Many eyebrows and questions were raised last summer when 6-6 James Moses, who averaged 19 points a game as a freshman and established himself as one of the premier forwards in high school basketball, transferred from Alemany in Mission Hills to Serra in Gardena.
One person with a lot of questions was Serra's Keith Malone.
Malone, a senior, was a highly regarded forward himself. The 6-foot-4, 180-pounder, Serra's only returning player, averaged 22 points a game last season to lead the Cavaliers to a Camino Real League co-championship and a 22-6 record.
He thought the presence of Moses, a sophomore, would greatly decrease his shooting opportunities.
"At first, I thought he'd have a big head and want to shoot all the time," Malone said of Moses. "But after the first game, I knew that wouldn't be a problem." The problem has been for Serra's opponents.
The Cavaliers finished the regular season 20-6, capturing the league title with a 14-0 record. They will open post-season play as the No. 2-seeded team in the CIF 5-A playoffs, playing host to Marina on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The Moses-Malone combination is averaging almost 52 points a game (about 26 apiece), about 60% of the team's 87-point-per-game total. And they average 15 rebounds (8 for Malone and 7 for Moses) as well.
Malone's best offensive showing was 39 points against St. Monica while Moses' high was 36 against Crossroads. Malone has broken double figures in every game, and Moses missed only once, when he scored eight points in only one half of action.
"I haven't seen a better combination of forwards," said Serra Coach George McDaniel. "I've seen bigger, but not better."
McDaniel said he was unsure how the arrival of Moses would affect the team, especially Malone, its designated star.
'Family Concept' Triumphs
"We were a little concerned at first that James might be unhappy if he wasn't scoring as much or Keith wasn't getting the glory he thought he should get as a senior," McDaniel said. "But the main thing we work on is getting the ball to the open man.
"We have a family concept here at Serra. We work with each other in harmony and peace."
Despite his concerns, Malone said he did not want to take his new teammate aside and discuss them for fear of creating resentment.
But Moses, who transferred because Serra is close to home, knew no problem would exist between the two forwards. He said his philosophy is to pass the ball, not shoot every time he touches it.
"If you give the ball up, you're bound to get it back," Moses said. "And I like to pass the ball. It makes you look better. That way, you're not looking like a hot dog."
Malone and Moses, who had played against each other only in a summer league, quickly learned each other's nuances on the court and blended into a deadly scoring machine.
McDaniel said two other things have helped Malone and Moses, and the rest of the team, mesh into a cohesive unit: practice sessions and playing in the tough Camino Real League.
The third-year coach said the league is built for Thoroughbreds. Translation: Every team runs and presses for 32 minutes.
And he said Malone and Moses are perhaps the two finest Thoroughbreds in the league.
"The kids like to run that style of game," he said. "And running makes it harder to set up and play defense. There's no doubt that has made James and Keith better players."
The other factor has been Serra's practices when Moses and Malone go head-to-head.
Moses said his skills have improved immensely practicing against the talented Malone.
"We go pretty hard against each other," Malone said. "And the results show in the games."
Moses 'Mr. Outside'
While the two are similar statistically, they offer contrasting styles.
The 180-pound Moses is Mr. Outside.
As he prepares to shoot, he launches himself toward the basket, almost as the New York Knicks' Walt Frazier did a decade ago.
"When he has it in the paint, he has to shoot it," McDaniel said. "From that range, it's just like a layup for him."
Malone is Mr. Inside.
McDaniel said Malone, equally comfortable with either hand, can play inside or outside. But the coach said Malone's forte is sliding to the basket and retrieving missed shots.
"He has a knack of knowing where the ball is going and can put it back in," McDaniel said. "He's just a garbage man.
"Keith's been a quiet player all his career. It'll seem like he's not scoring that much, but at the end of the game he's got 30 points."
That combination and versatility has stymied defenses.
Can't Double-Team Them
McDaniel said no team has tried to double-team one of his forwards, and St. Anthony's experiment with a box-and-one defense (four players in a zone and one playing man-to-man against Moses) failed miserably.
"We have equal confidence in each other," Malone said. "If he's open, he'll score or the other way around. Or someone else on the team will pick up the slack."