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Prep Rally: There’s a local flavor to March Madness

UCLA's Johnny Juzang went to Harvard-Westlake.
UCLA’s Johnny Juzang went to Harvard-Westlake.
(Associated Press)

Hi, and welcome to Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer.

High school sports is my life. Really. Ever since I graduated from Poly High in Sun Valley in 1976, I’ve been writing about high school sports in Southern California. John Elway arrived at Granada Hills High the same year, so covering a future Hall of Famer meant it was tough to find any athletes better. But the talent level in Southern California is so high in all sports that it’s pretty fun. Every week you’ll get a peek at what I’m thinking, writing and observing.

Local symptoms of March Madness

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. We’ll list three from each team, and you can see the entire list here.

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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.

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.

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.

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Some schools have given up

Supporters of the Los Angeles Unified School District and its teachers’ union mostly criticize independent charter schools. The usual complaints are charter schools choose the best students, discourage special education students and somehow have more money.

Regardless of their arguments, there’s one basic fact: Charter schools are finding ways to succeed during the COVID-19 pandemic while LAUSD schools continuously wait for a giant bureaucracy to make decisions.

Nothing is more telling than how charter schools are handling high school sports when compared with LAUSD schools. Charter schools El Camino Real and Birmingham began their boys’ soccer seasons this past week with identical 6-0 wins over private school powers Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and Studio City Harvard-Westlake, respectively.

El Camino Real has already played two football games, a baseball game and held three cross-country meets. Birmingham will play its first football game next week and has competed in water polo, cross-country and baseball.

Meanwhile, there are LAUSD schools still trying to begin football practices and Eagle Rock announced Thursday that all sports have been canceled.

Remember, LAUSD has been saying since August it would be prepared when it was safe to return to school. Los Angeles County is in the red tier and headed to the much-less-restrictive orange tier, and yet LAUSD schools and administrators are struggling compared with the independent charter schools.

Kim Tyler, the mother of an Eagle Rock soccer player, said her son learned of soccer being canceled through a closed LAUSD communication portal on Thursday. The school cited safety concerns regarding bus transportation, finding personnel to watch over spectators at games and quarantine protocols. On Saturday, she received an email from the school that athletes will be able to condition but not play in games.

“I wish there had been meetings with the parents prior to making the decision,” Tyler said in an email. “We’d certainly be willing to help if we could. We could agree not to attend games, we could drive players ourselves to the games, we could help sanitize equipment.

“Mainly I’m sad for the players.”

Read the entire commentary here.

