After Shawn DeLaittre completed his ninth-grade season at a junior high in Simi Valley, Rich Griffin figured he had said goodby to the best player he would ever coach. DeLaittre, then a 6-4 center, was Griffin's once-in-a-lifetime player.
Just two years later, Griffin has started a new lifetime. In his 14th season as the Sequoia Junior High coach, Griffin has his second once-in-a-lifetime player. Steve Carnes, a 6-1, 170-pound, 14-year-old ninth-grader, has made Griffin forget DeLaittre.
"Shawn was a great player and I thought I'd never see a better player at this level," Griffin said.
But then he saw Carnes. "He's the most complete athlete and player I've ever seen at this level. What makes him stand apart is his speed and his jumping ability. He's like a phantom out there. He comes out of nowhere. It's a constant show when he plays."
The Carnes phenomenon is more than statistics, although his aren't bad. Sequoia is 14-0 and Carnes plays barely half the time because most games are blowouts. Still, he is averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds a game, leads the team in assists and is shooting 66.9%.
As a 12-year-old seventh-grader, Carnes had a vertical leap of 38 inches. Track might even be his best sport. His older brother Mike is the Simi Valley High record-holder at 100 meters (10.5), and Steve already is a rival. In a national age-group meet last summer in Oregon, Steve was first in the 100, second in the 200, and he already can long jump better than 21 feet.
Bob Hawking, the Simi Valley basketball coach who inherited DeLaittre and will get Carnes next season, said Carnes could be the best athlete ever to enter the program.
Dave Murphy, the Simi Valley football coach, probably wishes he could make the same claim. After seeing Carnes in a track meet last spring, Murphy proclaimed him ready to play varsity football immediately. But football doesn't figure in his immediate future. His parents have forbidden him to play.
"Track and basketball are his first loves and we didn't think he could handle a third sport," his mother Gillis said. "Besides, we were afraid he'd get hurt."
Meanwhile, Griffin gets to appreciate his second-in-a-lifetime player.
"If I kept Steve in games, he could score 40 every time," Griffin said. "No one on this level can stop him inside or outside. And what's nice about him is that he likes to pass the ball. He says that rebounding and passing are what he likes most."
A great athlete? And he's unselfish, too? Surely, there's something bad about Carnes.
"Well, yeah," Griffin admits. "Free throws. He's only shooting 65%."
Well, at least he's not perfect.
Still around: Bob Dunivant, who has resigned as Burroughs football coach, said he'd like to remain with the program next season as offensive coordinator. And if either of the men he recommended for the job is hired, he'll probably get his wish.
Dunivant recommended assistant coaches Robert McElwee and Mike McDonald to Principal Tim Buchanan, who is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks.
This year marks Dunivant's second retirement as the Burroughs coach. He retired in 1979 but served as an assistant in 1980-81 before coming back as head coach for the 1986 season, insisting he would coach for one year only. Dunivant, 52, cited his age and outside business interests as reasons for his decision. He will continue to teach at Burroughs but said he will retire from education in three years.
Not even what he called his most rewarding season in nearly 30 years of coaching could coax him back as head coach.
"I wouldn't trade the year we had for anything," he said. "It probably ranks as the top year for personal satisfaction. But this a young man's game. I'd just like to help out next year."
Dunivant inherited a team that won only two games in 1985 and fielded the surprise team in the Foothill League in 1986 that recorded a 10-2-1 record. Burroughs finished second to Hart, the eventual Northwestern Conference champion, in league and advanced to the semifinal round of the playoffs before losing to Temple City, 35-28.
Burroughs featured the Valley's top quarterback outside of Jim Bonds and Ken Sollom. Jeff Barrett completed 63% of his passes for 2,743 yards and 20 touchdowns. Barrett, only a junior, is one of the reasons Dunivant wants to stay with the program.
"I feel responsible for Jeff Barrett," Dunivant said.
Barrett took the news of Dunivant's retirement hard, knowing he already will lose his top two receivers in Brian Kaloustian and Pat Lynch. But the prospect of Dunivant as offensive coordinator next season eases the blow.
"It ruined my day when I heard about his retirement," Barrett said. "But if he comes back as an assistant coach, that's good enough, I guess."
One more time: Not much is going right for Cleveland guard Damon Greer this season. He missed six games with a sprained right wrist, then in his second start back in the lineup after that injury he was knocked unconscious in Cleveland's Jan. 9 game against Hamilton.
Greer was woozy that night but made a quick recovery only to have the injury curse strike again. On Monday during the team's first practice after the Hamilton game, Greer suffered a badly sprained right ankle and hasn't played since.
"I tried to pivot 360 degrees, but when I turned around my foot didn't turn with me," Greer said Saturday.
The 6-1 junior wore a splint for two days and missed Cleveland's two games this week. He probably will sit out Wednesday's game against El Camino Real but hopes to return to the lineup for Friday's game at Taft. He also hopes his bad luck streak has ended.
"I've never had anything like this happen to me before," he said. "It's just one thing after another. I hope this is the last thing."