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Prep Rally: If you love high school basketball you’ll love this week

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. It’s insanity week in high school basketball. That means nonstop games beginning the day after Christmas. The biggest of the tournaments is the Classic at Damien with 81 teams. You can watch games from morning until late at night. But a surge in positive coronavirus cases also could make for an unpredictable week ahead.

Classic at Damien

The fun and games begin Monday at Damien with the biggest and best basketball tournament. It will be four days and nights of great games. The tournament was supposed to have 88 teams and six divisions. It’s down to 81 as teams drop out because of COVID protocols. Tournament organizers continue to seek replacement teams.

Damien coach Mike LeDuc has used his ties to many coaches and programs to attract top teams. The Platinum Division is certainly loaded with quality first-round matchups. Corona Centennial is seeded No. 1.

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Two teams with top young players face off, Riverside Poly taking on West Ranch. The other divisions are also packed with top teams and top matchups, particularly the Gold Division, where Rolling Hills Prep is seeded No. 1 but will face competition from Crean Lutheran, Capistrano Valley Christian and Colony.

KDOC plans to televise games Tuesday and Wednesday and Bally Sports will put the Platinum championship game on the web on Thursday night.

Here’s the link from CalHiSports that has all the tournaments taking place this week in the Southland.

By the way, LeDuc has led Damien to a 14-0 record and picked up his 1,000th coaching victory last week.

There’s also the uncertainty of a surge in coronavirus cases. Harvard-Westlake canceled out-of-town tournaments for its sports teams this week. Sierra Canyon’s girls’ basketball team canceled this week playing in San Diego because of COVID protocols. No. 1 Etiwanda is in the same tournament.

Top 25 rankings

Sierra Canyon stays No. 1 in this week’s top 25 rankings by The Times.

A look at the top 25 high school boys’ basketball teams in the Southland:

Rk. SCHOOL (W-L); Comment (last week)

1. SIERRA CANYON (13-1); Ramel Lloyd is tourney MVP in Hawaii (1)

2. CORONA CENTENNIAL (8-1); Top seed in Classic at Damien (2)

3. DAMIEN (14-0); Coach Mike LeDuc has reached 1,000 wins (3)

4. HARVARD-WESTLAKE (13-1); COVID-19 pause this week (4)

5. ROLLING HILLS PREP (10-0); It’s final exam time at Classic at Damien (5)

6. CREAN LUTHERAN (7-0); Sophomore Vyctorius Miller earns MVP honor (17)

Here’s the link to the remaining teams.

Freedom day for transfers

Isaiah Elohim Sierra Canyon.
Isaiah Elohim is finally eligible to play for Sierra Canyon this week.
(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Transfers who had the sit out the first half of the high school basketball season because they did not change residences are now clear to join their teams and play this week.

That means several teams will finally be at full strength, so beware.

Sierra Canyon, ranked No. 1, will get even better with the availability of talented sophomore Isaiah Elohim from Heritage Christian and senior Jeremiah Nyarko from St. John Bosco.

Elohim can be a big-time scorer, so he adds another weapon to the Trailblazers’ attack that is already pretty formidable with Amari Bailey, Ramel Lloyd, Bronny James and Kijani Wright.

Birmingham adds all-league transfer from El Camino Real, Brooklyn Caldwell.

Championships

Jeremy Dent-Smith was the MVP as Gardena Serra won its own tournament championship with a victory over Long Beach Poly in the final.

Riverside Poly won the Covina tournament championship over Walnut.

Colony (11-0) stayed unbeaten with a victory over Loyola in the championship game of the Monrovia tournament.

San Pedro defeated Crenshaw to win its own tournament championship.

Etiwanda’s girls’ team won the biggest tournament of all, the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona. It makes the Eagles No. 1 in California and maybe No. 1 in the USA.

