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Prep Basketball : For South Gate's Keith Billingslea, Fresno Is Paradise

February 21, 1986|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | Times Staff Writer

Harvey Mason of Crescenta Valley High in La Crescenta beat him to the punch and committed early to Arizona. Bryant Walton from Santa Ana Saddleback did the same with Cal.

But is Keith Billingslea, also a guard, disappointed that he missed the Pacific 10 and ended up signing to play basketball at Fresno State?

Heck, no. He's probably too busy signing autographs and making the television news to worry about such things anyway.

This 17-year-old from South Gate figures he won't have much trouble making the transition to Fresno, a city that bills itself as the Raisin Capital of the World. It is also the epicenter of the basketball euphoria known as the Red Wave, and that's just about all it took to pull the city boy to the country.

When members of the booster club, who had come down this way primarily to watch the Bulldogs play UC Irvine, took a side trip to introduce themselves, Billingslea got the distinct impression that he was wanted.

Billingslea made a pretty good impression, too, sinking 21 of 32 shots and scoring a season-high 50 points in the Eastern League game against Narbonne.

"It's sort of scary," he said. "I wonder about the expectations they have of me and I haven't even played a single (college) game."

Billingslea was a freshman with a high profile once before, though. He spent his first two years at South Gate as a 6-foot 1-inch center, averaging 14.8 and 16.8 points a game, respectively, as the Rams were stuck near the bottom of the league standings.

Up to a muscular 6-2 and 205 pounds and able to bench press 210 pounds, he moved to off-guard for his junior season and earned All-City 3-A honors while scoring 21.6 points.

Early this season, he tried point guard but switched back to the shooting position, and he will lead South Gate, champion of the Eastern League with a 17-5 record overall, into the first round of the playoffs tonight against Van Nuys with a 29.9-point scoring average.

But that is only the good side of the season, and there is another side.

Billingslea can thank a strong finish for the good stats, because his play at one point was hardly worthy of any honor--or even the respect of his coach. Even he admits to being anything but Ram tough.

"He got very complacent," Coach Paul Hackett said. "That coupled with an ankle injury and we had a period around mid-season where he wasn't Keith Billingslea. I didn't know who he was.

"We heard from some people in Fresno who wanted to do something with him on a TV show, but I said, 'Hell, no. He doesn't deserve it.' So we cancelled it."

The ankle injury occurred against Garfield Jan. 22, when he came down after a shot and landed on someone else's foot. That slowed him for about two weeks--he played in games only, no practices--to the point where he couldn't even touch the rim, let alone dunk as before.

Neither Billingslea nor Hackett could determine the exact cause of the other problem.

"I knew what was going on, but I couldn't figure out what I had to do to turn me around and turn the rest of the team around," Billingslea said.

"I just wasn't doing the things I was supposed to do all around. I wasn't rebounding, I wasn't passing well and my defense wasn't very good. I was only scoring, and that is not enough to make a player good."

The wake-up call, for the Rams as a team as well as Billingslea, came in the form of a 37-34 loss to Huntington Park, one of two victories the last-place Spartans had in the league this season and one of only four overall.

After that setback, the only one of the league season, South Gate came out the next week, blasted Bell, 76-45, and has been playing well ever since.

"Basically, we just came together as a team," Billingslea said. "That togetherness was lacking early on. Everyone had an attitude and now there are no individual attitudes. Everyone is thinking as a team."

Prep Notes Ninety-five City and Southern Section first-round boys' games will be played tonight. There will also be 16 City and 1 Southern Section girls' games, with the rest Saturday. . . . More on the the City-record 69 points by Jerry Simon of Marshall last Friday: Belmont Coach Tom Arima, although down by 30 points in the second half, started to stall with about two minutes left in the game and Simon six points short of the record. Not to be outsmarted, Marshall players began to foul to get the ball back. On another occasion, Marshall had a two-on-none fast break and waited for Simon, who had started the play with a rebound and outlet pass, to catch up and give him the ball. He made 27 of 51 shots and 15 of 26 free throws. . . . The State record for most points in a game is 74, set by Nick Tenneriello of now-defunct L.A. Colbert in 1968.

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