The Times’ top 25 football rankings

Rk. SCHOOL (W-L) Result | Next game, rank last week

1. MATER DEI (1-0) def. JSerra, 52-3 | vs. Orange Lutheran (at Santa Ana Stadium), Friday (1)

2. ST. JOHN BOSCO (2-0) def. Santa Margarita 65-28 | vs. Servite, Friday (2)

3. SERVITE (2-0) def. Orange Lutheran, 69-13 | at St. John Bosco, Friday (3)

4. SIERRA CANYON (1-1) def. St. Bernard, 56-0 | vs. Oaks Christian, Friday (4)

5. COR. CENTENNIAL (1-0) def. King, 50-0 | at Corona Santiago, Thursday (5)

6. OAKS CHRISTIAN (2-0) def, Westlake, 30-16 | at Sierra Canyon, Friday (6)

7. LONG BEACH POLY (2-0) def. Lakewood, 41-0 | vs. Long Beach Wilson, Friday (7)

8. GARDENA SERRA (1-1) def. Chaminade, 12-6 (OT) | vs. Cathedral (at El Camino College), Friday (8)

9. SAN CLEMENTE (1-0) def. Capistrano Valley, 34-24 | vs. Aliso Niguel, Friday (9)

10. LOYOLA (0-0) idle | at St. Bernard, Friday (10)

11. BISHOP AMAT (1-0) def. Cathedral, 21-6 | vs. Bishop Alemany, Friday (12)

12. LOS ALAMITOS (2-0) def. Corona del Mar, 52-28 | vs. Edison, Friday (13)

13. BISHOP ALEMANY (1-0) def. SO Notre Dame, 21-9 | at Bishop Amat, Friday (17)

14. VALENCIA (1-0) def. West Ranch, 63-20 | at Canyon Country Canyon, Friday (15)

15. MISSION VIEJO (1-0) def. Oak Hills, 55-6 | at Upland, Saturday (18)

16. SANTA MARGARITA (1-1) lost to St. John Bosco, 65-28 | vs. JSerra (at Santa Ana Stadium), Thursday (16)

17. MURRIETA VALLEY (1-0) def. Heritage, 48-14 | vs. Great Oak, Saturday (22)

18. CORONA DEL MAR (1-1) lost to Los Alamitos, 52-28 | vs. Huntington Beach (at Newport Harbor), Friday (19)

19. PARACLETE (1-1) def. Aquinas, 24-14 | at Damien, April 1 (20)

20. SAN JUAN HILLS (1-0) def. El Toro, 48-14 | at Capistrano Valley, Friday (23)

21. EDISON (2-0) def. Newport Harbor, 47-14 (Thursday) | at Los Alamitos, Friday (24)

22. GRACE BRETHREN (0-0) idle | at Calabasas, April 3 (21)

23. ORANGE LUTHERAN (0-1) lost to Servite, 69-13 | vs. Mater Dei (at Santa Ana Stadium), Friday (14)

24. SO NOTRE DAME (0-1) lost to Bishop Alemany, 21-9 | vs. Chaminade, Thursday; (11)

25. ORANGE (2-0) def. La Mirada 40-9 | at Estancia, Friday (NR)

Weekend football roundup

Zevi Eckhaus (right) gets dressed for the first official football practice after a year-long shutdown.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

After passing for 4,456 yards and 59 touchdowns in 2019, quarterback Zevi Eckhaus of Culver City (you can read more about Eckhaus here) had to wait more than a year to finally play his senior season. There’s no stopping him now.

Eckhaus passed for five touchdowns, including the game-winner with 40 seconds left, to lift Culver City to a 35-28 victory over Manhattan Beach Mira Costa on Friday night. Three of the touchdown passes went to the receiver with one of the best names anywhere — Legend Waring. He caught the winning touchdown on a post pattern in the back of the end zone.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do when he graduates,” Culver City coach Jahmal Wright said of Eckhaus, who is headed to Bryant University and completed 29 of 36 passes for 419 yards. Waring caught 11 passes for 230 yards.

In other notable performances and games:

— Junior Tyler Voss made his long-delayed quarterback debut for Valencia, and it was a memorable one. He completed 17 of 23 passes for 435 yards and three touchdowns in a 63-20 win over Santa Clarita West Ranch.

— Linebacker Lando Brown contributed three sacks to help Gardena Serra defeat West Hills Chaminade 12-6 in overtime. Chaminade welcomed the return of quarterback Jaylen Henderson, who changed his mind about not playing this spring to prepare for Fresno State.

— There’s also no stopping junior quarterback Noah Fifita of Anaheim Servite. He completed 17 of 19 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns in a 69-13 win over Orange Lutheran in a Trinity League opener. Next up is a Friday showdown with Bellflower St. John Bosco.

— Orange is 2-0 and surprising teams behind quarterback Daylen Pedroza, who passed for 441 yards in a 40-9 win over La Mirada. Receiver Raymond Casillas had seven catches for 264 yards and four touchdowns. Orange also owns a win over Villa Park.

“I don’t know if we’re better than everyone,” coach Robert Pedroza said. “I have a real good balance of seniors who were three-year starters and good juniors and sophomores. We were a couple injuries away from winning a CIF title [in 2019].”

— No. 1-ranked Santa Ana Mater Dei unveiled freshman quarterback Elijah Brown in a 52-3 win over San Juan Capistrano JSerra. He had two touchdown passes.

— Corona del Mar had a 40-game league winning streak end in a 52-28 loss to Los Alamitos. The Griffins, led by sophomore quarterback Malachi Nelson, put on an impressive second-half show and might be in contention for best public school team in Orange County. Nelson had 238 yards passing. Sophomore receiver/defensive back Makai Leonard also is a difference-maker with his speed.

— Vista Murrieta rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat Temecula Chaparral 34-33 in what might have been the best game Friday night. Brady Jones connected with Jalen Boston on fourth down with 25 seconds left for the win.

Keep an eye on Shaun Grayson

Shaun Grayson of La Mirada is a rising prospect at tight end who is committed to UNLV.
(La Mirada HS)

It’s a moment in time that fathers and sons never forget. It happened in the summer of 2019 for the Grayson family.

The father, Shaun, 6 feet 2 and 250 pounds, played football for Long Beach Poly. Now his son, Shaun II, a tight end at La Mirada, passed him in height.

“It came so abruptly,” Shaun Sr. said. “He was always, ‘Dad, I’m going to get bigger than you.’ Well, wait until that day. When the day came, it was like one day he fell asleep shorter than me and the next day woke up taller than me. Conversations are different. He looks down on me.”

Shaun II has grown to 6-5, 235 pounds and gone from size 11 1/2 shoes to size 13. He’s a senior and just turned 17 in November.

