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Column: Benny Gealer has grown into role of Rolling Hills Prep basketball leader

Benny Gealer of Rolling Hills Prep is expected to be one of the top point guards this season.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

The Rolling Hills Prep basketball team gathered along Palos Verdes Drive in San Pedro for their late afternoon conditioning run. Point guard Benny Gealer took off his shirt and teammates followed in a leisurely jog along the sidewalk as cars passed.

When they came back down the street passing under the shade of a pine tree, Gealer was leading the pack of nine players, occasionally turning his head to make sure everyone kept pace. You could sense his competitiveness and leadership.

There are signs that when the basketball season begins next month, Gealer will be one of the Southland stars. He scored 32 points a week ago in a fall league victory over Bellflower St. John Bosco. On Saturday, he committed to Stanford.

“He’s gotten stronger, taller, faster,” coach Harvey Kitani said. “He’s showing more athleticism and he works so hard with his training to make that happen.”

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At the end of last season, Gealer scored 28 points to lead Rolling Hills to the Southern Section Division 2AA championship in a 67-56 win over favored Hacienda Heights Los Altos. He averaged 19.8 points and 6.3 assists as a junior. He has grown to 6 feet 1 with larger shoulders.

Those who remember him as a freshman when he was primarily a three-point shooter might not recognize him now. He has the physicality and confidence to score on drives, make 12-foot mid-range jumpers and contribute that dagger three he still has in his arsenal. He doesn’t need the ball to influence a game, either. He has learned to play at a fast or slow pace, execute the pick-and-roll plays and apply pressure on defense.

“He’s improved his drives where he’s being creative on getting shots against taller people,” Kitani said.

Four summers ago, Kitani didn’t know anything about Gealer when the freshman showed up.

“I just heard from one of the Compton Magic coaches, ‘Hey you’re going to get a good player,’<TH>” Kitani said. “I saw a skinny kid who had some skills. He could shoot and every day you could see he could do more and more things.”

Said Gealer of his growth: “It was working my way up. It was me taking my role and knowing, ‘Yeah, I’m a freshman on this solid high school team.’ Slowly my role expanded.”

Kitani is nearing 40 years of coaching, mostly at City Section power Fairfax. He knows a good player when he sees one. Gealer has earned a spot on his all-time list.

“Of the teams I had at Fairfax, he would have started on all of them,” Kitani said.

Gealer has worked on his versatility and helping elevate the play of his teammates.

“My mentality is always whatever it takes to win,” he said. “I feel I can impact the game in so many different facets beside shooting.”

If Kitani and the team needs him to score, Gealer is ready to deliver.

“The defensive coverage has changed,” Gealer said. “You study the game and it’s whatever it takes to win. Sometimes I have to shoot a lot of shots, other times they’re guarding me tough and it’s time to get rid of it.”

Kitani has sent such players as the Shipp brothers, Josh and Joe, Chris Mills, Chace Stanback, Ethan Anderson, Solomon Hill and Jamal Boykin to Pac-12 Conference schools. He said of Bealer, “I think he’s a Pac-12 player.”

With a 4.8 grade-point average, Gealer seemingly made the perfect decision to attend Stanford.

“When he goes to college, he’s going to be an even better player,” Kitani said. “He’ll thrive with that competitiveness and surround himself with high-level players. It will be fun to watch.”


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