Mike McNulty, coach of the El Camino Real High basketball team, believes he has one of the best-kept secrets in the Valley--guard Adam Sacks.
"Nobody knows about him," McNulty said of the 5-10 senior. "He's very, very underrated."
It's a label Sacks will eventually lose if he continues performing like he did Thursday against Granada Hills in the opening round of the North Hollywood tournament.
Sacks scored 24 points, including five clutch free throws in the fourth quarter, to lead the Conquistadores to a 58-51 upset win over the Highlanders.
"He is a very good ball player," Granada Hills Coach Bob Johnson said after his team fell to 6-2 on the season. "He presented us with a lot of problems."
The Highlanders presented themselves with many problems by shooting miserably.
Granada Hills shot just 35%, hitting 20 of 57 shots. After a first half in which they made 31% of their shots, the Highlanders warmed up to shoot 39% in the final two quarters.
Only the play of 6-8 junior center Gary Gray kept the Highlanders in the game.
The 230-pound Gray, who stood four inches taller than any El Camino Real player, scored 19 points, mostly from the inside, and had 16 rebounds.
But Gray had little support. Terrell Smith, with 10 points, was the only other Highlander to reach double figures.
Along with Sacks' 24 points, El Camino Real got 12 points from Sean Davis and 11 from Kevin Shaw.
Sacks' average has risen in the absence of Rick Hergott, the Conquistadores' leading scorer at 20 points a game.
Hergott, a senior guard, has been sidelined for over a week with strep throat.
"My thought going in was that I had to take more shots," said Sacks, who is averaging 16 points a game. "Be more offensive-minded."
Sacks had five points in the opening eight minutes, as El Camino (5-3) built a 20-10 lead. By the half, Sacks had nine points and the Conquistadores had a 27-18 lead. After three, El Camino led, 43-36.
Sacks opened the fourth quarter with a 15-foot jumper to increase the lead to nine. But Granada cut the lead to four with five minutes left when Gray followed his own missed free throw with a basket.
After an exchange of baskets, Sacks again nailed an outside jumper. Then with 2:12 left, he made two free throws to give El Camino a 51-45 lead.
Later, he added three more free throws and a layup to push the Highlanders into the consolation bracket.
"I enjoy taking the pressure shots," Sacks said. "I've been working hard on my free throws, shooting 100 a day."
In the semifinals, El Camino will play Manual Arts, which defeated Hollywood, 79-61, in the tournament's opening game. The Toilers, who lost in the City 4-A championship game last season, got 27 points from Jemarl Baker.
North Hollywood, which entered the tournament with a 1-6 record, moved into the semifinals with a 42-35 win over Reseda.
The Huskies and Regents were tied after three quarters at 30, but Reseda scored just five points in the final eight minutes.
North Hollywood was led by Mike Woolery's nine points, while Reseda, which fell to 3-4, was led by Stanley Williams' 12 points.
The Huskies will play Fremont, a 66-63 winner over Los Angeles.
GRANADA HILLS--Inzar 4; Bishop 5; Gray 19 and 16 rebounds; Smith 10; Puathasnanon 7; McBride 6.
EL CAMINO REAL--Davis 12; Shaw 11; Sacks 24; Stephenson 6; Schwartz 3; Warner 2.
NORTH HOLLYWOOD--Woolery 9; Barnes 6; Nappi 6; Nelson 7; Patterson 8; Bernstein 6.
RESEDA--Williams 12; Ricks 4; Wills 4; Nickelson 10; Spears 1; Stepmer 2; Crawford 2.