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Prep Rally: There are challenges ahead for high school basketball

Windward players gather before a game.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. The six-week spring football season is over in the Southern Section. The strangest of basketball seasons is finally picking up steam. The final game of 2020 was Etiwanda playing Sierra Canyon in the memorable regional final won by a last-second Ziaire Williams shot. Incredibly, neither team has yet to play since. Etiwanda finally gets started on Tuesday.

Challenges ahead in basketball

There are some crazy discrepancies taking place in basketball because of the different ways schools approached coronavirus restrictions. Some never stopped playing; others had little or no contact with players.

Etiwanda coach Dave Kleckner said he was under orders to not form a travel team or have any workouts until last month when he was allowed back into the gymnasium. His team entered this week 0-0. “We’re nowhere near where we’d normally be before league play,” he said.

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And yet, Etiwanda is scheduled to open Baseline League play on Tuesday against Damien, which has won all 15 of its games.

Don’t count out the Eagles, who usually play stellar defense. The only starter back is Jahmai Mashack, a 6-foot-5 senior who signed with Tennessee. But the Eagles have added point guard point guard Quinton Webb, a transfer from Loma Linda Academy, and 6-6 sophomore Curtis Williams is being compared to former Etiwanda standout Kessler Edwards of Pepperdine.

Watson brothers start well

Long Beach Poly’s Watson brothers, Peyton and Christian, scored 20 and 16 points in a long delayed season opening win over Compton.

Peyton, a 6-8 UCLA signee, said he hadn’t played in a game with a referee in more than a year. He was a little rusty with his shooting but he rebounded, showed unselfishness with his passing and started to hit shots in the second half. He said he intends to play most of the season with the Jackrabbits but also has committed to several outside events.

It will be fun to watch what UCLA coach Mick Cronin can do with Watson, who still hasn’t stopped growing. Christian, a junior, looks happy playing with his brother. They have good chemistry.

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Times’ basketball rankings

I’ve been waiting and waiting for enough basketball teams to finally start playing before putting together the rankings. It’s time.

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1. ST. JOHN BOSCO (7-0). 6-9 Jeremiah Nyarko is much improved.

2. SIERRA CANYON (0-0). Waiting to turn loose UCLA commit Amari Bailey.

3. MATER DEI (6-0). Veteran team with size and depth.

4. DAMIEN (15-0). Great guard duo in Malik Thomas and RJ Smith.

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5. ETIWANDA (0-0). Everyone trusts Jahmai Mashack to lead the way.

6. CORONA CENTENNIAL (3-1). Lots of good shooters.

7. HERITAGE CHRISTIAN (9-1). Freshman Isaiah Elohim is already a standout.

8. HARVARD-WESTLAKE (7-2). Brady Dunlap is now eligible, so beware.

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9. WINDWARD (5-1). Kijani Wright, Dylan Andrews are imposing duo.

10. RIBET (0-0). All signs point toward outstanding team.

You can find the rest of the top 25 by clicking here.

Football

Santa Ana Mater Dei is your unofficial top football team in Southern California after a 34-17 victory over St. John Bosco on Saturday night.

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Here’s your rundown on the game.

There were 42 teams in the Southern Section spring football season that went unbeaten.

Here’s the link to unbeaten teams that ranged from going 1-0 to going 6-0.

And here are the football rankings for this week:

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Rk. SCHOOL (W-L) Last week (last week’s ranking)

1. MATER DEI (5-0) def. St. John Bosco, 34-17 (1)

2. ST. JOHN BOSCO (5-1) lost to Mater Dei, 34-17 (2)

3. SERVITE (4-2) def. Santa Margarita, 42-13 (4)

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4. SIERRA CANYON (5-1) def. Paraclete, 51-2 (3)

5. LONG BEACH POLY (4-0) def. Millikan, 48-0 (5)

6. SAN CLEMENTE (5-0) def. Mission Viejo, 10-7 (7)

7. LOS ALAMITOS (6-0) def, Newport Harbor, 41-3 (8)

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8. NORCO (5-0) def. Eastvale Roosevelt, 62-20 (9)

9. CORONA CENTENNIAL (4-1) def. Corona, 62-0 (10)

10. LOYOLA (4-0) def. Crespi, 54-6 (11)

For the rest of the top 25, click here.

