YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

St. Monica Coach Gives Cagers a Formula for College Success

April 21, 1988|GARY KLEIN | Times Staff Writer

One of Leo Klemm's strong suits as basketball coach at St. Monica High in Santa Monica is his ability to motivate his players.

During the recently completed NCAA basketball tournament, however, Klemm didn't have to say much to the underclassmen who will make up the Mariners' program next season.

For a demonstration in how far hard work can get you, all Klemm had to do was turn on the television where the students could see three former St. Monica stars playing key roles for tournament teams.

Freshman Brian Williams was impressive for Maryland, freshman Jason Matthews started most of the season for Pittsburgh and sophomore Earl Duncan was the first guard off the bench for Syracuse.

"It sure makes me feel good to see those guys do well," said Klemm, who has been coach at St. Monica for five years. "They do the things that are important, like playing defense and giving the ball up to the open man. It's nice to see that they have patience. They're young and not trying to create just for themselves. It takes some poise."

Duncan, a 6-2 guard who graduated from St. Monica in 1986, averaged 18.3 minutes and 6.4 points a game for Syracuse (26-9), which was eliminated from the tournament in the second round by Rhode Island.

Williams, a 6-10 center, averaged 12.5 points and 6 rebounds for Maryland (18-13), which lost in the second round to Kentucky.

Matthews, a 6-3 guard, made the All-Freshman team in the Big East Conference by averaging eight points a game for Pitt, which was eliminated in the second round by Vanderbilt.

"A lot of people talk about the quality high school programs in L.A.," Matthews said by phone from Pittsburgh. "But as many players as Crenshaw and Mater Dei put out, I'm not sure they had three players in the tournament."

Williams, who played just one season at St. Monica, was instrumental in the re-emergence of the Maryland basketball program. He was particularly impressive in the Terrapins' loss to Kentucky, scoring most of his 20 points from the low post.

"We taught Brian how to play with his back to the basket," Klemm said. "You see a lot of big kids today who want to face the basket, but they aren't able to play down low where they can use their size to their advantage. Brian showed he can do it."

Matthews also demonstrated an ability to adapt. He scored a season-high 19 points against West Virginia, but was most effective feeding the ball to the Panthers impressive front court duo of Charles Smith and Jerome Lane.

"Some of my friends were saying, 'Come on J, you gotta shoot more.' " Matthews said. "But I had the best front line in college basketball and they didn't need me to shoot."

That will probably change next season when Matthews inherits some of the scoring load. He is lifting weights in the off-season to bulk up for a Big East schedule that taxed his body this season.

"The Big East is physical and you can't relax for a minute," Matthews said. "It's not just the Georgetowns and St. Johns,' either. Seton Hall beat us twice. There are no breathers."

Matthews identified ultra-quick Vernon Mawell of Florida as the best guard he went against this season, but his most physical confrontations came against Syracuse when he was matched up against Duncan, his former back court mate at St. Monica.

"Earl wouldn't let me get the ball," Matthews said. "I don't think I caught the ball once when he was guarding me."

That would please Klemm, who spent hours working with Duncan to help him become more than a one-dimensional offensive player.

Klemm said success stories such as Duncan, Williams and Matthews make a coach's life a little bit easier. They also make the St. Monica program attractive to incoming players and help sustain enthusiasm for hard work even during the off-season.

"I don't do anything consciously in terms of interjecting something to our players about Brian, Jason or Earl," Klemm said. "But our freshmen are pretty excited because they've seen those guys on television. The kids see our system working, so it's a little easier to keep them going."

Los Angeles Times Articles