St. Bernard forward Juno Armstrong, the Vikings' captain and the first 3-year varsity starter at the school since 1983, may be sidelined for the rest of the basketball season because of a mysterious ailment.
Coach Jim McClune said Armstrong is suffering from a virus that has struck his central nervous system, forcing him to walk with a cane. The 6-4 senior has not played since the championship game of the Beverly Hills Tournament on Dec. 17.
"He lost feeling in his legs," McClune said. "I originally thought it was an ankle problem, but it turns out nobody knows what it is. The doctors have a list of possibilities. Some of the possibilities are terrifying."
McClune said it remains to be seen whether Armstrong, averaging 16 points a game, will play again this season. St. Bernard is one of the area's best teams and the Camino Real League title favorite.
Despite the ailment, which forced him to spend Christmas Eve in the hospital, Armstrong is attending school this week and was on the bench Wednesday night when the Vikings opened league play against Serra.
"He's an assistant coach for now," McClune said.
Martin Smith, a 6-4 junior, and 6-3 senior Chuck Foreman will fill in for Armstrong.
Despite Armstrong's absence, St. Bernard played well in the Valley High Tournament in Las Vegas, winning four of five games to bring an 11-2 record into Wednesday night's league opener.
"The other four starters picked up their games," McClune said. "And the backups are good players."
The Vikings have received outstanding play from 6-11 center Ed Stokes, who is averaging 24 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocked shots a game and is shooting 67% from the floor and 70% from the foul line. He was named all-tournament at Valley and Pacific Shores and was MVP at Beverly Hills.
In perhaps his best outing, Stokes scored 29 points in little more than three quarters to upstage Artesia's highly regarded 6-8 Ed O'Bannon and lead St. Bernard to an 86-57 win in the Valley tournament.
"He's been tearing people up," McClune said. "He's been playing very physically and very hard. Like everybody's been saying about him for 3 years, he has a lot of potential."
However, because of rapid growth and injuries, Stokes never realized that potential until this season. What's made the difference?
McClune says the fact that Stokes signed early with Arizona may have alleviated some pressure. That, plus the senior's physical maturing.
Stokes' female counterpart in the South Bay is Morningside center Lisa Leslie, a 6-5 junior whom some consider the most dominating girls basketball player in Southern California.
You won't get arguments concerning that opinion from Lady Monarchs Coach Frank Scott. He says Leslie is everything she's cracked up to be.
"She's almost unstoppable," Scott said. "People at the Santa Barbara Tournament said she has to be one of the best players in the nation."
Leslie's numbers back up that contention. She is averaging 32 points, 14 rebounds and 6 blocked shots a game and has led the Lady Monarchs into the finals of three tournaments--Morningside, Oakland Miramonte and Santa Barbara. Morningside is 11-1 and ranked No. 1 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports.
Not surprisingly, Scott said he was besieged by college scouts interested in Leslie at the Santa Barbara Tournament 2 weeks ago.
"(Leslie) is all I'd talk about as soon as I walked in the gym," he said. "College scouts would give me notes to give to her. There were a lot of them there, from USC, Stanford, Auburn, Tennessee, Kansas, San Jose State, UNLV, Cal, and that's just a few of them."
Morningside's other hot prospect is guard Jo Jo Witherspoon. The 5-8 senior has taken recruiting trips to Kansas, Florida International, San Jose State and Arizona. She will visit Tennessee this month.
Morningside's girls extended their league winning streak to 59 games by beating North Torrance in an Ocean League opener.
If the Lady Monarchs go unbeaten again this season, winning their 14 league games, they will move into third place on the all-time Southern Section list with 72 consecutive league wins.
Riverside Poly holds the record with 97 straight in 1978-85 and San Gabriel is second with 80 in 1979-86.
Scott is confident Morningside can ring up another unbeaten league season.
"I don't want to make the league coaches mad at me," he said, "but I don't see any (Ocean League) team beating us."
It wasn't just a 78-74 loss to Cantwell in a Santa Fe League opener that pained El Segundo basketball Coach Rick Sabosky on Tuesday night.
Sabosky was also in physical pain, the result of tearing a calf muscle playing basketball 2 weeks ago. The injury took on complications this week when his foot began swelling because of a circulation problem.
"When I put my foot down, it swells," he said. "I have to keep it elevated. I was planning to go back to school this week, but every time I put my foot down it swells."
Sabosky is staying at home this week, leaving only to attend practices and games.