“I feel for sure I’m going to grow a lot more,” he said.

The delay in the football season because of the COVID-19 pandemic was a boon for Grayson. He had more months to keep growing while getting stronger and faster. The opportunity to show his improvement began Friday when La Mirada opened its five-game schedule in a loss to Orange. He had two catches for 12 yards and three tackles on defense. He has signed with UNLV and decorated his room with a red neon light.

“I see it as a big opportunity,” he said of the delayed season. “We’re all having time taken away from us. I’m going to take this the right way no matter what pandemic we have going on. I was always taught to battle through adversity and find a way.”

Coach Mike Moschetti said Grayson is built physically “like a Greek god.”

“Last year was his first year playing tight end, and he got better and better each week,” Moschetti said. “His best football is in front of him.”

Read more about Grayson by clicking here.

TIGHT ENDS TO WATCH THIS SEASON

Keyan Burnett, Servite, 6-5, 200, Jr. USC commit moves like a running back

Scott Giuliano, Corona del Mar, 6-5, 230, Sr. Harvard signee a top blocker

Shaun Grayson, La Mirada, 6-5, 235, Sr. UNLV signee is growing up fast

Bentley Redden, San Clemente, 6-5, 205, Sr. BYU signee has 4.33 GPA

Matayo Uiagalelei, St. John Bosco, 6-4, 245, So. Already showing great hands

From the Archives

UCLA Bruin guard Gail Goodrich, right, dribbles arround USC's John Zazzaro during a game in 1964.
(Associated Press)

Once in a while, I’m going to discuss great players from the past. First up is Hall of Fame guard Gail Goodrich, from my alma mater, Poly High. His story is still remarkable.

He’s the only basketball player in Southern California history to win a City championship, an NCAA championship (UCLA) and an NBA championship (Lakers). And he was a late bloomer, standing only 5 feet 8 when UCLA coach John Wooden went to scout another City Section playoff game in 1960 and noticed him.

“I was seated there with my closest friend,” Wooden said in a 1999 interview. “As they were playing, I said to my friend, ‘That little fellow from Poly is the smartest player on the floor. He’s quick and he’s just a junior and I’ll be watching him next year.’

“Right after that, a couple tapped me on my shoulder. ‘Coach Wooden, did you really mean what you said about that little guard?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ They were his parents. They said, ‘Could we bring him over to talk to you.’ ”

Later, after reviewing Goodrich’s transcripts, Wooden told his parents, “From what I see, I’ll undoubtedly give him a scholarship.’ I definitely felt he was going to grow.”

Goodrich grew to 5-11 and led Poly to the City championship despite playing on a broken ankle in the final against Manual Arts.

“I thought he had a feel for the game,” Wooden said. “It makes you feel good when you really have that feeling [about somebody] and they come through.”

Goodrich was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996. As I wrote in 1999, “It was the greatest tribute of all for a Valley boy who mastered a game normally reserved for tall people.”

Baseball

Some highlights from baseball over the weekend but No. 1 was Matt Dobson of Capistano Valley hitting a walk-off three-run home run to beat Villa Park two weeks after the death of his mother from a brain aneurysm. There were plenty of tears. “It was unbelievable,” coach Adam Sorgi said.

Friday

Hart 12, Golden Valley 1: Matt Quintanar, who has committed to Pepperdine, had a triple, double and single in his season debut Friday to lead Hart. Eddie Tejada had four hits.

Simi Valley 4, Westlake 1: Shane Alderete struck out eight and walked none and Donnie Silecchio had two hits and two RBIs for the Pioneers.

West Torrance 1, Mira Costa 0: Nico Bhattachan threw a complete game for West Torrance. Nick Bacura had two hits for Mira Costa.

Etiwanda 6, San Dimas 5: Abraham Zapata contributed two hits and two RBIs for Etiwanda.

Thousand Oaks 15, Rio Mesa 2: Miles Weiss struck out 10 and Max Muncy finished with three hits for the Lancers.

Damien 14, Claremont 3: Kaden Moeller had three hits and four RBIs and Ivan Aguirre added three hits.

Read the full Friday roundup here.

Saturday

Sherman Oaks Notre Dame 4, JSerra 3: The Knights stunned No. 1-ranked JSerra. Nico Rynn and James Markey had two hits each and Jon Peric threw two shutout innings of relief to get the save.

Servite 4, Bishop Amat 2: Jonathan Rodriguez hit a two-run home run in the 10th inning to win it for the Friars.

Santa Margarita 3, Gahr 2: Colby Wallace had two hits and two RBIs for the Eagles. Matthew Kurata homered for Gahr.

