Jerry Marvin, veteran Palisades High School boys basketball coach, says that every college scout he talks to tells him that the City's 4-A Central League has four of the top 10 teams in the country.
Unfortunately, they also tell him that his team is not one of them. The four are Crenshaw, Dorsey, Westchester and either Fremont or Washington, depending on which scout you talk to.
"We could be last in the league, and this could be one of the best teams I've every had," Marvin said in frustration.
Many observers feel that Crenshaw is the best team in that league and has a good chance of winning its fourth state championship. But several other City teams outside the Central League could thwart Coach Willie West's Cougars, including Manual Arts of the Marine League and Valley 4-A League powers Cleveland and Fairfax, defending 4-A City champion.
No matter which team wins the 4-A City title and goes on to the Division I Regional playoffs, the odds are good that it will be a squad from the Westside, which should enjoy some of the best prep basketball ever seen in this area.
A look at each of this year's Westside City teams follows.
Coach West has three returning starters from last year's team, which had an "off" year, winning the Central League title as usual but failing to win a 10th City championship for West. The Cougars finished 19-5 overall, 9-1 in league, and were eliminated in the semifinals of the playoffs by Cleveland.
The three, all seniors, are 6-7 center Cornelius Holden, 6-6 forward Doug Meekins and 6-4 forward John Staggers. Holden and Meekins signed early letters of intent, Holden with Louisville and Meekins with Washington. Ronnie Winbush, a 6-5 senior, will be a backup in the front court.
Charlie Hill, a 6-2 senior, will start at guard, and three other seniors are vying for the other guard's spots: David Hollaway, a 6-2 3/4 transfer from Westchester; 6-1 Damon Hill and 5-11 Jalal Abdul Rahman, whose father is UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard.
West is not quite as optimistic about his team as the other league coaches, but he knows he has a good one. "We're contemplating some good things, but a lot of things have to jell," he said, adding:
"Right now things are not the way I like them, but, hopefully, they will be by the team of league play. We have talent, but we just have to get everything synchronized, get everyone playing as one with the same goal."
Coach Dave Gordon has both starting guards back, 6-3 Marcus Nash and 6-1 Anthony Thomas, both seniors. He also has a lot of other veterans who saw quite a bit of action for the Dons, who finished 16-6 overall, 7-3 in Central League play and were eliminated in the City semifinals by Fairfax.
Experienced players include 6-5 senior forward Chris Brooks, a part-time starter last season; 6-4 senior center Steve Turner, 6-3 senior forward Derek Magee and 6-5 senior backup center Dimario Sykes.
Varsity newcomers include 6-5 forward-center Chris Mims, who will get a late start after playing football; 6-4 sophomore forward Tony Booten and seniors Carlos Johnson, a 6-3 forward, and Kevin Courteney, a 5-10 guard.
Gordon said that, even though the league is strong, "we should be very competitive.
"If we put everything together, I think we can be right there. We need to play team ball and work hard on defense."
Coach Harvey Kitani could make good use of forwards Sean Higgins and J. D. Greene, but Higgins is a freshman at Michigan and Green at Southern Methodist.
He will have to make better use, if that is possible, of 6-7 center-forward Chris Mills, last season's 4-A City player of the year. In 19 regular-season games, Mills averaged 25.8 points and 12.5 rebounds. Fairfax finished the year at 26-1, losing only to the eventual state champion, Mater Dei of Santa Ana, in the finals of the Southern California Division I Regional playoffs.
Mills will get help in the front court from 6-7 senior Ilan Levy-Meyer, an immigrant from Israel, and from 6-2 senior point guard Andre Durity. Kitani said that Levy-Meyer "is coming along very well and might be our best outside shooter." Durity, who signed an early letter of intent with St. Mary's of Moraga, averaged 6.5 points and 5.3 assists last season.
Fighting for center are former junior varsity players Norman Francis, a 6-5 junior, and Chris Dane, a 6-7 senior. The other starting guard probably will be 6-0 senior Jamie Hamilton, also up from the jayvees.
Kitani said the teams to beat in 4-A competition include Crenshaw, Cleveland, Manual Arts and Westchester. "I'd like to think we're the other team that has a chance."
When Hamilton was designated as a magnet school in music it was good for the school as a whole. But when Louis Pasteur Junior High, which provided Hamilton with good basketball players, was closed, it was not good for the Yankee basketball team.
"We should have a heckuva pep band at our games," said Coach Dave Uyeshima, adding, however, that he has had no luck in finding a 6-9 flutist who also plays basketball.