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Completing season was quite an accomplishment

Mission accomplished.

A six-week spring high school football season for the Southern Section that many thought was never going to happen ended Saturday night with a rousing celebration of personal water bottles being sprayed in the middle of Santa Ana Stadium after Mater Dei’s 34-17 triumph over Bellflower St. John Bosco in the unofficial championship game.

“The fact we did everything from June up until now, I was proud of my kids,” St. John Bosco coach Jason Negro said. “We played hard. This was an incredibly long period of time to have to work for six games, but I think it was worth it. For the kids, if you asked them if they had to do it again, they’d say yes regardless of the outcome.”

Said Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson: “What’s crazy is we have to turn around and play them in six months.”

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Much has changed since California and county health officials gave their blessing to let teams hold an abbreviated season in the middle of a pandemic as long as strict safety protocols were followed. There was chaos and plenty of frantic coaches and athletic directors trying to figure out how to pull it off.

All schools and players ever wanted was a chance. And they delivered no matter how many obstacles were put in their path.

Read more

City Section spotlight

The City Section moves into the spotlight for the next two weeks in finishing its spring football season. The big game on Friday night has Banning (2-0) playing host to San Pedro, which still hasn’t played an official game because of opponents being unavailable after a positive COVID-19 test.

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My rankings are: 1. Banning (2-0), 2. Venice (2-0), 3. Birmingham (2-2), 4. San Pedro (0-0), 5. Reseda (2-0), 6. Crenshaw (0-1).

Among players, Jakob Galloway of Banning is off to a terrific start. He had 137 yards rushing and four touchdowns against Kennedy and added 181 yards rushing and three touchdowns against Carson.

Receiver/defensive end Arlis Boardingham of Birmingham remains very tough for one person to tackle. He’s so athletic he’s also returning kickoffs.

Reseda defensive end Ayo Olabode has recorded seven sacks in games against Crenshaw and San Fernando.

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Welcome freshmen

Freshmen have never had a better opportunity to contribute immediately on varsity than this football season.

Here’s the link to a look at big-time freshman contributors this season.

Manuel Douglas resigns

Hours before St. Bernard played Dominguez in its final spring football game, coach Manuel Douglas submitted his resignation for “personal reasons,” according to an email sent by St. Bernard officials.

Douglas had built Narbonne into a powerhouse until he was reassigned and later suspended by the Los Angeles Unified School District during an internal investigation into an allegation of academic fraud. He sued the LAUSD, then resigned after a settlement. Narbonne was later banned from the 2019 playoffs, forced to vacate its 2018 City title and placed on two years probation.

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Let recruiting resume

On Thursday, the NCAA officially announced that the recruiting dead period is over. Starting June 1, it resumes after a year of coaches being stuck on campus because of the coronavirus.

There are changes in football recruiting. Here’s the link to NCAA release.

Also, it was clarified that high school athletes from the class of 2022 won’t be required to take the SAT to gain NCAA eligibility. It will continue to be optional as a waiver because of COVID-19 issues. Here’s the link.

There will be playoffs

The Southern Section announced it will hold playoffs for spring sports and stick with the schedule it created last July. Home sites will be used rather than large settings unless capacity and attendance restrictions change.

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Here’s the link to story explaining what’s to come.

LAUSD approves indoor sports

Surprise, surprise. Once again, the Los Angeles Unified School District took it to the last minute but has approved the return of indoor sports. Basketball, wrestling, swimming and volleyball can begin in gymnasiums with protocols being followed. But no one is going to be practicing or playing games in gyms for at least two more weeks. Site safety plans have to be filed with the county health department.

It means the LAUSD schools will have to catch up to some of the charter schools but look for playoffs in late May or early June. Ed Azzam, the basketball coach at Westchester who started coaching in 1978 and has won 15 City titles, might win another.

