left-handed, and the best part of his game is his hang time. He is an animated player who is constantly pointing, clapping or high-fiving teammates.

“He lives for the game,” Kelly said. “Right now, it’s the most important thing in his life.”

Kelly said he’s looking forward to the track season, when Cotton will participate in the sprints, high jump and long jump.

“I don’t think he can be touched in the sprints,” Kelly said. “We’re talking about an extraordinary athlete here.”


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