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Prep Rally: Ceyair Wright talks about working with LeBron James on ‘Space Jam’ sequel

USC defensive back Ceyair Wright has role in "Space Jam: A New Legacy."
(Mike Quain)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. It’s time for a little summer fun, so I interviewed freshman USC defensive back Ceyair Wright, a recent Loyola High grad who has a high-profile role playing LeBron James’ oldest son in this week’s big movie release, “Space Jam: A New Legacy.”

Star power

USC's Ceyair Wright plays the role of LeBron James' oldest son in the new film, "Space Jam: A New Legacy."
USC freshman defensive back Ceyair Wright plays the role of LeBron James’ oldest son in the new film, “Space Jam: A New Legacy.”
(Mike Quain)

“It was pretty cool.”

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So says football standout, actor and soon to be teenage heartthrob Ceyair Wright about playing the film role of LeBron James’ oldest son in, “Space Jam: A New Legacy.”

Shooting was completed more than a year ago when Wright was a junior defensive back at Loyola. He was modeling at age 5 and working in commercials by age 9, and one of the reasons he chose USC was the opportunity to keep studying football and acting and pursue both of his passions.

“When I was in the recruiting process, that was one thing I was looking for,” he said. “Who was going to accommodate that? Coach Helton said we have a lot of two-sport athletes and know that acting is something you’re passionate about and could use as a second sport for opportunities.”

In his film role, Wright is good in basketball like his father, James, though football has been his primary sport through the years. Wright said he had never met James before the filming and ended up admiring him for the way he handled his job and the words of wisdom he offered.

“He is a great person,” Wright said last February. “Before I met him and built a relationship, I would see people talking bad and didn’t pay attention. Now I know the type of person he is, I take offense. I can’t fathom people talking bad about him. He’s extremely down to earth, caring and nice. I’m ready to defend him.”

Wright had to make the tough decision last spring whether to play football for Loyola and risk injury or opt out and prepare for USC. He chose playing for the Cubs, who went 5-0.

“Definitely it was a great decision to play,” he said. “I was really happy. I feel it was one of our best teams. It sucks it was such a short season. I figured I had been there for three years and I wasn’t going to skip out on my fourth.”

As for the new movie that opens on Friday, Wright said, “I hope everybody watches it. It’s a family film. It’s about family bonding. Hopefully it can strengthen relationships and things they need to do with their kids.”

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Where’s the competition?

Mater Dei wide receiver Kody Epps.
Mater Dei wide receiver Kody Epps catches a touchdown pass as St. John Bosco corner back Josh Alford defends during a 2019 game.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Coaches Jason Negro at St. John Bosco and Bruce Rollinson at Santa Ana Mater Dei don’t really care what other high school football programs are doing, but they should. It’s much better to have strong competition than to become like Northern California, where Concord De La Salle has won 28 consecutive sectional championships.

If Southern California becomes anything close to that, anarchy would ensue, with public schools rising up and demanding change and other private schools wondering if they should raise the white flag of surrender.

St. John Bosco and Mater Dei have played in the Southern Section Division 1 championship game every season since 2016 and will be favored again in 2021.

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Their rivalry and the quality of the talent on display make their games intriguing and exciting, but if they separate themselves so much that no one wants to play them, problems will develop. It’s already becoming difficult for both teams to find nonleague games in Southern California, forcing them to play teams from Florida and Texas.

Here’s more thoughts on the need for competition.

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No money for high school athletes

High school athletes who think they’re suddenly going to get paid and profit from their own name, image and likeness like college athletes, beware.

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According to the National Federation of State High School Assns, the rules haven’t changed for high school athletes.

Current high school athletes cannot earn money as a result of their connection to their high school team and would be declared ineligible. State organizations such as the CIF prohibit student-athletes from “receiving money in any form that is connected to wearing the school uniform,” according to a column from Dr. Karissa Niehoff, NFHS executive director.