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Here’s a look at what it all means.

Girls’ basketball

West Torrance, a Division 1 semifinalist last season, pulled off an upset with a 64-62 road win over Harvard-Westlake. Standout returnee Anaya James scored 22 points.

Harvard-Westlake owns wins over Sierra Canyon and Rosary, so West Torrance’s victory adds to the growing list of Division 1` contenders.

As for top teams, these would be my rankings: 1. Mater Dei, 2. Corona Centennial, 3. West Torrance, 4. Harvard-Westlake, 5. Windward.

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Remember Windward is unlikely to have Juju Watkins for the playoffs because she’ll be playing for the USA national team in June.

Boys’ soccer

Birmingham senior David Diaz plays to play for his club soccer team, his school soccer team and kick for the football team.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

It’s showdown time in the City Section in boys’ soccer. Unbeaten El Camino Real (6-0) faces unbeaten Birmingham (6-0) for first place in the West Valley League on Tuesday at Birmingham.

These two programs have beaten Southern Section teams. Both are talented and fired up about the matchup.

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David Diaz of Birmingham is ready to go. He has been a top scorer for the Patriots. Jose Coto of El Camino Real is ready to go. The former Academy League player has made a huge impact this season.

Jamal Adams keeps moving up

Jamal Adams, the basketball coach for 16 years at Loyola, is leaving to become principal at La Salle.
(The Loyalist)

Jamal Adams, a trend-setting basketball coach at Loyola, is leaving coaching to become the principal at Pasadena La Salle.

His hiring is a huge development for the Black community. He was one of the first Black basketball coaches hired at a private school 16 years ago. The Loyola and Colombia alumnus has been a strong supporter and mentor to young Black coaches and now he wants to do the same at the administrative level.

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Here’s the link to a story about his dreams and hopes.

Seven decades of coaching

Ron Price is a walking, talking legend in Southern California. Across seven decades and some 60 years, Price has been coaching football.

He was on the same fields with City Section coaching Hall of Famers Chris Ferragamo (Banning), Jack Neumeier (Granada Hills) and Gene Vollnogle (Carson) and players John Elway, Rod Martin and Warren Moon. He was the health teacher for Washington Prep’s Paul Knox while at Hamilton and coached against Venice coach Angelo Gasca when Gasca was a high school quarterback.

He’s been a head coach at Crenshaw, Palisades and Fairfax. He started as an assistant coach in 1961 at Brentwood Military Academy and now is an assistant coach at St. Monica.

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“This will be the last decade and could be the last year,” he said. “When you’re 84, you’re like all the great athletes — day to day. I feel great. As long as I can do it, I’ll do it.”

More on Ron Price’s passing for coach.

From the archives

Gilbert Arenas, left, in 2011.
Gilbert Arenas, left, in 2011.
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Gilbert Arenas was one of the best scorers to come out of the City Section. His coach at Grant High in Van Nuys, Howie Levine, gave him the green light to shoot from anywhere, and Gilbert never passed up the chance.

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In 1999, a month into his freshman season at Arizona, I checked in to see how he was doing.
Arizona assistant coach Jay John said, “I think the sky’s the limit, He does amazing things athletically that combined with his skills make him quite blessed.”

During his senior year at Grant, I wrote, “You don’t need to pay $850 for a courtside Laker seat when you can stop by a Grant game to watch one of the most entertaining, most exciting 16-year-old basketball players in Valley history.

“Watch the reaction of fans in the bleachers after Arenas blocks a shot, slams home a dunk or makes a three-point basket. Teenagers smile and offer high-fives. Adults shake their heads in amazement.

“There is plenty of Magic Johnson-like charm in Arenas, a 6-foot-4 senior who did a cartwheel after he made a shot with six seconds left in double overtime to beat Crespi earlier this week.”

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Gilbert always was good for a game of entertainment. He’d go on to become a second-round NBA draft pick, become a three-time NBA All-Star and play from 2001 to 2013.

Now his daughter, Izela, is a freshman basketball player at Sierra Canyon. And he has a younger son also good in basketball.

