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Prep Rally: It’s almost tip-off time for basketball

Culver City's Naby Ngom dives to knock away the ball from Sierra Canyon's Amari Bailey during a game last season.
Culver City’s Naby Ngom dives to knock away the ball from Sierra Canyon’s Amari Bailey, The Times’ reigning player of the year, in a game last season.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. Basketball season has arrived. Action begins this week. Let’s take a look at boys’ and girls’ teams along with players to watch.

Sierra Canyon is No. 1

Amari Bailey of Sierra Canyon, a UCLA signee, is the top returning player in the region.
UCLA-bound Amari Bailey leads No. 1-ranked Sierra Canyon.
(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Chatsworth Sierra Canyon is No. 1 in The Los Angeles Times’ preseason top 25 boys’ basketball rankings. The Trailblazers have been strengthened by several top transfer students, though they won’t be at full strength until Dec. 26, the end of the transfer sit-out period.

Leading the way is senior guard Amari Bailey, the returning Times player of the year who signed with UCLA last week. The Trailblazers have added so much depth that they figure to go 10 deep with coach Andre Chevalier using a full-court press and requiring players to go all out or land on the bench.

There’s plenty of teams ready to offer a strong challenge. Corona Centennial knocked off Sierra Canyon last season to win the Southern Section Open Division title and returns key players in Jared McCain, Donovan Dent, Aaron McBride and 6-foot-9 Devin Williams.

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Studio City Harvard-Westlake could have its best team with size, experience and strong guard play. Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and Etiwanda both have teams capable of contending for championships.

The Top 25

1. SIERRA CANYON: Three top transfers join Amari Bailey to create formidable unit.

2. CORONA CENTENNIAL: Four starters return from 21-2 championship team.

3. HARVARD-WESTLAKE: Good guards, plus three 6-8 players have Wolverines excited.

4. ETIWANDA: Get ready for more pressure defense and lots of good shooters.

5. SHERMAN OAKS NOTRE DAME: Return of 6-7 Dusty Stromer makes Knights a contender.

Here’s the link to the entire rankings.

Dusty Stromer is ready

Dusty Stromer of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame is back for his junior season in basketball.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

When Dusty Stromer was last seen playing for Sherman Oaks Notre Dame as a freshman during the 2019-20 season, his wavy blond hair was long enough to touch his shoulders and his main job was shooting threes. Yes, lots of people were promoting him as a future star, but you don’t reach that level as a one-dimensional player.

COVID-19 arrived in March 2020, and Stromer disappeared for almost a year. He didn’t attend Notre Dame in 2020-21. He didn’t play in any high school basketball games. His studying happened on a computer. The rest of the time, he was training on his own.

“I took my whole sophomore year off to train almost a year in the middle of COVID,” he said. “I tried to get as good as I can. It was definitely tough, especially seeing all my peers get attention because they were playing when I wasn’t. I tried to trust the process and understand that all the work I was putting in would show up when I come back.”

One of the greatest work ethic indicators is what someone does when no one is watching. It’s clear that Stromer didn’t just sit on the couch at home playing video games. He was in a gym, on a court or in a backyard every day training.

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“When you’re training all day, I felt a pretty fast change in my game and getting better and better,” he said.

Stromer is ready to become one of the stars of this season. He has picked up scholarship offers from UCLA and Louisville going into his junior season.

Here’s the link to a profile on Stromer’s rise to prominence.

Juju Watkins leads girls’ ranks

Juju Watkins of Sierra Canyon.
(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

There’s a surge in talent in the girls’ basketball ranks, led by junior Juju Watkins, the No. 1 college prospect from the class of 2023 who has transferred from Windward to Sierra Canyon.

Here’s the link to a profile on the girls’ basketball scene leading up to this week’s opening games.

Here’s a look at 10 teams to watch.

Football rewind

It’s Final Four time in football. The Southern Section’s top four teams have been known for three months. Now Santa Ana Mater Dei, Bellflower St. John Bosco, Anaheim Servite and Corona Centennial get to finally play in decisive games on Friday, with Servite at St. John Bosco and Mater Dei at Centennial.

Here’s the link to St. John Bosco’s win over Los Alamitos.

In the City Section Open Division, the Final Four has Birmingham at Banning and Palisades at San Pedro. Any of the four is capable of winning it all.

Here’s a report on Birmingham eliminating unbeaten Lincoln.

Here’s a look at Narbonne advancing to the City Division III semifinals after going 0-8 in the regular season.

Here’s the updated playoff pairings for all divisions.

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Early signees

Harvard-Westlake baseball signees.
(Harvard-Westlake baseball signees (left) Toussaint Bythewood (UCLA), Niko Price (Kenyon), Marty Kaplan (Northwestern), Jacob Galloway (Texas Tech), Andrew Citron (Georgetown), Alex Shane (Johns Hopkins). Not pictured is Jordan Kang (Harvard).)

Wednesday was signing day for high school seniors in all sports but football.

There were lots of celebrations at schools.

Here’s the link to the story on signing day.

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Freshman to watch

Mateo Rickman, a freshman at Torrance, won the MLB Jr. home run derby.
(JrHRD)

The baseball season is still months away, but pay attention to freshman Mateo Rickman of Torrance.

