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TIMES' ALL-STAR BASKETBALL TEAMS : Wealth of Junior Talent Includes Best of Friends : Valley League Rivals Jordan, Thomas Share a Kindred Spirit

April 13, 1988|STEVE ELLING | Times Staff Writer

Snappy nicknames, of course, come with time. Over the next two or three years, selected players talented enough to compete at the major-college level will start picking up flashy names like Stilt or Sleepy, Mailman or Magic.

For Adonis Jordan and Dedan Thomas, however, their given names already have catchy, literal meaning.

According to Greek mythology, Adonis was the love interest of Aphrodite, but in more contemporary usage, an Adonis is a very handsome young man.

"I never really figured out what all that stuff was supposed to mean," said Jordan, a junior at Cleveland High who cuts a pretty rakish figure on the court. "It's just a name to me."

Dedan is an abbreviation of a Swahili word which, loosely translated, means the last warrior in the forest. Thomas' mother, Francis, came up with the name.

"I don't pay much attention to all that stuff," said Thomas, a junior at Taft. He laughed and said: "When she talks about it I just sort of nod my head and pretend I'm listening."

Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian philosopher of some renown, once said that the name of a man "is a numbing blow from which he never recovers." McLuhan must have been numb when he said it, because these two are living up to their names and then some--both have been named to The Times' All-Valley team.

Jordan and Thomas play the same position, point guard. They are the same age, 17. Both live in Canoga Park and play in the Valley League. They are the same size, 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds. And if their on-court play seems similar, there is a reason. They practice and compete in pick-up games together at gyms all over the West Valley.

"We stay on the same team and win all day," Thomas said. "I like to play with him because he can go to the point, or I can go to point and he can go to off-guard.

"I hate for him to stick me, though. He knows all my moves."

Thomas and Jordan are two of four juniors named to the 10-member All-Valley team, a collection of players who do plenty of sticking and moving. Mitchell Butler of Oakwood and Brent Lofton of El Camino Real, both juniors, also were selected.

Four juniors on the first team may sound like a disproportionate number, but there is a reason. College recruiters concede that this year's seniors are certainly a proficient bunch, but most agree that the Class of 1989 has more depth.

"From top to bottom, from point guard to center, in the Valley, Southern California and even nationwide, there is a heckuva lot of talent in this year's junior class," said Kris Jason, a UCLA assistant coach who is primarily a recruiter.

"Looking at this year's seniors, there are some great players out there. As far as quality, it's a good class. But the juniors are deep. You could sign your No. 3 or No. 4 choice and still get a very talented player."

And while recruiters are prohibited from discussing specific underclassmen, some agree that the junior class in the area is on par with any in the nation.

Mike Boyd, an assistant at Michigan who was in the Valley last week watching spring-league competition, agreed that juniors nationwide and locally offer a better selection.

"There's no question," said Boyd, who was involved last year in the signing of forward Sean Higgins of Fairfax. "Looking at the different scouting services, and what we hear from coaches, alumni and other sources, the junior class is loaded."

Boyd has seen it himself, in Southern California and across the United States, and it is no coincidence that Michigan is heavily recruiting two juniors from the area, both from the Valley League, he said.

Yet perhaps the most recruited player next fall will be Oakwood's Butler, the Southern Section Small Schools Player of the Year the past two seasons. Butler (6-5, 185) led Oakwood to its first Smalls Schools title this season and virtually made the school record book obsolete.

He averaged 32.3 points and 17 rebounds a game and scored a school-record 50 points in Oakwood's 55-47 win over Ribet Christian in the playoff quarterfinals.

In college, Butler likely will play at small forward or off-guard. While playing in summer-league games last year, Butler showed he could play with taller players--such as 6-10 Simi Valley center Don MacLean--and hold his own.

"I've seen all the juniors in Southern California," said Rich Goldberg of the American Roundball Corp., an organization that fields teams for players at the grade-school level and up. "I'd have to rate him the No. 1 player. And talking to recruiters, that's the impression they give me, too."

Butler is currently playing on an ARC team and making the transition from forward to off-guard.

"I think that's where he'll play in college," Goldberg said. "He's working on his outside shot--he hit a couple of three-pointers in a Las Vegas tournament--and he's still devastating inside. He could be the ultimate off-guard or swingman."

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