Dead period ends June 1

The college recruiting dead period that has restricted college recruiters since the pandemic began last March will end on June 1, allowing recruits to visit campuses and allowing coaches to get on the road and start seeing athletes up close while also hosting camps

Runner of the year

Newbury Park junior Colin Sahlman ran the fourth-fastest 3200 by a junior in California history.
Newbury Park junior Colin Sahlman ran the fourth-fastest 3200 by a junior in California history last week in Arizona in 8:47.05.
(PrepCalTrack.com)

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Colin Sahlman of Newbury Park was named the state cross country runner of the year by Gatorade.

It shows how Newbury Park has become the place for great runners. Former teammate Nico Young was the state and national runner of the year in 2019-20.

Here’s a profile on Sahlman, only a junior.

Baseball

Anthony Joya of Banning shows off baseball after throwing no-hitter against Sun Valley Poly. He struck out 15.
(Banning)

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Anthony Joya of Banning has signed with Cal State Fullerton, but the way he is pitching could make him an intriguing pro prospect. He struck out 15 and threw a no-hitter against Sun Valley Poly. In 16 innings, he has yet to give up any hits this season. In each game, he has reached double digits in strikeouts.

Matthew Dalquist of Redondo Union helped his team pull off the biggest upset of the week, a 3-2 win over Orange Lutheran. He struck out 10 in 6 1/3 innings.

Softball

Top softball teams in Southern California have always relied on a top pitcher. And yet, No. 1 Los Alamitos is showing off a hitting attack unlike few others.

The Griffins scored 18 and 16 runs in back-to-back victories over South Torrance and Chino Hills. That’s stunning.

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And Los Alamitos coach Rob Weil said he thought South Torrance has one of the best hitting attacks he’s seen in 30 years. South Torrance held a 12-7 lead on Los Alamitos before losing 18-12.

Keeping tabs

Another day, another home run for a former high school softball player from Southern California.

Maya Brady out of Oaks Christian is sure popping the bat for UCLA. She hit her sixth home run.

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Former Long Beach St. Anthony standout Tiare Jennings, a freshman at Oklahoma, is batting .514 with 20 home runs and 60 RBIs.

Feel good story

Back in 2010, I met an extraordinary 16-year-old, Jeremiah Allison, a linebacker at Dorsey. He told me he wanted to become a lawyer. Who believes kids with wild dreams?

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Last week, he officially became a lawyer in Minnesota. He promised his late mother it would happen. He went to Washington State to play football and continued his goal to become a lawyer. What a story.

Here’s the video interview from 2010 that convinced me to believe him and the story from 2020 of graduating from law school.

UCLA recruiting momentum

You can say that UCLA’s Final Four appearance in basketball has created great momentum in recruiting.

This past week, the Bruins got commitments from former Long Beach Poly center Myles Johnson of Rutgers and Windward junior point guard Dylan Andrews.

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It used to be that UCLA never lost out on players in wanted from Los Angeles, and that’s the way things may be developing under Mick Cronin.

Here’s the story on their commitments.

Former Mater Dei guard Devin Askew announced he was transferring from Kentucky to Texas.

Track

Mia Barnett of Crescenta Valley continues to run faster and faster times. There’s no telling what she might run at the Arcadia Invitational in three weeks.

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She’s the national leader in two out of three distance events. She’s run 4:41.32 in the 1600 (No. 1) and ran 9:52.23 at the Laguna Beach Distance Carnival on Saturday night, another No. 1 ranking. She has the best times in California in the 800, 1600 and 3200.

She also has time to be a volunteer at the LA Dream Center and is headed to Virginia in the fall.

Here’s the link from PrepCalTrack.com on the best marks in California.

Recommendations

From the Washington Post is a story on how live streaming is helping train high school students and give them early broadcasting experience.

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From Frank Burlison is a story on Santa Margarita’s basketball team expected to be a playoff team.

From the New York Times is a story on a North Texas softball pitcher who struck out every batter.

From the562.org on a Lakewood football player who overcame cancer to make it back playing.

Tweets you may 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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