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Drawing Plenty of Attention : Geoff Probst Grows Into Player People Now Must Watch

December 25, 1987|CHRIS FOSTER | Times Staff Writer

Geoff Probst, Corona del Mar High School's senior guard, is beginning to get accustomed to the watchful eyes of high school defenders and college recruiters.

As the only returning player on Corona del Mar High School's basketball team, Probst is receiving some special attention this season.

In a game last week against Los Amigos, with time running out in the first half, Corona del Mar was working for the last shot. The Lobos were playing a defense designed to deny Probst the ball. So as the clock ticked down and the offense bogged down, Probst walked to the opposite end of the court to try to open up the offense. And the defender walked right along behind him.

"I was standing underneath the basket we were defending, and the guy was guarding me," said Probst, a 5-foot 11-inch guard. "I knew there were going to be some special defenses this year, but that really surprised me."

The attentive defenses are the result of a year of basketball, which saw Probst go from a seldom used sixth-man to a Division I recruit.

At Corona del Mar, playing time for a junior guard with no experience can be scarce. Probst found that out last season on a team dominated by senior sharpshooters Darrin Morris, Chris Hook and Markus Muller-Stach.

"At Corona del Mar, it's unusual if the starting lineup isn't all seniors," Coach Paul Orris said.

Probst watched and waited, played little and began losing confidence.

"Darrin (Morris) would get in early foul trouble, and Coach Orris would look down the bench at me, then look at the time, then ponder, then finally send me into the game," Probst said. "I started thinking that if I made a mistake, he'd pull me out."

But against Fontana in the Costa Mesa Christmas tournament, Probst had 8 points and 14 assists off the bench and made Orris take notice. The Sea Kings trailed by 20 points when he entered the game and lost by only 2.

A week later, he hit an 18-footer with 13 seconds left to beat Saddleback in the Sea View League opener.

"Geoff didn't even hesitate," Orris said. "I think that shot got his confidence back."

Probst got more playing time as the season progressed, at point guard and off-guard. When Hook was injured late in the season, Probst moved into the starting lineup and played well during the Southern Section 3-A playoffs.

He was asked to play for the Orange County team in the Slam'n Jam League by Coach Wayne Merino of Artesia High School.

"I had heard that Probst was a real scorer," Merino said. "(But) we already had a lot of scorers, and we weren't sure if he could play the off guard for us."

It didn't take long for Probst to prove his worth, but at point guard. With Adam Keefe (Woodbridge), Booby Joyce (Santa Ana) and Brian Hendrick (Diamond Bar) on the front line, he was in heaven.

"It sure was a lot of fun," he said. "I'd just dribble in, dish off and get an assist."

Said Merino: "He was very unselfish. We had the big guys that could produce inside, but we needed someone to run the show. Geoff was good at keeping us on track."

The Orange County team won the league and reached the semifinals of the Slam'n Jam Tournament at Pauley Pavilion. In the nationals, it finished second to Las Vegas, and Merino said Probst was "really starting to believe in himself."

Others started to believe, too.

College scouts who had been interested in Muller-Stach, Morris and Hook the previous season were now talking to Probst. He had become the main attraction.

"John Shumate of Notre Dame had called," Probst said. "To get a call from such a prestigious school was a real honor. Even though they recruit a lot of players, and the chances of me going there were small, it still made me happy."

Probst also was invited to participate in the Superstars Camp in Santa Barbara, where he played with some of the best high school players on the West Coast.

But, again, there was a price to be paid.

In July, Probst's play began to suffer. While trying to impress scouts, he started taking shots instead of setting them up.

"I was starting to play for myself," he said.

Probst realized that had to change after a game at UCLA.

"A recruiter from the University of San Francisco had come down to watch me play, and I saw him in the stands," he said. "I played really bad in the first half and when I looked up, the recruiter had left. That was the last time I heard from them."

Probst went back to having fun on the court, which meant passing more and playing tough defense.

But this season, Orris has asked Probst to do more, especially score.

He had 15 points in the season opener and 21 the next night.

Said Orris: "Geoff's natural instinct is to pass. That's the role he'll play in college. But we need him to help bring this team along."

It hasn't helped that other teams have been obsessed with stopping Probst. But that may play into his hands.

"If they key on me, I'll just pass off and let someone else score," he said. "If I get 10 points and 10 assists, that's 30 points for us."

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