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These Guards Avoid the Sophomore Jinx

There used to be a weekly network television program in the early 1980s called “That’s Incredible!”

College basketball coaches are going to be using the same expression every time they come to Southern California and watch guards from the high school Class of 2008 display their skills.

The list of outstanding sophomore guards grows seemingly every week. Call it a glut of good fortune.

“I’m just glad it’s happening, because it’s coming at the right time for us,” UCLA assistant coach Kerry Keating said. “It’s a big need. There’s still a long way to go, especially with guards. Some grow late and some mature late, but these guys have proven themselves worthy of recruitment.”

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All season, there has been debate about who’s best, leading sometimes to bitter arguments in Internet discussion groups and in the stands. But the real question is, how many top sophomore guards are there?

The depth at the position among players who are only 15 and 16 years old is exciting because no one knows how good they will become as they grow stronger, quicker and more experienced.

Coaches are already scheduling games for next season to give their sophomore guards a chance to test themselves against their peers.

One matchup set for 2006-07 is North Hollywood Campbell Hall and Jrue Holiday taking on Woodland Hills Taft and Larry Drew Jr.

It doesn’t really matter who might be No. 1 right now. What’s important is improving every season, and that’s why college recruiters will be out in force this spring and summer watching and evaluating. Based on observations during the high school season, here are some impressions of the extraordinary sophomore guard class:

* Best three-point shooter: Malik Story of Lakewood Artesia.

* Best at driving and dishing: Drew of Taft.

* Best passer: Jerime Anderson of Anaheim Canyon.

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* Best defender: Jarred DuBois of Westchester.

* Best scorer: Mat Hankins of Sylmar.

* Most effective in transition game: Holiday of Campbell Hall.

* Best shot creator: Brandon Jennings of Compton Dominguez.

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* Fastest-rising prospect: Lorne Jackson of Simi Valley.

And there are others to admire: Dallas Rutherford of Granada Hills Hillcrest Christian averaged 22.2 points.... James Staniland of Ventura is 6 feet 6 and has great range beyond the three-point arc.... Oscar Bellfield of Taft is a terrific leaper, defender and outside shooter.

Keion Bell of Gardena Serra is 6-3, averaged 14.5 points, was a first-team All-Del Rey League pick and might be the best dunker among the guards.

Chris Solomon of Los Angeles Fairfax has been a backup for two years while showing flashes of talent and ability.

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Ryan Kelley of Chino Hills Ayala is a top defensive player who figures to increase his scoring output.

Jason Pruitt of Artesia was moving up the guard ranks until his season ended because of academic ineligibility.

Don’t set the final rankings of these players in stone. There are growth spurts to come and others who played junior varsity as freshmen who might end up joining the elite.

As UCLA’s Keating said, “Time will tell who ends up being the one who rises to the top. It’s going to make for a lot of good basketball.”

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Eric Sondheimer can be reached at

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.


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