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PLAYERS OF THE YEAR: BOYS: Baron Davis, Guard, Crossroads

TIMES STAFF WRITER

To protect his top player, Coach Daryl Roper closed the door to the outside world this basketball season.

Reporters of all types showed up daily at tiny Crossroads High in Santa Monica last October to catch a glimpse of highly recruited point guard Baron Davis. The curious weren’t interested in his athletic talents, however. They wanted to know why his older sister, Lisa Hodoh, had bought a used Chevy Blazer previously registered to UCLA basketball Coach Jim Harrick.

Davis, a 6-foot-3 senior, had orally committed to UCLA in mid-September. Records show Hodoh had bought the 1991 Blazer two days earlier. The incident prompted a Pacific 10 Conference investigation and played an indirect role in Harrick’s firing Nov. 6.

Although Davis and his sister were never found to have done anything wrong, they haven’t been able to put the incident behind them.

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“The teasing and the heckling never stopped,” said Davis, who eventually withdrew his commitment to UCLA and is expected to announce a college decision later this month. “People say all kinds of hurtful things, but I’ve learned to tune it out the best I can.”

Said Hodoh, who works at the UCLA student union, “You really learn who your friends are. People we thought were in our corner really turned on us. It was an eye-opening experience, to say the least.”

What promised to be the best year in his 17-year-old life had suddenly turned upside down for Davis. Roper figured the only thing he could do was shut everybody out.

That’s why he locked the door to the practice gym every day and asked that telephone calls regarding Davis be routed through him. Crossroads administrators also turned reporters away at the main office.

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“I tried to control the hurt as much as I could,” Roper said. “I shut the doors so the kids could work on what they were supposed to be working on, and that was basketball. I wanted that to be their only focus when they were with me.”

The media attention had waned somewhat by the start of the season in late November. Davis, already considered one of the premier point guards in the country, gracefully emerged from the pressure by playing well in several holiday tournaments. He led the Roadrunners to the title at the prestigious Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

And since many of Crossroads’ victories were lopsided, Davis often played sparingly in the second half of games. He averaged 25 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, five steals and two blocked shots. The Roadrunners won their final 25 games, including the State Division IV championship game March 21, and finished with a 31-3 record.

Davis, who played in the McDonald’s All-American game last Saturday in Colorado Springs, Colo., and also was named to the Parade magazine All-American first team, has been selected The Times’ boys’ player of the year. He will be presented the George Yardley Award at a brunch Sunday.

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Davis was selected over center Chris Burgess of Irvine Woodbridge, twins Jason and Jarron Collins of North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake and Jason Thomas of Compton Dominguez.

The accolades, however, are bittersweet.

“It wasn’t easy to put all of the controversy behind me,” said Davis, who has been reared by his grandmother, Lela Nicholson. “I just tried to concentrate on things that I should be worrying about. My goals all along were to win state and play in the McDonald’s All-American game. I’m happy I was able to accomplish those things.”

At the moment, Davis is the object of an intensive recruiting battle that includes UCLA, Kansas, Duke, Georgia Tech and Michigan. He has already visited UCLA and Kansas and hopes to make more visits before signing a letter of intent. He said he plans to announce his decision in three weeks.

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Roper is handling all of the calls, which number in the dozens daily.

Despite the earlier controversy, Davis said he’s still very interested in the Bruins.

“Like me, UCLA had a lot of ups and downs this past season,” he said. “But Coach [Steve] Lavin seems to have them on the right track. Certainly I could see myself playing there.”


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