Aviaries filled with chirping parakeets surround the main quad at Serra High School. It's a peaceful setting in which peacocks mill about the lawn and trees while students gather during class breaks and lunch.
James Moses sat on a bench one day last week, surveyed the scene and played ornithologist as he talked about his own qualities.
"On the basketball court, I'm a hawk," Moses said. "A hawk looks, he watches his prey's moves and he studies it before he grasps at it. That's how I play. That's what I do."
Actually, what Moses does better than just about anybody at the high school level is shoot.
Moses feels comfortable winging it from anywhere inside of 26 feet. Last season, the 6-6 senior shot 58% and averaged 28 points a game.
"James will be putting the ball in the basket until the day he dies," Alemany Coach Joe Anlauf said.
Moses, who recently signed a letter of intent with Iowa, talks earnestly about the improved strength, defense and rebounding he plans to unveil this season.
His big brown eyes, however, say something different. When the topic of conversation is offense, Moses' eyes seem to glow. His smile comes as effortlessly as his 20-foot jumper.
'I can't lie," Moses said. "I like to shoot the ball."
Moses, who wears a gold bracelet with an inset bearing his nickname, J-Mo, said an off-season weight-lifting program has increased his range and improved his inside game. That's bad news for opponents who have found him almost impossible to contain.
"He's phenomenal and unstoppable offensively," said Bishop Amat Coach Alex Acosta. "He's the best shooting guard in California. I honestly think he's as good a high school player as you'll find."
That was the prevailing opinion during Moses' first three years in high school when his name appeared regularly in preseason basketball publications that listed him among the top 10 in his class nationally.
This year, however, several national scouting services and publications that choose preseason All-American teams deemed Moses worthy of top 100 status, but stopped short of placing him among the nation's upper echelon.
For most high school basketball players, top 100 recognition would be considered a terrific accomplishment.
But Moses was irked by the snubbing and the implication that his game had either slipped or been surpassed by others. He said his own beliefs were affirmed after he participated with other top high school players last summer at the Nike basketball camp in Princeton, N.J.
"I respect other people's opinions, but when I see players that I know I'm better than, I tend to wonder if the guys who make the ratings are really watching the game," Moses said. "I saw guys at Nike who were underrated and should have been among the top 10."
This season, Moses is out to prove he belongs among the country's elite. Like Father Junipero Serra for whom his school was named, Moses said he is embarking on a mission.
"I think some of those people who rated me below what I am need to know I'm a lot better," said Moses, who has muscled up from a slender 180 pounds to 202. "I used to just shoot and run down the court. I want to show some of those people who haven't seen me play in awhile that I can play defense and rebound."
Moses began to attract national attention during his freshman year, when he averaged 17 points a game for Alemany High.
Alemany, a parochial school in Mission Hills, is located 40 miles from Moses' home in Carson. Moses rode to school each day with an Alemany assistant who lived in Long Beach, but his parents decided their oldest son was spending too much time on the road and wanted him to attend school closer to home.
Moses chose Serra over Carson, Banning and Verbum Dei and averaged 26 points a game his sophomore year. He teamed with senior Keith Malone to help lead Serra to the Southern Section 5-A championship game, which the Cavaliers lost to Mater Dei.
Last season, Moses was one of the lone bright spots on a Cavalier team that finished 10-13 overall and just 5-5 in the Camino Real League.
He visited Florida State, Nevada Las Vegas, Iowa, Arizona and Louisiana State before the self-described hawk decided to become a Hawkeye.
"It came down to Arizona, Iowa and LSU all neck-and-neck," Moses said. "My parents and I talked about the pros and cons of all the schools and everything kept coming up Iowa."
Moses chuckled when asked to compare Southern California to Iowa City, but he's looking forward to studying communications, playing in an area where the university is the only game in town and competing in the Big Ten conference.
"The Big Ten is prime time," Moses said. "Every game is like a championship game. You're playing against top teams like Michigan, Indiana and Illinois and top coaches like Bobby Knight."
Moses, who grew up watching and dreaming about playing for UCLA, said his initial desire was to stay on the West Coast and prove to people that basketball here is good or better than the East or Midwest.