Polee grows by leaps


If Dwayne Polee Jr. is playing in a basketball game, then it’s almost certain before the night is done that he’ll have at least one dunk. Since he was 15 and showing off his 40-inch vertical leap, he has been a crowd favorite for Westchester High.

But here’s the most important news: Polee is on his way to becoming a top player. Many had doubts, wondering if he’d be nothing more than an undersized forward who couldn’t shoot well enough to play outside and wasn’t strong enough to play inside.

The answer has come during a rewarding and revealing senior season in which the 6-foot-7 Polee has matured and blossomed into a bona fide major-college prospect, with Georgia, Nevada Las Vegas, Gonzaga and Rutgers pursuing him.


“Me and Coach [Ed] Azzam had a talk,” Polee said. “He said he needs me to be more aggressive. The last three years, he said, I’ve just been playing, but now he needs me to perform. That’s what I’m doing.”

On Saturday at 8 p.m. at USC’s Galen Center, Polee will try to help Westchester (26-3) win its 11th City Section championship, in a tough matchup against Woodland Hills Taft (24-4).

Last week in a semifinal, Polee made a three-pointer from the baseline and took a charging foul. Both were examples of the progress he has made.

“He’s really improved defensively, understanding the concepts, improved his outside shot and his ability to play harder for longer periods of time,” Azzam said.

Polee came in as a freshman with soaring expectations. Not only had he committed to USC as a 14-year-old (he has since reopened his recruiting), but his father was a legend in Los Angeles high school basketball.

The elder Dwayne Polee led Manual Arts to the 1981 City title, scoring 43 points in the final in front of 14,123, the largest crowd to see a City Section final.


“Coming in the ninth grade, it got to me sometimes, but I tried not to let the pressure get to me,” his son said. “I’m me. I can’t be like my dad, nor do I try to be.”

But dad and son have worked together for endless hours in the gym, practicing shooting and working on dribbling, and it is paying off.

“He’s trying to figure it out,” Polee Sr. said. “He has a lot to improve, but he’s getting better. You can’t stay stagnant. He’s expanding his game.”

One thing he doesn’t need to work on is his dunking. He and former Compton standout DeMar DeRozan rank as the best dunkers to come out of Southern California in recent years. Of course, dunking doesn’t get you a starting spot in high school, college or the NBA, and Polee understands.

So enjoy the moment when he unleashes one of his entertaining dunks on Saturday, but I’m going to admire the player he has become.

McDonald’s mystery

Since the inception of the McDonald’s All-American game in 1978, at least one boys’ player from California has been selected for every game -- until this season. The biggest state was shut out, not to mention basketball hotbed Southern California.

“It’s kind of strange because California has produced so many good players,” said Taft Coach Derrick Taylor, who coached in the McDonald’s game in 2007.

“I was kind of shocked.”

Bob Gibbons, who helps select the team and is a North Carolina-based talent scout, said there “wasn’t one standout guy in California.”

And the one player who has zoomed up nationally -- Los Angeles Price guard Allen Crabbe -- didn’t become known until late in his senior year, always the kiss of death in all-star selections. People vote based on summer impressions, not performances during the regular season.

“There wasn’t one kid rated in the top 25, and that’s very unusual,” Gibbons said.

All I can say is wait two or three years, when there will be lots of California kids from the class of 2010 emerging as college standouts, and people will be wondering, “Why wasn’t he a McDonald’s All-American?”