High school sports serve as a rite of passage for the athletes who play them, the students, friends and families that gather to watch them and the sportswriters who cut their professional teeth covering them.

High school football games in Los Angeles date to 1896, but it wasn’t until 1934 that the Los Angeles City Section was born.

The Southern Section was established in 1912 and held its first athletic competition in 1913.


This story is not an attempt to document the achievements of every outstanding athlete, coach and team that made a mark, for there are far too many to chronicle here.

Rather, it is a history lesson of sorts told by current and former Times staff writers who have written about Southland prep athletes. Most of the writers graduated from Los Angeles-area high schools. And while many have gone on to cover college and professional sports as beat writers or columnists, all maintain indelible images of the prep athletes they watched, covered and, in some instances, competed with and against on the playing field.


Having covered preps in Ventura County for the old Camarillo Daily News, and in San Diego and Orange County for The Times, I have seen my share of local hoop legends. Inglewood’s Harold Miner, Simi Valley’s Don MacLean, Glendora’s Tracy Murray and Artesia’s Ed O’Bannon all went on to standout college careers, but none made much of an impact in the NBA.

Somehow, I had a feeling this kid from Brooklyn Lincoln High with the sculpted arms and the flashy game would be different. From the moment Stephon Marbury took the court against Mater Dei in the 1995 Above the Rim Classic finals, he had NBA written all over him.

Mater Dei, then ranked fourth nationally by USA Today, had a star of its own--sophomore Schea Cotton--and the better team. But Marbury kept his team close with an array of NBA-range pull-up jumpers, no-look passes off the dribble and hanging layups in between two and three defenders. During an incredible third-quarter stretch, Marbury scored 12 consecutive points to give Lincoln a brief lead.

Marbury ran out of gas in the fourth quarter as Cotton and Mater Dei took over. He finished with 39 points, and Cotton had 33 in Mater Dei’s 15-point victory.


Afterward, Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight said what everybody else in Torrey Pines’ gymnasium was thinking.

“He’s the best I’ve seen,” McKnight said. “I saw Jason Kidd here and this kid’s just as good or better. A lot of guys have NBA range, but he makes those shots from NBA range.”

Marbury played a year at Georgia Tech before becoming an NBA player with Minnesota and New Jersey. At 22, he’s already a four-year veteran.

Cotton, meanwhile, is still hoping to realize his potential. After orally committing to UCLA, Long Beach State and North Carolina State, he has landed at Alabama.

Marbury’s postgame comments about Cotton that night were prophetic: “He’s a great player. He plays 99%. If he’ll play 110%, he’ll be the best in the country.”