Prep Rally: Making this team is a tall order

Hillcrest's Dennis Evans (left) goes against Los Altos' Jazz Gardner in a rare encounter of 7-footers.
Hillcrest’s Dennis Evans (left) goes against Los Altos’ Jazz Gardner in a rare encounter of 7-footers on Saturday at Colony High.
(Craig Weston)
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Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. There’s one exclusive club that you only get into depending on your genes. That’s the 7-foot club. In Southern California, there’s only been a handful of 7-foot basketball players through the last 50 years, making this season almost a tsunami of 7-footers with three playing and a fourth waiting.

7-footers in the spotlight

Hillcrest's Dennis Evans (left) goes against Los Altos' Jazz Gardner in a rare encounter of 7-footers.
Hillcrest’s Dennis Evans (left) goes against Los Altos’ Jazz Gardner in a rare encounter of 7-footers on Saturday at Colony High.
(Craig Weston)

There have been a select group of high school players make the 7-foot club during high school. You have to start with Paul Mokeski of Encino Crespi in 1975, followed by Stuart Gray of Granada Hills Kennedy, a McDonald’s All-American in 1981. There was Brad Wright from Los Angeles Daniel Murphy, Jason Collins from Studio City Harvard-Westlake, Tyson Chandler from Compton Dominguez, Thomas Welsh from Los Angeles Loyola, Bol Bol from Santa Ana Mater Dei and Harold Yu from Chatsworth Sierra Canyon.

The 7-foot club is unique, which makes this season so intriguing. There are three active 7-footers playing basketball in the Southland — Jazz Gardner of Hacienda Heights Los Altos, 7-1 Dennis Evans of Riverside Hillcrest and 7-2 Sidy Diallo of Santa Fe Springs St. Paul. A fourth 7-footer, sophomore Majok Chuol of Sierra Canyon, is waiting to become eligible. He’s from Uganda via South Sudan.

Gardner and Evans hooked up on Saturday at the State Preview Classic.

Here’s a look at some of the unique challenges 7-footers present and must deal with.


Kalib LaCount making impact

Kalib LaCount of King/Drew attacks on offense against Crenshaw.
(Robert S. Helfman)

When Kalib LaCount enrolled at King/Drew High, his father, Frank, had started working at the school to take care of campus buildings and grounds. He wasn’t a big fan of his dad being able to see what he was doing every day at school.

“I didn’t want it,” LaCount said. “They’re really going to be watching me. Anything I do they’re going to tell him.”

Soon LaCount discovered a big perk to having his father at school. He had keys to the gym.

“Oh, yes. I’m in there all time,” he said.

That extra gym time has helped make the 5-foot-9 LaCount stand out as the best basketball player in the City Section so far this season. He scored 46 points on Saturday night against Lawndale.

Here’s a profile of LaCount’s contributions.

Basketball rewind

Bishop Montgomery coach Doug Mitchell picked up win No. 750 in his coaching career last week.


Colony coach Jerry De Fabiis won his 500th game.

San Juan Hills picked up a huge win in its Sea View League opener, knocking off Tesoro 58-56.

Edison is on a roll, having won 14 consecutive games with a 20-3 overall recortd. Football standout Tyler Hampton is making big contributions.

Here’s a rundown from the State Preview Classic that featured big victories by Etiwanda, Corona Centennial and St. Anthony, among others.

Corona Centennial remains No. 1 in this week’s top 25 boys’ rankings by The Times. Here’s the complete rundown.

There were some big-time performances from girls’ players this past week. Junior Shanna Brown of Aliso Niguel scored 38 points against Cerritos. Senior Gabriela Jaquez of Camarillo scored 39 points against Simi Valley. Sophomore Destiny Agubata of No. 1 Etiwanda had 26 points and 16 rebounds against Orangewood Academy.

To win it’s 18th consecutive game, unbeaten Etiwanda had to overcome a 19-point halftime deficit to defeat San Diego Cathedral Catholic 59-56.

Juju Watkins of Sierra Canyon had a 37-point performance.

