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A March Madness primer on the deep L.A. high school connections of UCLA and USC

Jaime Jaquez Jr. with former UCLA center Lorenzo Mata-Real.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. from Camarillo with former UCLA center Lorenzo Mata-Real, who went to South Gate. UCLA and USC are relying on local players in their NCAA playoff runs.
(Twitter / @RealMataLo14)

There’s no better time than sitting at home and watching March Madness unfold on television while cheering for a local high school basketball standout leading UCLA or USC to victory.

The players were once unknowns except at their neighborhood parks and gyms. Now the rest of the country is learning their names and beginning to understand that California has basketball talent.

Here are some of the major contributors for UCLA and USC who came from Southern California high schools:

UCLA

Johnny Juzang, Harvard-Westlake. Juzang didn’t play his senior year of high school, deciding to sign and play immediately for Kentucky. He was known for his versatility with the Wolverines, a great mid-range shooter and scorer who was trying to develop consistency as a three-point shooter. When he left Kentucky, UCLA was a certain destination because he wanted to come home. Mick Cronin was the perfect coach to develop Juzang’s defense and teach him judgment on his shot selection.

BYU forward Matt Haarms battles for a rebound with UCLA forward Cody Riley and teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr.
BYU forward Matt Haarms battles for a rebound with UCLA forward Cody Riley (2) and teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr. (4) during a first-round game in the NCAA tournament in Indianapolis on Saturday.
(AJ Mast / Associated Press)
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Cody Riley, Sierra Canyon. Riley started at Sierra Canyon as a high school freshman when he looked like a college freshman. He’s had ups and downs trying to keep progressing, but there’s no doubt he has found a comfort level under Cronin’s direction and emerged as UCLA’s key inside threat and most important rebounder.

Jaime Jaquez Jr., Camarillo. Nobody predicted immediate standout status for Jaquez, who was recruited to UCLA by former coach Steve Alford. But Jaquez was an all-around player for the Scorpions, scoring, rebounding, shooting threes, blocking shots. Nothing has changed on a bigger stage and his consistency and work ethic means he gets to play as often as his body allows.

Jules Bernard, Windward. All you need to know about Bernard’s character is that when Windward brought in a new coach and other stars abandoned the program, he stayed. And when he briefly lost his starting job at UCLA to Juzang, he came off the bench and had one of his best games. He’s probably the most improved player on the team. His strength is his athleticism, toughness and versatility.

David Singleton, Bishop Montgomery. Singleton comes from an elite high school program that had five former players in the NCAA tournament. He’s always been cool under pressure and has a terrific three-point shooting touch. He’s a gym rat who spends hours working on his craft in his free time.

Jaylen Clark, Etiwanda. Clark started his high school career as a star at Corona Centennial, then went to Etiwanda, where coach Dave Kleckner taught him great defense. He’s so good on defense that Cronin has had him guard centers when he’s only a freshman guard. The fact he has accepted his role coming off the bench and not having to score as much as he did in high school reveals how much he is maturing on and off the court.

Jake Kyman, Santa Margarita. Kyman was part of Alford’s last recruiting class. His outside shooting helped Santa Margarita win a Division 1 title in 2019. His steady improvement as a defender while becoming more than just a three-point shooter under Cronin makes him a player to watch.

USC

Evan Mobley, Rancho Christian. The possible No. 1 pick in the next NBA draft has been destined to lead the Trojans. His father, an assistant coach, proudly sits on the bench watching him and his oldest son go about their work with no complaining, always being unselfish and doing everything possible to deliver victory.

Isaiah Mobley, Rancho Christian. The Mobley brothers had great success when they were together at Rancho Christian. They developed a unique chemistry and deployed high-low passing skills that continued on when they were reunited this year at USC.

Ethan Anderson, Fairfax. The City Section player of the year is used to delivering in pressure situations. Fairfax had been struggling to beat rival Westchester. Anderson would take charge with his leadership and his ball handling skills. He’s built like a tight end, so getting physical is easy for him.

Max Agbonkpolo, Santa Margarita. At 6 feet 9, Agbonkpolo is someone just discovering his talent. He was a high school teammate of UCLA’s Kyman. He can dunk and shoot threes. He likes to get up and down the court.


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