Leland Wigington struck a blow for the little man Saturday when he led Ventura College to the state community college basketball championship and was named the tournament's most valuable player.
The sophomore from Inglewood helped lead Morningside High to a CIF 3-A championship two years ago. One would think that a college coach or two might notice how championships seem to follow him around.
But at a listed 5-foot-6, Wigington had to prove himself on the junior college level. So he did.
The little big man, known to teammates as Pookey, was anything but cute to opponents as Ventura won its last 14 games, handling the ball, setting up outside shooters, penetrating and dishing off or making enough shots to keep the defenses honest.
Wigington played an unremarkable first half in the championship game against Saddleback, so much so that Coach Philip Matthews called timeout with a few minutes left in the first half, pulled him aside and chewed him out.
So Wigington turned up the volumne in the second half. He finished with 20 points--16 in the second half, including two three-pointers--9 assists and 2 key steals down the stretch. He made the big plays--and several key baskets--that brought his team from behind late in the game to win, 76-72.
Wigington led a charge and hit a three-pointer to pull within one at 50-49. Shortly after, he hit a jumper from the foul line to tie the game at 52-all.
With Saddleback holding a 57-56 lead, Wigington made a series of remarkable defensive plays. He held off Saddleback's Vincent Smalls, the tournament's slam-dunk leader, who had the field beat except for the little guard. Wigington's defense made the 6-4 Smalls pull up. A few seconds later, Wigington stole the ball, drove the length of the court, faked out a defender and laid in the ball for a 58-57 lead.
Three minutes later he scored another three-pointer for a 66-62 advantage. Saddleback answered with a three-pointer so Wigington drove the lane and passed off to center Cedric Ceballos for a layup and foul.
With 20 seconds left and his team leading 74-72, Wigington missed the front end of a one-and-one and Saddleback rebounded. But Wigington caught Saddleback guard Tom Desiano from behind, stole the ball and drove for a layup that clinched the game.
Matthews said that when he scolded Wigington, he told his star "he wasn't playing up to his capabilities--that he had to do that for us to win."
After Wigington's demonstrative second half, and the announcement of his MVP award, Matthews said, "He deserved it. He's played like that all year."
Wigington explained: "The first half they were taking away the passing lanes. I was forcing the issue. Coach told me I had to take better shots, get into the flow."
Wigington's performance should help him flow right into a four-year school. Where? "Hopefully Division I," he said. Then he was off to cut down the net. Wigington's a hard guy to pin down on any court.
Olympic track and field star Willie Banks, who approaches the sport as both competitor and administrator, will speak at El Camino College today on "Athletics and Drugs: An Issue in Ethics." Banks will speak at 12:30 p.m. in the Campus Theatre. The free address is sponsored by the philosophy department of El Camino's Behavioral and Social Services Division.
Banks, world record holder in the triple jump and a four-year track and field All-American at UCLA, was on the 1980 and '84 U.S. Olympic teams and was named athlete of the year by the Athletics Congress, Track and Field News and the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1985.
Banks, a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee and vice president of the Athletics Congress, holds a doctorate degree from UCLA law school. He was recently named one of the top five scholar-athletes of the year by the NCAA. Banks has been called "The United States' ambassador of track and field" by Time magazine.
The West Coast Waves, featuring 10-year-old Bianca Sapetto, recently won eight first-place awards in the California State Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships and added several more in the Western Regional meet afterward. Sapetto swept the Class I children's division, winning first place in all events--rope, hoop, clubs and ribbon. She's a two-time national champion on the children's Class II and Class III levels (Class I is the highest level).
Rhythmic gymnastics, which became an Olympic event in 1984, combines gymnastics, tumbling and dancing skills with use of apparatus.
Franca Abbatiello, also 10, placed second in the hoop, rope and clubs. Lily Garcia, 12, won third place in the hoop. Christen Rush, 13, took fifth place in all-around junior Class I competition. Vanessa Vanderpluym, 12, took first place all-around in Class III as well as first in exercise without apparatus and first in ribbon.
The girls train out of Studio West on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Several of the girls also competed last week in the regional meet at Aviation High School. Sapetto won the gold medal in the Children's I Division, Abbatiello won the silver in the same division and Garcia won the bronze in the Class I junior category.
Nationals will be held next month in Indianapolis.