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Wrighster Plays Large for Sylmar

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Let the debate begin: Is 6-foot-3, 200-pound George Wrighster of Sylmar High a football player playing basketball or vice versa?

“Coach [Jeff] Engilman says I’m a football player and Coach [Bort] Escoto says I’m a basketball player. They’re both right,” Wrighster said.

Wrighster used his football strength--built up from hours in the weight room--to dominate visiting Poly in a City Section Division 3-A quarterfinal playoff game Wednesday night.

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He muscled his way for 23 points and 13 rebounds to help Sylmar beat the Parrots, 72-61, and earn a spot in Friday’s 3-A semifinals against University.

“He’s physically scary,” an admiring Poly Coach Jay Werner said of Wrighster, who repeatedly scored after offensive rebounds.

Poly (11-15), which lost to Sylmar (17-9) twice in East Valley League play, opened a 12-point lead in the second quarter thanks to patience on offense and 15 Sylmar turnovers.

“We were anxious, scared, nervous and it showed,” Escoto said.

Ellis Richardson, who led Poly with 15 points, hurt the Spartans with baskets off precision passes by his teammates. But when he started trying to do too much himself, the Parrots’ lead quickly disappeared. Their advantage was down to 34-32 at halftime.

Sylmar began to pull away by controlling the boards with Wrighster, 6-6 Jeremiah Turner and 6-3 Dedrick Washington. Poly got as close as 47-46 with 7:31 left on a three-point shot by John Gillard.

Then Wrighster took over. He scored three straight baskets on power moves to spark a 12-0 Sylmar run that left the Parrots wondering if Wrighster is some teenage hulk.

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“He just got through the little cracks in our defense,” Poly forward Harold Berreondo said. “He’s strong, too. He just had more heart.”

Wrighster, only a junior, transferred to Sylmar last summer from the exclusive Buckley in Sherman Oaks. He saved some $15,000 a year in tuition to thrust himself into a much more competitive athletic environment.

He earned All-Valley Pac-8 Conference honors in football as a defensive lineman last fall, but he encountered trouble when he first went out for basketball in December.

“He was terrible at the beginning,” Escoto said. “He stepped onto the basketball court and wanted to be in top form. It was frustrating for him.”

By the holiday break, Wrighster began to regain his basketball rhythm. And in the playoffs, he has been outstanding. He scored 26 points in the Spartans’ opening-round win over Franklin.

“I just take pride in doing my best,” he said.

Sylmar has been able to make a late-season run at the 3-A title not only because of Wrighster’s development, but with the return of Turner, who missed 17 games with a broken right hand.

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The Spartans are 6-0 since Turner’s return. He scored 13 points Wednesday, but he hasn’t fully regained the playing form that made him one of the region’s best underclassmen before the season.

“He does so much,” Escoto said. “Wherever I need him, he plays. When it’s money time and crunch time, he’s in the game.”

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