WATTS SUMMER GAMES : Westchester Shows Why It Should Be Ranked No. 1

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Defending City 4-A boys' champion Westchester was seeded No. 1 in the basketball competition at the 24th L.A. Watts Summer Games Sunday at El Camino College.

The Comets are showing that the seeding was apt.

Westchester had little trouble advancing to the fourth round with a victory over Western, 61-23. In two games--the Comets received a first-round bye--Westchester has outscored its opponents, 136-59.

Senior point guard James Gray had 16 points against Western, shooting eight of 10 from the field.

Gray was chosen to The Times' All-Westside first team last season after leading Westchester to a 22-8 record.

"This is a fun tournament. Playing in the final would be nice," Coach Ed Azzam said. "It hasn't been tough yet, but as we advance each round we're facing a lot better athletes."

Westchester lost a few players to graduation, but Azzam expects the team will not slow down next season as a result.

"LeRoi (O'Brien) was a silent leader, and we'll have to fill that leadership void," Azzam said.

"Marty (Cotwright) can come in and fill for us though. He's a strong competitor."

O'Brien was selected as a Times player of the year last season. Cotwright, a 6-foot-9 senior center, will be a key player in the Comets' defense of their title.

Last year's L.A. Watts champion, Fremont, beat South Gate, 51-34, to advance to the fourth round next Saturday.

Fremont is seeded No. 2.

Westchester won handily in a recent scrimmage with Fremont.

"They (Fremont) didn't have their starting point guard for the game, and we took advantage of it and beat them by about 30 points," Gray said.

Verbum Dei, seeded 17th, staved off a late rally by Los Angeles to win, 57-52. Point guard Robert King led Verbum Dei with 14 points.

Los Angeles trailed at the half, 29-17, but came back on an 11-2 run to close within five points with a minute remaining in regulation.

But King scored two baskets in the final minute to clinch the victory.

"We just started mishandling the ball and fouled up a lot of easy layups," Verbum Dei Coach Mike Kearney said. "I'm glad we were able to pull it off. We have better shooters than in the past few years."

Verbum Dei will meet Westchester in the fourth round Saturday.

There were two second-round surprises. Third-seeded Lynwood lost to unseeded Taft, 40-35. Fifth-seeded Morningside lost to Santa Monica, 44-41.

In the girls' division, top-seeded Palos Verdes breezed past Channel Islands, 61-48.

The prep tournament, which is believed to be the largest of its kind in the country, began with a 114-team field in the boys' division and 64 teams in the girls' division.

The winners of the fourth round advance to the quarterfinals at El Camino College, later Saturday, with the final four playing for the championship Sunday.

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