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A Tall Order : Two Guys From Capistrano Valley Hoping to Reach New Heights

November 26, 1986|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | Times Staff Writer

Jim Waikle, a junior at Capistrano Valley High School, has about five minutes of varsity basketball experience, having played in one of the Cougars' lopsided playoff victories last season.

Steve McCaughey, Capistrano Valley sophomore, is still waiting to suit up for his first varsity game.

Yet, between the two, Waikle and McCaughey already have received about 200 letters from the nation's college coaches.

Waikle and McCaughey, and their coach, Mark Thornton, admit that the players are still a little awkward on the court--that they have a way to go before they become good high school players, let alone college players.

But, still, the college coaches are drooling over them.

That's because Waikle and McCaughey have what can't be taught. They are blessed with something that most players can't attain, even through many hours of practice and hard work.

They have height.

Waikle stands 7-feet tall, and McCaughey is 6-10.

And with such height comes the expectations.

First, everyone expects them to be basketball players. McCaughey was in a store buying a soda the other day when the cashier asked him which college he played for.

Second, everyone expects them to be dominating players, the kind who score most of their points on two-handed dunks and block about 12 shots a game.

Although neither made like Dominique Wilkins last season, slamming and jamming over their opponents, both dominated defensively on the lower levels. Waikle averaged 13 blocked shots a game on the sophomore team, and McCaughey averaged 10 blocked shots on the freshmen team.

But this is the varsity. It remains to be seen what the players can do on a higher level against tougher competition.

It's doubtful they'll be able to dominate games, at least not right away. But even if they don't become great players immediately . . . well, just look at them! What any high school coach would give to have two players that big.

So what if they can't whip around-the-back passes on the fast break or make 20-foot jumpers. These guys are loaded with potential.

And that's why the college coaches, and everyone else, it seems, is keeping an eye on them.

"They're just growing into their bodies right now and they're kind of slow," Thornton said. "But they have a lot of potential. They're the kind of kids who want to stay in the gym and work out. That's why I think they'll be good players."

Thornton plans to alternate Waikle and McCaughey at center this season, with McCaughey, who is more mobile than Waikle, probably starting.

But when he gets the chance, Thornton will play the two together, because he said they'll both be starters next season. Thus, the Cougars will have prep basketball's version of The Twin Towers.

But spare them the nicknames, please.

"Some people call us The Twin Towers, but that doesn't matter," McCaughey said. "They can call us whatever they want."

Don't call them cocky. Waikle and McCaughey seem to be taking the attention in stride. They're not letting a few letters from college coaches go to their heads.

"I know it's all because I'm 6-10," McCaughey said.

If anything, the attention has helped.

"(The letters) are encouraging me to get my grades up and get better at basketball," Waikle said. "They make me think about going to college and working to reach that goal."

Last year, Waikle said he got mostly Cs and Ds, but he has improved to a 2.5 grade-point average during the first quarter this school year. McCaughey had a 1.8 GPA last year but finished with 3.2 in the first quarter this year.

Such attention didn't figure to faze Waikle or McCaughey, who have grown accustomed to being scrutinized on and off the court. Whether it's in the gym or on the street, people always seem to be gawking at them, asking how tall they are, how the weather is up there, and where they play basketball.

Usually, they ignore such people, but, on occasion, they'll take advantage of the situation to play little pranks.

McCaughey was in a grocery store with his mother recently when he noticed a box boy staring at him. Within earshot of the box boy, McCaughey turned to his mother and said, "Mom, why is that guy staring at me?" McCaughey then went up to the box boy and stared right in his face.

"He finally turned around," McCaughey said of the embarrassed box boy.

Waikle was with his sister, Connie, a 6-9 basketball player at San Diego State, recently, when they noticed a couple nearby staring at them and commenting to each other about how tall they were. So, Waikle turned to his sister, laughed, and said, "Hey, Connie, look at how short those people are!"

Added Waikle: "I like watching people's expressions and how they act around you. It's fun to kind of joke around with them sometimes."

Thornton also keeps a close watch on his two big men. Because they have so much potential, he's constantly pushing Waikle and McCaughey to improve.

They make their share of mistakes--they dribble when they're not supposed to, they go for the ball instead of screening out on a rebound--and mistakes are always brought to their attention.

"We get down on them for making mental mistakes, but they're good at taking criticism," Thornton said. "I told them if I stop getting on their case, then they better start worrying. They understand that they make mistakes and that they have to work hard to improve. They don't run out of the gym pouting."

As for their ball-handling skills, Waikle and McCaughey have improved vastly over last season. In practice, they're doing the same drills as the guards--dribbling around their backs, under their legs, and making spin moves.

"Of course, I'd probably shoot them if they did that in a game," Thornton said.

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