He participated in the MLB Jr. Home Run Derby in Atlanta and won the competition. He’s 6 feet and 200 pounds. He’s 15 and plays third base, first base, outfield and pitches.

The story behind LAUSD raises

For more than two decades, coaches in the Los Angeles Unified School District have worked for stipends so low they’d joke they were earning 10 cents or less for every hour worked. The last time they got a raise was 1999 when the minimum wage was $5.75 and their highest stipend was $2,811.

“I made more money when I had a paper route,” Eagle Rock football coach Andy Moran said.

Nothing changed for 22 years.

Then word came out earlier this month that LAUSD and United Teachers Los Angeles have agreed in negotiations for stipends to be doubled immediately. Football coaches will receive $5,622. Basketball, baseball and soccer coaches will go from $2,512 to $5,024. Athletic directors will go from $5,622 to $11,244.

It’s an historic agreement that could help attract and retain coaches, according to Trent Cornelius, the district’s athletics coordinator who spent seven years lobbying to help get coaches what he called a “long overdue” raise.

Why did it take so long to push through a raise?

Here’s a link to the story.

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Cross-country

The City Section and Southern Section will hold its cross-country championships on Saturday. The Southern Section will be at Mt. SAC. The City Section will be at Pierce College.

Sophomore Max Fields from Palisades had the fastest boys’ time at Pierce last weekend, running 15 minutes 50.1 seconds. For girls, Granada Hills’ Isabel Castagnola ran 18:37.9.

Here’s the complete results for City Section prelims.

It’s going to be Newbury Park as the team to beat in boys’ and girls’ competitions at the Southern Section meet.

Girls’ golf

Sherman Oaks Notre Dame's girls' golf team poses with coach Ann McClung (right) after winning CIF/SCGA championship.
(CIF)

Ann McClung has won three Southern Section girls’ golf championships in 15 years as coach. This season she has perhaps her best team in school history and her players proved it on Thursday, winning the team championship at the CIF/Southern California Golf Assn. girls’ championships at Brookside Golf Course.

Notre Dame advances to the CIF state championships on Tuesday at Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach. The top three teams and top nine individuals advance from the Southern California regional.

Here’s a link to the story.

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Girls’ tennis

Westlake girls' tennis team celebrates Open Division championship.
(Westlake)

Westlake won the Southern Section Open Division girls’ tennis championship. The match was so close against Rolling Hills Estates Peninsula that it ended in a 9-9 tie, forcing games won to determine the champion.

Here’s the link to the story.

Here’s a link to Southern California regional pairings.

Water polo

Newport Harbor won the Open Division.
(Raul Roa)

Newport Harbor is back at the top in boys’ water polo after winning its 13th Southern Section championship and first since 2007 by beating top-seeded Huntington Beach 12-7 in the Open Division final.

Here’s the report on the triumph.

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Loyola won the Division 1 championship with a 9-7 win over Oaks Christian.

Here are the complete results.

Here’s the link to Southern California regional pairings.

News and notes

Lineman Cash Koepke of Los Alamitos has committed to Northern Arizona. …Sophomore catcher Nick Montgomery of Cypress has committed to Arizona State. … St. Francis high jumper Leland Lieberg has committed to Washington. …Standout cornerback Domani Jackson of Mater Dei announced on Sunday he is no longer committed to USC.

From the archives: Gail Goodrich

Gail Goodrich in 2015 when he came to Madison Middle School in North Hollywood.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Gail Goodrich is the answer to this question: Which player won City Section, NCAA and NBA championships?

Despite a broken ankle in the championship game, he led Sun Valley Poly to the City Section championship in 1961.

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Then he helped UCLA win its first two NCAA championships in 1964 and 1965 under legendary coach John Wooden. And he was the leading scorer on the Lakers’ 1971-72 NBA championship team that won a record 33 consecutive games. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996.

Here’s a 1999 story about how Wooden spotted a 5-foot-8 Goodrich at a City playoff game.

Gail Goodrich.
A 1964 photo of UCLA coach John Wooden, right, and members of the team celebrating with their trophy after defeating Duke to win the NCAA basketball championship, in Kansas City, Mo. Players in front row are, from left: Gail Goodrich, Walt Hazzard and Jack Hirsch, holding trophy.
(Associated Press)

Here’s a 2015 story and video from Madison Middle School naming its gym the Gail Goodrich Sports Center, with Goodrich explaining his journey to basketball stardom.

Recommendations

Here’s a story from the Washington Post on a top girls’ basketball prospect committing to UCLA.

Here’s a story from the Los Angeles Times on LaMelo Ball’s return to Southern California playing against the Clippers and Lakers.

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From the San Jose Mercury News, the story on a Northern California teen turning pro.

From the Orange County Register, a story on Los Alamitos long snapper Carson Fox coming back from cancer and overcoming an amputation.

From the New York Times, a story on the lengths St. John Bosco and Mater Dei make to keep their football programs at the top.

Tweets you might have missed

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Until next time...

Have a question, comment or something you’d like to see in a future Prep Rally newsletter? Email me at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latsondheimer.

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