Some of last season's top Westside high school basketball players are now playing on some the better college teams in the nation.
Jason Mathews and Brian Williams of St. Monica are at Pittsburgh and Maryland, respectively, and David Whitmore of St. Bernard plays for Georgia Tech. Danny Price of Santa Monica is at Weber State. And Crossroads' starting five are scattered across the country playing college ball.
Without these players, you might expect St. Monica, St. Bernard, Santa Monica and Crossroads to be rebuilding. Such is not the case. Basketball tradition is strong at these schools and new players replace the stars usually without any drop in success.
Crossroads will attempt to break a CIF record by reaching the Southern Section championship game for the sixth consecutive year.
Santa Monica, which won the 4-A championship last year, has made it to playoffs six consecutive years under Coach Cliff Hunter.
St. Bernard missed the playoffs for the first time in 10 years last season but looks more than ready to return to its familiar niche.
St. Monica, which lost by a point to Mater Dei in the 5-A championship game, jumped from 1-A to 5-A four years ago and is beginning to show the power it displayed against smaller teams in 1-A, despite an enrollment of only 700.
A look at the Westside's Southern Section basketball teams in alphabetical order:
Bel-Air Prep--"You caught me at a bad time," said Coach Mike Whitting as he picked up the phone and was asked about his team. "Two of our starters moved and a third sprained his ankle.
"But we are not going to cry over the losses. We are going to try to find ourselves before league."
Bel-Air finished 16-8 last season and qualified for the CIF playoffs in its first year in the 1-A Division after winning the Small Schools Division two years ago. Whitting lost three starters including all-CIF Derrick Thorton, who averaged 13 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists per game. The only experienced varsity player is two-year starter Sean Lewis at forward. Lettermen who will be counted on heavily are Billy Treazas, Jason Plozala, Zaid Alhaim and Adam Clayton.
Beverly Hills--Last season's biggest weakness will be this season's strength: experience.
The Normans return four starters, including left-hander Chris Plummer who hit over 50% of his three-point shots and scored more than 30 points several times in summer league games.
Plummer is joined in back court by point guard Derrik Patton, a flashy 6-0 senior who averaged 10 points last year and will lead an up-tempo offense.
Willie Crawford and Monroe Gordon, both 6-1, are back at forward while 5-10 senior Scott Turner will be the center.
"We've got the best athletes we've ever had," said Coach Jack Dyck. Beverly Hills finished 13-11, 5-5 in the tough Ocean League. "Our only fear is that we won't get a rebound for six to eight minutes because we don't have a big stud in the middle." Without the stud, Dyck will rely on the muscular, 215-pound Crawford--an all-league tailback in football--for rebounds and leadership.
"He's not a rah-sis-boom-bah leader on the court," Dyck said. "But he'll slap a teammate on the head if he needs to be waked up."
Brentwood--Coaches always grumble and mumble that basketball is a contact sport and their players don't play physical enough. But Brentwood Coach Bob Ingram has anything but that complaint.
"There's a lot of fists flying in practice," said Ingram, whose team finished third in the Delphic League last year. "Aggressiveness is something I welcome. I don't promote dirty play. Just aggressiveness."
Ingram, who doesn't go to his bench much, said the aggressiveness is the result of younger players fighting for playing time. The competition is so keen, he said, that nine players will play regularly. The youth should mix well with four returning starters, including guard Mike Victor (6-0) and forward Jeremy Lappen (6-2), both all-league players who averaged in double figures. Center Mark Milstein (6-3) and guard Brian Good (5-10) also return to the starting lineup.
Crossroads--Crossroads won the state Division III title last year. One more and they'll have a CIF record. Yet, second-year Coach Dave Benezra speaks of elevating the program--and he is.
The Roadrunners will go national Dec. 16-22, traveling by plane to Louisville, Ky., to play in one of the top five prep tournaments in the nation.
"All the best schools from Kentucky will be there," Benezra said. "And you know basketball is a religion there."
For a school with an enrollment of only 500, Crossroads takes basketball pretty seriously itself. All of last season's starters are now playing at the college level, three in Division I.
The player missed most is 6-8 shot blocker David Wolfe (BYU). However, straight from the hospital is Rudy Henry, a 6-8 and 215-pound junior coming off knee surgery for the second consecutive year. His development could be the key to the season.