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Baseball

Bryce Rainer of Harvard-Westlake went 9-0 as a freshman.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Baseball teams have begun to get into shape with Saturday games and pitchers starting to build up strength for the coming spring season.

Harvard-Westlake’s standout sophomore, Bryce Rainer, made his winter debut. There’s lots of competition. He threw well but also gave up a double to another outstanding sophomore, Brayden Jefferis of Hart.

Hart sophomore catcher Ryan De La Maza is the son of Roland De La Maza, who was a three-sport standout at St. Genevieve in the 1980s. Hart will have four sophomores on varsity and perhaps more.

Birmingham had its three-year reign as City champions ended last season by San Pedro, but the Patriots are showing signs of returning to a stable pitching staff that created inconsistency last season. Ricky Martinez, Daniel Flores and Chris Romero will be asked to provide mound support in support of top hitters Gavin Taylor, Alex Olvera and Dom Cervantes.

Soccer

Soccer player Omar Garcia of Hamilton has scored 58 goals in his career.
(Hamilton)

Omar Garcia of Hamilton is off to a productive start in his senior year. He has scored 10 goals in eight games. He has 58 goals in his career.

Chapman University will be the site beginning Tuesday for a top boys’ tournament that will feature Servite, L.A. Cathedral, Loyola, Orange Lutheran and St. Paul among Southern California teams.

El Camino Real has advanced in the Ralph Brandt tournament that resumes this week.

Harvard-Westlake’s girls’ soccer team has pulled out of a tournament in Texas when the school decided not to allow any out-of-town sports traveling because of the surge in coronavirus cases.

Notes . . .

Martin Soto is the new football coach at South East. He previously was at La Puente and Bassett. . . .

St. John Bosco has announced the schedule for its one day basketball event on Jan. 17. . . .

Former Orange Lutheran football player Terrence Brown is the new defensive backs coach at Cal.

Mater Dei silence

Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson celebrates after his team defeated Servite to win Division 1 title.
(Nick Koza)

Hoisted upon the shoulders of his players, fresh leis piled high around his neck, Bruce Rollinson looked out upon thousands of faithful fans who had braved 48-degree weather to watch Mater Dei High win its third state football championship in five years.

A chant — “Rollo! Rollo!” — began to echo from the stands.

But rather than stay on the field for postgame interviews with his star players, Rollinson was quickly hustled away by a knot of security guards and assistant coaches when journalists approached him.

The Monarchs’ resounding win on Dec. 11 capped a month of external scrutiny for Rollinson and the school’s storied athletic program, after a lawsuit that accuses Mater Dei and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange of trying to cover up a brutal locker room altercation that left a player with a traumatic brain injury.

Allegations of scandals at schools often lead to protests by students, petitions circulated by alumni, and other calls for change. Not at Mater Dei, which has one of the nation’s best high school football programs.

Employees, parents, students and the diocese have largely closed ranks. Supporters and employees of the football program, a fundraising powerhouse, have fallen back on a practiced wall of silence.

A look at Mater Dei’s influence, where it’s money comes from and prestige.

From the archives: Thomas Welsh

UCLA center Thomas Welsh, center, gestures after scoring against USC in 2017.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Former Loyola High and UCLA center Thomas Welsh is playing in Taiwan for the New Taipei Kings professional basketball team.

Welsh was the 58th overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft.

He’s a 7-footer who developed an all-around game during his four years at Loyola.

Here’s a 2017 interview with former Loyola coach Jamal Adams about Welsh’s rise at UCLA.

Here’s a 2018 interview about his time ending at UCLA.

Welsh became a McDonald’s All-American at Loyola. He was one of the Cubs’ most consistent shooters from the free-throw line in.

Recommendations

From the Washington Post, a story on eight basketball teams from seven states playing in a single league.

From the Sacramento Bee, a look back at a man who spent 44 years coaching football and basketball.

From the Seattle Times, the story of a high school basketball player who left for a prep school, then decided to return to his neighborhood school in Seattle.

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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