They are a real-life A-Team, complete with their own Mr.T.
But unlike its television counterpart, the 11-member Buckley High basketball team overcomes obstacles by using brains rather than brawn.
Television's Mr. T wears gold chains and drives a van. James Tweedie, Buckley's Mr. T, wears a letterman's sweater and drives the lane.
At Buckley, they don't shoot guns. They shoot baseline jumpers.
This A-Team features:
--Three National Merit Scholarship winners.
--Ten calculus students.
--Five starters averaging in double figures.
--A teacher/coach who discovered the formula for Buckley success in his calculus classes.
Coach Ron Cooper, who is chairman of the prep school's math department, came up with an equation that goes something like this: Five calculus students in the starting lineup (intelligence) + the ability to run, shoot and rebound (talent) = 12-0--the Griffins' record.
"Having intelligent kids is great," Cooper said. "But, they're still kids. They still make some mental mistakes on the court."
But rarely in the classroom.
The average grade-point average on the team is 3.5. The players will have taken four advanced-placement classes before graduating, and most of them will enter college as second-semester freshmen or sophomores.
College recruiters interested in these players don't scout from the bleachers of the Buckley gym. They sit in the admissions offices of universities such as Harvard, Stanford, Princeton and Yale where points per game mean nothing. Grade points per semester tell the story they want to hear.
Coping with a rigorous basketball season doesn't faze the Buckley players. Steve Kadenacy, the Griffins' 6-6 center, goes up against a daily schedule that includes probability and statistics, advanced-placement European history, advanced-placement English, economics and art history.
The Buckley School was founded in 1933 and provides instruction for children in nursery school through 12th grade. Tuition for the 240 high school students at the school's Sherman Oaks campus is $6,425 a year.
Said Cooper: "The classes here are very tough. When you consider that our 3.0 students get accepted to UC Berkeley, it's pretty amazing. The emphasis here is on academic preparation for college."
For players and fans alike.
The students at Buckley games don't appear to be much different from students at any other high school in the Valley. Until you listen to them.
Against Windward recently, they watched the game and talked about boyfriends and college. Girlfriends and college. Where they were going skiing and where they were applying for college. They talked about everything. But mostly they talked about college.
They worried about where they would be accepted and laughed about the impossibility of being turned away.
"Jennifer," one coed mockingly said to another. "We're not getting into a university. We're gonna have to go to Valley."
She was kidding. Last year, 100% of the seniors went on to four-year colleges.
No one embodies the Buckley image more than Tweedie, a junior guard who is averaging 10 points a game and has attended the school since first grade.
Tweedie, whose father is a doctor and whose mother has a law degree, recorded the highest selection index score on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test in school history.
Tweedie and junior forward Jason Weisstein were named National Merit Scholars based on their PSAT scores, which put them in the top one-half of the top 1% nationally for college-bound students. Senior Je-wong Moon was similarly honored in 1984.
"Their intelligence allows me to spend a little less time going over routine offenses," Cooper said. "The best thing it does is let us switch defenses throughout the game."
When your team is that smart, the outcome is, well, academic. At Buckley it always has been.
Before Cooper arrived, there was no need to hypothesize the outcome of a Buckley game. The Griffins usually lost.
"This season, it's a different attitude than it's been in the past," Tweedie said. "Before Coach Cooper came here, playing basketball wasn't taken very seriously. People played so they could be 'seen.' Now it's serious."
Cooper, 42, arrived at Buckley in 1983 after coaching for 16 years in Texas and Colorado, where he routinely led his teams into the playoffs. In between, he squeezed in a doctorate in math from the University of Denver.
The chance to coach the Griffins wasn't what inspired Cooper to come to Buckley. The way he tells it, his wife Kathleen brought him to Southern California when she was named senior vice president of Security Pacific Bank.
"All the other moves had been for coaching," Cooper said. "So she called in all the debts in the drawer. And here I am."
Cooper has turned a program comprised of what many perceive as spoiled rich kids into a basketball force in the Southern Section's 1-A Division. The only recruiting Cooper did was for a statistician. Cooper found him--where else?--in his calculus class. Derrick Yim will attend either Cal Tech or MIT next year.