Now that doesn’t mean someone in high school can’t make money. They just wouldn’t be able to play for their high school team and plenty are choosing that path, particularly basketball players who are signing with Overtime Elite.

Raul Lara returns to Long Beach

Former Long Beach Poly football coach Raul Lara has been hired as head coach at St. Anthony.

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Lara had been working as an assistant coach at Servite.

He spent 13 years as coach at Poly, resigning in 2013 with five Southern Section titles. He was head coach at Warren for five years after leaving the Jackrabbits. St. Anthony’s new president is Michael Brennan, who was the principal at Servite.

Busy summer passing activities

Quarterback Malachi Nelson of Los Alamitos led his team to the Mission Viejo tourney title.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

It was the busiest Saturday yet for summer passing competitions.

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Mater Dei and Los Alamitos won the St. John Bosco and Mission Viejo tournaments, respectively.

Here’s the link to the complete roundup.

Also junior quarterback Malachi Nelson is set to announce his college choice this Sunday. He has cut his list to Oklahoma, USC, Notre Dame, Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State and LSU.

More awards

Newbury Park junior Colin Sahlman (left) sprints to the finish line pursued closely by sophomore teammate Lex Young.
Newbury Park junior Colin Sahlman (left) sprints to the finish line pursued closely by sophomore teammate Lex Young in the Invitational 3200 meters on May 9, 2021 at the Arcadia Invitational. Steve Galluzzo / For The Times
(Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

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Colin Sahlman of Newbury Park is the Gatorade boys’ track and field athlete of the year in California.

He ran the fastest 3,200 in the nation this season. He also received the same award for the cross-country season.

And he’s only a junior.

National champions

Five members of Marymount girls' volleyball team, including MVP Elia Rubin (left), led 17 LA.
Five members of Marymount girls’ volleyball team, including MVP Elia Rubin (left), led the 17 LA club team to Open Division title at Junior Olympics.
(Courtesy Sunshine Volleyball Club)

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The Los Angeles Marymount girls’ volleyball team was denied a chance to have a season because of the COVID-19 shutdown even though the team might have been the best in Southern California, but a group of players were able to show their potential, leading their 17U L.A. club team to the Open Division national championship at the Junior Olympics in Las Vegas.

The club team is part of the Sunshine Volleyball Club run by Marymount coach Cari Klein, and the MVP was Stanford-bound Elia Rubin, who is set to return for her senior season at Marymount. Four other Marymount players are on the team, including all-tournament selections Kerry Keefe and Kelly Belardi, who are headed to Duke and Stanford, respectively.

USC-bound Danielle Thomas-Nathan from Pasadena La Salle also made major contributions.

Returning to school

UCLA guard Johnny Juzang is returning for another season instead of entering the NBA draft.
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

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Despite the sometimes foolish advice people are given to leave school early for the not guaranteed chance of playing a pro sport, it’s inspiring to see college athletes making the smart decision to stay and try to get better.

A group of former high school basketball standouts from the Southland decided not to enter the NBA draft and return to college. It should make for an exciting 2021-22 season for Johnny Juzang (Harvard-Westlake, UCLA), Cody Riley (Sierra Canyon, UCLA), Isaiah Mobley (Rancho Christian, USC) and Remy Martin (Sierra Canyon, Kansas).

Juzang supposedly had the most to lose, because many told him his value would never be higher after his performance leading UCLA to the Final Four. But that’s not true. What if he keeps improving his defense, shooting and athleticism and leads UCLA to a national championship? Juzang skipped his senior year at Harvard-Westlake to enroll early at Kentucky, then left Kentucky after one season, so maybe he learned a little lesson about being patient.

And Mobley was impressive at the NBA draft combine but still decided to return to USC, which means he’ll have a chance to play himself into a first-round pick.

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Comeback for Kevin Gowdy

Kevin Gowdy (left) and Hunter Greene when they were in high school.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Former Santa Barbara High pitcher Kevin Gowdy, 23, is finally healthy and doing well in the minor leagues for the Philadelphia Phillies.

