Mater Dei’s lineup is fully loaded

Bolch is a Times staff writer.

Gary McKnight is used to ridiculous riches. The boys’ basketball coach at Santa Ana Mater Dei has averaged 30 victories a season, won 94% of his playoff games and coached 12 Southern Section players of the year in his 26 seasons.

Now he has something new to behold.

For the first time, every Monarchs starter is bound for a major-college program. Point guard Gary Franklin Jr. is going to USC, shooting guard Tyler Lamb is headed to UCLA, small forward Andy Brown is bound for Stanford and twin big men David and Travis Wear are going to North Carolina.

“These aren’t just Division I schools, they’re high Division I schools,” McKnight said. “It’s unique to have so many high Division I kids on one team.”


Even the 1985 Monarchs, who finished 29-0 and won a Southern Section 5-A division title, didn’t go five for five when it came to obtaining major-college scholarships -- guard Mike Kelly went to Westmont.

“The last time I saw something like that was at Westchester when they had Trevor Ariza, Hassan Adams, Brandon Bowman, Ashanti Cook and Brandon Heath,” said Woodland Hills Taft Coach Derrick Taylor. “I’ve never had anything like that. That’s very rare.”

Given its loaded lineup, it’s little surprise that Mater Dei, which opened its season with four blowout victories in the Anaheim Loara tournament, is ranked No. 1 in the Southland by The Times -- and No. 1 in the nation by USA Today.

The Monarchs’ already fabulous foursome was transformed to a fab five three months ago, when Lamb, a junior, transferred in from Ontario Colony High, saying he wanted to better prepare himself academically for college.

At Mater Dei he is surrounded by the kind of talent one might expect to find only on an elite summer club team.

There’s Franklin, the flashy junior guard who might be even a better shooter than he is a passer.


There’s Brown, the scrappy senior swingman who has a penchant for grabbing rebounds and making big shots.

And there are the Wear twins, senior forwards who use their 6-foot-10 frames inside and step out for three-pointers.

Lamb adds another dangerous shooter to the mix after averaging 18.8 points his sophomore season.

“We know we have the opportunity to be one of the great teams to come through here with the talent we have,” said Travis Wear, who scored 24 points last week during a 122-67 victory over North Torrance, in which the Monarchs set a school record for points.

Anyone who figures that all that talent could lead to pressure for players to outperform one another hasn’t watched the Monarchs.

“Sometimes they over-pass, believe it or not,” McKnight said. “The biggest thing about these guys is that they’re willing to sacrifice their stats to be successful.”


Among the four returning starters, none averaged more than David Wear’s 16.8 points last season or fewer than Franklin’s 12.9 points. As the primary ball distributor, Franklin never hears sighs or catches steely glances from those who don’t score on a given trip down the court.

“It’s my job to make them all happy, and I don’t think it’s going to be that hard because they’re not selfish at all,” Franklin said.

But what about keeping the Monarchs’ bench happy? Do the reserves figure to play at all with such a strong starting five?

“They’ll get more playing time,” McKnight said.

Indeed, during Mater Dei’s opener against Loara, 11 players participated off the bench, with three logging at least 11 minutes. Junior guard Collin Krahe scored 10 points and had seven rebounds, joining all five starters in double-figures scoring.

Of course, the reserves might not be so lucky once the Monarchs’ opponents start enforcing the mercy rule that calls for a running clock to be used in the fourth quarter once a team leads by at least 40 points.

They also might not get much action against the handful of top teams that dot the Monarchs’ schedule.


Mater Dei could play as many as three nationally ranked teams in the City of Palms Classic this month in Fort Myers, Fla., and will also play in showcase games against nationally renowned Newark (N.J.) St. Benedict’s Prep and Chicago Whitney Young, which features Michael Jordan’s son Marcus.

“Every week we could be playing a top-ranked team in the country,” David Wear said.

McKnight hopes the schedule helps his team prepare for the Southern Section playoffs, in which Mater Dei has lost the last two years to Compton Dominguez and Lakewood Artesia. The Monarchs are also making a return to the Division I state playoffs, where they last won a title in 2001.

“Playing this schedule, hopefully we’re ready at the end of the season,” McKnight said.

The coach is reserving judgment on whether this team could go down as one of the greatest in school history, having experienced the disappointment of highly ranked teams that didn’t meet expectations.

“I will say that it’s an exceptional group,” McKnight said. “I can’t tell you when I’ve left the gym and been unhappy with practice.”