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Local Basketball Teams Are Ready to Play Against Nation’s Top High School Squads : Basketball: Above the Rim tournament to opens today at two locations.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Some of the best high school basketball teams in the country have descended upon San Diego to offer a glimpse of the other side of the fence.

Twenty-two teams are trying to become champion of the second annual Above the Rim Hoopwear Classic. The tournament has doubled in size this year, and 44 games take place today through Dec. 31 at two sites, Torrey Pines High School and Peterson Gym at San Diego State.

And it gives local entries--and fans--an opportunity to see how San Diego compares with Los Angeles, New York and points in between when it comes to basketball.

The question is: What will it take for No. 1 El Camino, No. 2 Torrey Pines, No. 5 Lincoln, No. 10 Carlsbad, USDHS or Valhalla to win? Can any of them do it?

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Lincoln Coach Ron Loneski, who grew up in Indiana, says no.

“I don’t think, right now, there’s a team in San Diego--maybe with the exception of Torrey Pines--that has the ability to win a tournament like this against the teams from the east,” Loneski said. “I don’t think San Diego has arrived yet.”

Every man is entitled to his opinion. El Camino Coach Ray Johnson believes his players have the physical ability to compete. But more is needed than mere physical talent when the top teams from various regions are coming here.

“You always think the teams they’re importing are better than you,” Johnson said, “but that’s just fear of the unknown.

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“I think it’s just getting over the mystique of those guys.”

El Camino (5-1) might have the toughest draw in the tournament, opening with perennial powerhouse Oakland Bishop O’Dowd at 10:15 a.m. today; the winner faces Cleveland St. Joseph, ranked in the national top 20 by USA Today.

For El Camino--or any other local team--to reach Tuesday’s 7 p.m. championship game at Peterson Gym, a number of factors must come into play.

--Fulfilled potential. Not only will a team’s best players have to perform at their highest level, but so will the bench players. “We have to get at least eight guys playing well, doing what they’re supposed to do,” Johnson said.

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John Farrell, coach Torrey Pines (5-2), agreed. “Everybody has to play a role, at least on our team, and play to the best of their ability,” he said. “Athletically, we’re not going to have the full entourage of athletes as some of these other programs.”

--Play with confidence. A key is avoiding intimidation, and each victory in a tournament of this magnitude affects the psyche of a team. Even losing but playing competitively can help as the season progresses.

“Last year, right after this tournament, we were 6-8 and struggling,” said Lincoln’s Loneski, “and we won 16 in a row, starting with Morse.”

Lincoln’s next loss was in the semifinals of the state Division IV playoffs.

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--Use the home-court advantage. There are two areas to exploit. One is the San Diego officiating. “These guys blow the whistle any time they touch a kid,” Loneski said. “That will be a disadvantage for (the aggressive) eastern teams. The Deep Creek (Va.) coach told me last year he’d never come back, and I didn’t think (the officiating) was that bad.”

The second is getting those first couple of victories.

“After a couple of days in a motel, that starts to wear on high school kids,” Johnson said. “If you can win the first couple of rounds, you’d be in business.”

--Luck. Beginning with the bracket each team is in. El Camino is in a tough spot, but if Carlsbad can get past Santa Ana Mater Dei, it plays USDHS with the winner going to the quarterfinals.

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And it also takes some luck on the court. “You’ve got to get some breaks,” Johnson said.

Farrell recalled his team’s 90-88 triple overtime victory in 1988 over Camden, N.J., which had scored 175 points a game earlier.

“Nobody gave us a prayer,” Farrell said. “But when you play as a team, sometimes things happen.”

Courtie Miller provided buzzer-beating baskets at the end of regulation and the first overtime, and Kevin Friel had the game-winner at the final buzzer.

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“You have to be lucky and have some skill,” Farrell said.


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