Rhoades Is Always Ready for Defensive Challenges : Division I: Capistrano Valley guard was up to the task against Poway and Westchester. Tonight, he faces Mater Dei's Geary.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ask most basketball players what their favorite part of the game is, and they'll tell you it's slamming a dunk, hitting a three-pointer or even dealing a sweet assist.

As for Capistrano Valley High guard Aaron Rhoades . . .

"Defense," he said. "People always look at the offensive side of the game, what shows up in the box scores.

"But I get a lot of satisfaction out of defense. I like it when I get them (opponents) frustrated, and it's fun when they start talking trash to me."

Trash? Such as?

"Most of it is stuff you can't print," he said. "But you'll be standing there at the free-throw line, and they'll be telling you 'choke, choke.' Or when you're on defense, they'll tell you, 'You're nothing, you're nothing.' "

Rhoades, a 6-foot-3 senior, always draws the Cougars' toughest defensive assignment, guarding the opponents' high-scoring player.

Tonight, he will cover Reggie Geary, Mater Dei's lightning quick, do-it-all guard, in the Southern California Division I championship game at the L.A. Sports Arena.

"Aaron's a hard-nosed kid who's not scared of anyone," Capistrano Valley Coach Mark Thornton said. "He really likes it if you build it up as a challenge when he's guarding someone. If you do that, he always rises to that challenge."

Geary and Rhoades know each other quite well, with Mater Dei having beaten Capistrano Valley twice this season.

Rhoades had the flu and played only a few minutes in the Cougars' 69-55 loss in the Tournament of Champions semifinals in December. He was outscored by Geary, 13-11, in Mater Dei's 68-59 nonleague victory in January.

The matchup is one Rhoades looks forward to. Containing Geary, who has signed with Arizona, is difficult to do, he said.

Do they talk trash to each other?

"Naw," Rhoades said. "Reggie is cool. We talk, but usually it's good things, like 'nice move,' or 'good play.' "

Geary is one of three of Rhoades' tough defensive assignments during the regional playoffs. In the first round, he held Kyle Milling, Poway's 6-7 center, to 13 points. He limited Westchester's 6-5 Lorenzo Ball to a respectable 16 points in the semifinals.

Rhoades averages only 6.4 points a game, but lately he has stepped up his offensive play. Not by choice, though.

After leading scorer Tom Airey broke his foot in the Southern Section I-AA championship game, Thornton turned to Rhoades and told him to shoot more.

Rhoades responded with 20 points in the 67-60 victory over Poway, and added 12, including a clinching free throw with 14 seconds remaining, in the 57-53 victory over Westchester.

"At first, it was a big letdown for us when Tom was out," Rhoades said. "But it's not now, after we beat Poway.

"Our roles have changed. Coach Thornton came up to me and told me he wanted me to pick up the scoring with Tom out. So I've had to focus more on shooting. Luckily, against Poway, I was on."

Rhoades knows the consequences of looking past opponents, especially one as dangerous as Mater Dei.

But he can't help but think about the possibility of the Ultimate Defensive Challenge--a chance to guard Jason Kidd, Alameda St. Joseph's prolific guard, in the State championship game.

"I know I have to take games one at a time," Rhoades said. "But I know he's up there.

"I was impressed the first time I saw Kidd play (in a summer tournament game in Las Vegas). I walked into the gym in the fourth quarter, and (St. Joseph's) was on a controlled fast break. Kidd had the ball and said 'Hey, see ya later' to the guy guarding him and laid it in. I turned to (a friend) and said, 'Who is that guy?' "

He may find out soon enough.

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