Here’s the link to the Southern California top 20 in girls’ basketball.


City Section delays playoffs

The City Section has decided to delay its seeding meetings for soccer and basketball playoffs by one week until Feb. 12-13, giving schools an extra week to reschedule games postponed during a Los Angeles Unified School District pause in sports competitions last week. Playoffs will take place over two weeks instead of three weeks.

The City Section is undecided on whether to use home or neutral sites for playoff championships because of continuing COVID-19 attendance restrictions. L.A. Southwest College had been used for basketball semifinals and finals in recent years, but the school doubled its rental fees, leaving a championship site uncertain.


Oak Park handed Moorpark its first defeat 3-2 to take over first place in the Coastal Canyon League. The Eagles are 8-1-2 and 4-0 in league. Moorpark is 12-1.

No. 1 Mira Costa has been so good the last two seasons winning close games. It happened again when the Mustangs overcame a 1-0 deficit to defeat Redondo Union 2-1 in overtime despite being a man down.

Birmingham finally has David Diaz back from an ankle injury as he prepares for a showdown with El Camino Real to decide the West Valley League championship and No. 1 seed for the City playoffs.

Servite continues to dominate in the Trinity League with an unbeaten record.

Freshman Victoria Pugh (18) of Harvard-Westlake has provided offensive support without the Thompson sisters.
(Sandra Koretz)

In girls’ soccer, No. 1 Corona Santiago had to settle for a 0-0 tie vs. King and is 13-1-3 and 4-0-1.

Harvard-Westlake apparently likes ties. The Wolverines have four ties this season. The Thompson sisters still have not played and it remains unlikely they will make any appearance for the Wolverines. Harvard-Westlake is 3-0 in the Mission League. Freshman Victoria Pugh has been lifting up the offense.

Westlake is 11-0 and 6-0 in the Marmonte League.

Notes . . .

Quarterback Travis Endicott has transferred from Newbury Park to Thousand Oaks. . . .

Quarterback Darius Cowens has transferred from Garden Grove Pacifica to Warren, along with receiver Jordan Ross. . . .

Junior offensive lineman Sean Na’a is transferring from Westlake to St. John Bosco, according to Greg Biggins. There could be more linemen on the way as the Braves try to topple Mater Dei in 2022. . . .

St. John Bosco receiver Colin Chase has committed to the University of St. Thomas. . . .

Soccer player Brandon Schalliol has become the seventh player from Servite to commit to a college. He’s headed to Concordia. . . .

Nathan Kerr from Taft baseball has committed to Lewis & Clark. . . .

Carson Lake, a junior baseball player at Huntington Beach, has committed to UNLV. . . .

Steve Butler, who played football at UCLA in the 1960s and coached at Crespi, Valley College and West L.A. College, died this past week. . . .

Bill Seward, a former football coach at St. Bernard who went into broadcasting, died last week. . . .

The Southern Section playoffs will rely on home sites rather than championship venues for basketball and soccer.

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From the archives: Stanley Johnson

Los Angeles Lakers forward Stanley Johnson (14) goes to basket while defended by Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27).
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

Stanley Johnson is considered the favorite player Gary McKnight has coached at Santa Ana Mater Dei. He led the Monarchs to a 135-5 record and four state titles.

He went on to Arizona and was the eighth pick overall in the 2015 NBA by Detroit.

His pro career seemed to fizzle out until the Lakers gave him a chance this season with a series of 10-day contracts. He’s still only 25 years old.

Here’s a 2014 story explaining Johnson’s work ethic.

Here’s another 2014 story from Johnson winning his final state title in his final high school game.


Here’s a story from last week describing the impact Johnson is having with the Lakers.


From the New York Times, a story on how Mexico City has become paradise for skateboarders.

From the San Diego Union-Tribune, a story on a high school female wrestler who fell in love with the sport.

From the San Diego Union-Tribune, a story on one of the best female basketball players in the state.

From, a story on Wake Forest-bound girls’ soccer player Sierra Sythe of Long Beach Millikan.

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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, and follow me on Twitter at @latsondheimer.

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