While Dorsey scrambled to an unimpressive 13-9 overall record, the Dons achieved something that few if any schools have ever accomplished: they swept two games from Crenshaw in league play.
The Dons’ second victory created a predicament for the selection committee who are accustomed to making Crenshaw the proverbial top seed.
Who is No. 1?
Is it Crenshaw--the team who has won the past two City Section 4-A Division titles, beating Dorsey both times in the championship games? Or is it Dorsey--the team who found a way to exploit the Cougars’ pressing defense, but has trouble winning against other top-caliber teams?
One thing is certain. There will be no apparent front-runner in the 4-A Division when the City playoffs begin Wednesday.
“I would say this year more than years in the past, there are four or five teams that could win,” said Fairfax Coach Harvey Kitani, whose Lions last won a 4-A title in 1987 with former University of Michigan standout Sean Higgins, and Cleveland Cavaliers starting forward Chris Mills. “Unfortunately, we won’t know what those teams will need to win until the semifinals. By then, it will be too late.”
In the 3-A Division, two-time defending champion Banning is the consensus favorite. Franklin, led by Johnnie Sanders, is the best local bet.
The playoff pairings were determined after press time on Saturday. Crenshaw, which had the best record in the Southern Pacific Conference, was expected to receive the No. 1 seed.
The Cougars, who have won a record 13 City titles and are two-time defending State Division I champions, have an outstanding shooter in 6-foot-5 swingman Arch, plenty of height with 6-6 Corey Williams and 6-7 Raymond Palmer, but an inexperienced point guard in 6-0 sophomore Ben Bradley.
The Cougars, however, lack the go-to player they had last season with Kristaan Johnson and Tremaine Fowlkes.
“Last season, I could count on certain players to do certain things regardless of how everyone else played,” Crenshaw Coach Willie West said. “This year, it’s been a juggling act.”
Dorsey, the two-time City 4-A runners-up, would like nothing better than to win its first title in 20 years against Crenshaw.
The Dons return 6-5 forward Wil O’Neal and 6-3 guard Jason Howzell from the teams that lost twice to Crenshaw in the finals.
“We’ve always felt we were the better team,” O’Neal said. “This year, we’re going to make history.”
The Dons have two outstanding point guards in 5-10 Mac West and 6-foot Verdell Baskin, who give them an advantage against pressing teams. Charles Johnson, a 6-6 forward, is dominating inside.
Washington, which is the only other City team to beat Crenshaw in three seasons, has trouble trying to find two players to complement its three veterans: 6-2 guard Patrick Blake, 6-6 forward Ty Lamar and 6-0 guard Daniel Brown.
And the Generals have shot below 40% from the free-throw line during the season. “Every game we’ve lost was at the free throw line,” Davis said.
In a preseason poll, Manual Arts was picked as the team to beat from the Central City. But the Toilers need a good ballhandler to feed Travis Reed, a 6-7 sophomore transfer from Crenshaw, and 6-0 guard Darwin Carter.
Fremont, which lost to Crenshaw in the 1993 quarterfinals and the ’94 semifinals, finished with a perfect 16-0 mark in Southeastern Conference and 25-3 overall. The Pathfinders have a talented point guard in 5-10 Donnie Wilcher, who is averaging 19.5 points a game, and 6-4 forward Antonio Hines, who is averaging 18 points. The Pathfinders need strong rebounding performance from 6-5 center Raymond Sims to beat the upper-echelon teams.
“I know we can play with Fairfax, Westchester and those other guys,” said Fremont Coach Sam Sullivan, avoiding any mention of his nemesis, Crenshaw. “I think everyone is looking at the other teams and we’re going to sneak in there and surprise everyone.”
Westchester, Fairfax and Chatsworth are the best teams from outside the Central City. The Comets, who won titles in 1991 and ’92, have the best trio of guards in Danny Walker, Ben Sanders and Jason Hart.
Fairfax has the City’s most talented point guard in Duane Davis, a 5-10 senior who signed with Arizona State. Davis is averaging 17.5 points a game while 6-5 forward Jair Fray (17 points) is the Lions’ next best scorer.
Chatsworth is led by 6-8 junior center Eddie Miller and 5-11 junior point guard Jerome Joseph.