Birmingham 6, Crespi 4: Gavin Taylor hit a three-run home run for the Patriots.

Thousand Oaks 11, Grace Brethren 0: Charlie Saum had three RBIs and Roc Riggio homered for the 2-0 Lancers.

Westlake 8, Camarillo 4: Jack Johnson had three hits and Nate Kaczynski had three RBIs. Scott Radinsky added two hits.

Hart catcher Matt Quintanar
Hart catcher Matt Quintanar
(Matt Quintanar)

Hart 16, Saugus 0: Matt Quintanar finished with four hits, giving him seven in two days, and Vic Pico added three hits for the Indians.

West Ranch 7, Canyon 1: Jake Schwartz hit a three-run home run, his second in as many days, for West Ranch.

Valencia 14, Golden Valley 0: Kaden Brennan went three for three.

Harvard-Westlake 3, El Camino Real 2: Sophomore Kai Caranto singled for a walk-off RBI in the seventh.

Read the full Saturday roundup here

Softball

There’s a huge early season softball game on Tuesday, with Norco playing at Los Alamitos.

Mark Tennis of CalHiSports.com provided a top 15 for The Times earlier in the week.

Norco starts out as No. 1 and Los Alamitos No. 3. Stevie Hansen of Norco has never lost as a pitcher in high school.

Track

The first track and field invitational was held Saturday at Moorpark High: the Don Green Invitational.

Mia Barnett of Crescenta Valley ran 2:09.49 in the 800 meters. Dario Rock of La Cañada St. Francis ran 14.85 in the 100 highs.

Here are the results from Prepcaltrack.com.

Lacrosse

An opposing coach yells out orders from the sideline as his players sprint in desperation to catch up to Jadyn Zdanavage’s streak of red hair weaving across the lacrosse field.

“Crash on her!” he commands. “Triple-team her. Quadruple-team her.”

Eventually, five Santa Ana Segerstrom High players circle Zdanavage. Her Irvine Portola High team is ahead 13-5 with 20 seconds left in this March 15 game, but that doesn’t matter. She wants another goal.

The ball nestled snugly in the curve of her stick’s net, Zdanavage cuts easily through the defenders. In a motion, she shifts the stick to her left hand, flings a shot and scores. It’s her eighth goal of the night.

Each of her Portola head coaches has a story about Zdanavage similar to this one, told with awe by girls lacrosse coach Sophia David. Head coaches — plural. The next day, Zdanavage will train for lacrosse at 9 a.m., head to cross-country practice from 3:15 to 5 p.m. and then show up for basketball practice from 6 to 8 at night. In a month, she’ll begin running track. For the 16-year-old sophomore, being a four-sport athlete is a lifestyle.

And her coaches have never seen anything like it.

Here’s the complete profile from Luca Evans.

The week ahead

It doesn’t get any better than St. John Bosco (2-0) playing host to Servite (2-0) on Friday night in a Trinity League football showdown. There’s some people thinking Servite has a real chance to take down the Braves and Mater Dei this season because it returns the most experienced quarterback in the league.

There’s also some big baseball games. JSerra is traveling to Harvard-Westlake on Tuesday.

Girls’ basketball could finally get started in L.A. County after the public health department issued updated guidelines how indoor sports can proceed. Harvard-Westlake and Sierra Canyon are hopeful of playing on Thursday night at Sierra Canyon if all the testing procedures and paperwork can be completed.

The girls’ basketball ranks might have more national talent than the boys with the likes of Windward’s Juju Watkins, Mater Dei’s Brooke Demetre, Harvard-Westlake’s Kiki Iriafen and Rolling Hills Preps’ Clarice Akunwafo. Demetre and Iriafen are headed to Stanford and Akunwafo will be going to USC. Watkins is the best player from the class of 2023.

Watkins was The Times’ player of the year as a freshman. I went to see her work out last week and was stunned how much she has improved her left hand after seemingly going right most of the time last season.

Harvard-Westlake’s boys’ team also could play at home Thursday against Agoura. Moorpark began the basketball season with two games against Oxnard Santa Clara. Ventura County public health officials gave the OK. Moorpark coach Ryan Moore was one of the leaders of the Let Them Play Ca movement for basketball.

Recommendations

I’m going to recommend interesting prep stories from around the country.

Here’s one from the Seattle Times in January about how the pandemic has affected recruiting.

Here’s a story from the Washington Post on activism by high school athletes.

Here’s the Los Angeles Times looking at the Ball family and LaMelo Ball from the Chino Hills days.

Here’s a father getting the chance to finally see his daughter compete in water polo despite pandemic obstacles. From the Los Angeles Times.

Tweets you might have missed

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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