Father Time, Own Son Catch Up With Taylor

There's a rite of passage that makes fathers grimace and sons gloat.

It happens after the son defeats his father in a game of one-on-one basketball for the first time.

Dad usually responds with a litany of excuses.

"You got lucky."

"You cheated."

"You can't count."

Of course, the son doesn't care. He raises his arms in triumph and proclaims himself the new king of the house.

The familiar scene was repeated last February in the backyard of the Taylor house in Encino.

Brian Taylor, who played professional basketball for 10 years and was a teammate of Julius Erving, lost to his 14-year-old son, Bryce, a freshman at Harvard-Westlake.

"He told me, 'You're never beating me again,' " Brian said. "He was talking smack."

Fathers are in no mood to offer high-fives after losing to a son. They understand their aura of invincibility has been shattered. Thoughts of old age begin to creep in.

But within hours, another feeling sets in: pride. A father realizes his son has become strong enough and skilled enough to teach the teacher a lesson.

Bryce and his four siblings, ages 7 to 17, are growing so fast they could have a monthly garage sale for clothes.

"They're growing like weeds," Brian said.

Bryce was listed at 6 feet on last season's Harvard-Westlake roster. He's up to 6-2 and could be 6-3 or 6-4 by January.

"Every day I feel I'm getting taller," Bryce said.

The improvement in his game is startling. There were times last season he was routinely out-muscled for loose balls. If he drove down the lane and was bumped, there was no way he'd complete the play. By the end of the season, his growth spurt had begun to kick in.

He averaged 7.1 points and helped the Wolverines upset Loyola in a Mission League game.

Last week, in a summer tournament game against Nordhoff, Bryce showed he could be among the region's top sophomores next season. He grabbed a rebound in traffic and immediately scored. He connected on consecutive three-point baskets. He dribbled with confidence and played aggressive defense. He no longer looks like an eighth-grader playing with seniors, even though he doesn't turn 15 until September.

"He really is improving and I can't hide it even if I wanted to," Coach Greg Hilliard said. "He's the real deal. He now believes he's a good player."

Byrce isn't the only player maturing fast. Harvard-Westlake had three freshmen and six sophomores last season. The Wolverines took their lumps, finishing sixth in the seven-team Mission League. But payback time might be coming. Harvard-Westlake won its division last week in the Southern California Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Assn. tournament.

"It's unbelievable how much they've grown," Hilliard said.

Added Bryce: "There were a lot of ups and downs. It's kind of hard being the youngest on the team. I got picked on. It made me a lot tougher."

Playing his father one-on-one in the backyard has been invaluable.

"I've learned everything from him," Bryce said.

When Bryce dunked for the first time earlier this year, he rushed home to tell his father.

"Dad, I dunked," he said.

Brian didn't believe him.

"Show me," he said.

Out to the backyard they went and Bryce showed Brian.

On Father's Day, the best present Bryce could give would be to beat his father again in a game of one-on-one. But don't count it. Dad turned 50 last week, but he got into shape after taking his licking months ago.

"I felt like I should hang it up," Brian said, "but I went back to the drawing board. [Bryce] challenged me two weeks ago and I put him back in his place."

Said Bryce: "He barely beat me."

Bryce and other sons had better not forget that father always knows best.

On July 1, college coaches can begin making contact with seniors to be.

Infielder Ryan Braun of Granada Hills will need a secretary to keep track of all the phone calls he receives. Braun is the region's best hitting prospect since Brad Fullmer of Montclair Prep in 1993.

"It's pretty tough to find a hole in his swing," Coach Steve Thompson said.

A word of advice to Gary Adams of UCLA, Mike Gillespie of USC and Mark Marquess of Stanford: Call him, offer him and sign him. . . .

For someone who played in only three varsity games as a freshman, Drew Saberhagen of Calabasas is showing skills that indicate he'll be a special baseball player in his sophomore year. He has speed, can hit, plays terrific defense at first base and is just learning how to pitch. He no-hit Cleveland for five innings in a summer game last weekend.

With Saberhagen, Justin Segal, Brad Schultz, John Henry Jacobs and Matt Green as pitchers, Calabasas could try to emulate Chatsworth in relying on pitching and defense next season to win a championship. . . .

It's hard not to become excited every time quarterback Ben Olson of Thousand Oaks is on the football field. But his backup, junior Brad Siever, is another player with excellent potential. The 6-2 Siever guided the Lancers' sophomore team to a 10-0 record. Olson should be a fantastic tutor in preparing Siever to take over at quarterback in 2002. . . .

Former Notre Dame outfielder Chris Dickerson is the perfect example of an athlete who used hard work to keep getting better. He batted .255 as a junior at Notre Dame and couldn't hit a curveball. He improved to .363 as a senior. This season, he was a freshman All-American at Nevada, hitting 11 home runs.


Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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