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Centennial’s Burton is netting a lot of interest

It’s not every season buzz builds so quickly about an unsigned senior basketball player that college coaches start to make special trips to see him play in the opening weeks of the season.

That’s what has happened with Deonte Burton, a 6-foot-2 guard from Compton Centennial. He didn’t play last season after transferring from Long Beach Cabrillo, but he is making up for lost time, showing off shooting skills (40 and 38 points in the Westchester tournament) that motivated coaches from UCLA, USC and other schools to start following him from tournament to tournament.

“It’s a thrill to be out there and see all the coaches watching me,” Burton said. “I’m going to be patient and see what comes.”

It’s not as if Burton was an unknown quantity. He averaged 23.5 points a game as a sophomore at Cabrillo. But he transferred to Centennial the summer before his junior year, and then the Southern Section declared him ineligible after he played in one game because of residency issues.

“When they decided I wasn’t going to be eligible, I was hurt, I was heartbroken,” Burton said. “But I had to be mentally tough. I focused more on my grades.”

He also practiced hard and helped his teammates prepare for games.

“I was focused on getting other guys better,” he said. “If I knew I was going hard with my teammates, I knew they were going to go hard on their opponents.”

Finally given the chance to play, Burton made quite an impression during the opening week of the Westchester tournament, culminating in a 40-point performance against the top-ranked Comets.

“I felt I had to make a statement,” he said. “I just got shots within the offense. When the shot clock was down, I tried to create for my teammates and myself.”

Coach Vadim Malikin, who also coached Burton at Cabrillo, said, “He’s impossible to guard at the high school level one-on-one.”

Burton has an explosive first step, is accurate from three-point range and is a terrific free-throw shooter, allowing him to pick up easy points when fouled.

The big question is whether he’s tall enough and handles the ball well enough to be a shooting guard at the highest level in college. That’s why the college recruiters are going to his games, making evaluations and trying to envision him at the next level.

What’s clear is that Burton didn’t need any presents on Christmas Day to feel happy. The chance to play again and show what he can do is the best present for 2009 and beyond.

Games to watch

If you’re a basketball fan, there are two great options to see a series of terrific tournament games today.

At Westlake Village Oaks Christian, the four quarterfinal matchups couldn’t be better. They start at 4 o’clock with Sacramento, led by junior point guard Josiah Turner, who’s being recruited by UCLA and Kansas, taking on Pasadena. Oaks Christian faces unbeaten Los Angeles Loyola at 5:30 p.m., Santa Monica takes on Etiwanda at 7 p.m. and Thousand Oaks meets defending state Division IV champion Richmond Salesian at 8:30 p.m.

At San Diego Torrey Pines in the MaxPreps Holiday Classic, Los Angeles Price faces Newark Memorial at 5:20 p.m., followed by Woodland Hills Taft-Oakland Bishop O’Dowd at 7 p.m. and Rialto Eisenhower-Corona Centennial at 8:30 p.m.

And, if you’re looking for something to do on Saturday, there’s a one-day tournament at Cerritos College. The California Classic runs from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and features Lawndale Leuzinger, Orange Lutheran, Cerritos Gahr, Gardena Serra, Price, North Hollywood Campbell Hall and San Diego Hoover.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

latimes.com /sports He’s making up for lost time Watch a video of Compton Centennial’s 6-foot-2 Deonte Burton, a shooting star who’s attracting coaches’ attention.


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