A second-round draft pick in 2016 who signed with the Phillies for $3.5 million instead of going to UCLA, Gowdy ended up having Tommy John surgery. He was supposed to go to UCLA with former Sherman Oaks Notre Dame pitcher Hunter Greene. I remember taking a photo of the two together, because one day, they’d both be in the majors.

Greene, like Gowdy, is back working his way up after Tommy John surgery. Gowdy was 3-3 with a 3.47 ERA for Class A Jersey Shore BlueClaws this week. He’s made nine starts.

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First-round picks

Thousand Oaks High School shortstop Max Muncy runs home following a home run
Thousand Oaks High School shortstop Max Muncy.
(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Sunday’s first round of the MLB amateur draft was good news for a pair of former high school standouts from Orange County.

Infielder Matt McLain from Irvine Beckman and UCLA went No. 17 to the Reds. Pitcher Michael McGreevy from San Clemente and UC Santa Barbara went to the Cardinals at No. 18.

Shortstop Max Muncy, The Times’ player of the year from Thousand Oaks, went No. 25 to the Athletics.

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Beloved coach dies

Bruce Thomson (left) was inducted into the San Pedro sports Hall of Fame. He died Tuesday. He was 61.
(Jamaal Street)

Bruce Thomson started out as a bookkeeper for a lumber business, then switched to teaching and coaching and became a legendary figure at San Pedro High and in the world of high school cross-country. He collapsed and died Tuesday while working out, his brother, Doug, said. Bruce Thomson was 61.

Born in Los Angeles, Thomson attended Hamilton High and UCLA. He was working as a bookkeeper when he got into coaching with the help of University coach Dick Kampmann and earned his teaching credential. He taught in junior high and coached at Hamilton until arriving at San Pedro in 1998. He’d guide the boys’ and girls’ teams to 15 City Section championships and was inducted into the San Pedro sports Hall of Fame.

Hart Indians mascot may disappear

The Hart Union High School District is expected to decided the fate of the Hart Indians mascot during a board meeting on Wednesday. Indians has been used since 1945, but there has been steady lobbying to change the mascot.

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Burroughs in Burbank recently got rid of Indians and replaced it with Bears. Alemany in Mission Hills went from Indians to Warriors.

The governing board is made up of five members who will decide the issue after weeks of study.

From the archives: Marques Johnson

When it comes to ranking the best players in Los Angeles basketball history, Marques Johnson will make any list. He was the first big star at Crenshaw High, going to on to be the college basketball player of the year at UCLA and a star with the Milwaukee Bucks and five-time NBA all-star.

Here’s a look at Johnson with the Bucks. He was the No. 3 selection in the NBA draft in 1977.

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He was the City Section player of the year at Crenshaw in 1973.

He was a member of John Wooden’s final NCAA championship team in 1975. Here’s his look back at that moment.

Johnson would go to become a successful commentator on television and radio. One of his most memorable lines for UCLA fans was after Tyus Edney’s successful drive in 4.8 seconds against Missouri in 1995 and him saying on the radio, “Yeah baby, yeah baby, yeah baby.”

He’s still able to dunk at age 65. One of his sons, Kris, became the City player of the year at Crenshaw and played for UCLA. Another son, Josiah, played for UCLA and has become a media sensation on Twitter and creative force in entertainment.

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Recommendations

From the Los Angeles Times, a look at the return of pickup basketball games after COVID-19 restrictions.

From the Los Angeles Times, a look at the life and death of former Loyola and USC lineman Chris Brown.

From the National Federation of State High School Assns., a reminder that new NIL rules for college athletes does not apply for high school athletes.

From the San Jose Mercury News, a story on a 16-year-old Bishop O’Dowd basketball player deciding to pass up his final two years of high school to sign with Overtime Elite.

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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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