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It's Testing Time for Prep Cage Powers : St. Monica and Westchester Face Classy Teams in the L.A. Games

June 15, 1989|RAY RIPTON | Times Staff Writer

Leo Klemm, St. Monica High School basketball coach, thinks the seedings for cage teams in the 22nd annual Los Angeles Games are about right, but Westchester Coach Ed Azzam thinks the power ratings are wildly inaccurate about his team.

St. Monica, one of the best 5-AA teams in the CIF-Southern Section last season, is seeded sixth, and Westchester, a City 4-A power in 1988-89, is the seventh seed in the cage competition, which gets under way Saturday at nine locations.

Westchester was a power last year, but its gas tank may be nearly empty in 1989-90. The Comets were a senior-laden team last season, fueled by All-American forward Zan Mason and All-City point guard Sam Crawford.

Last year the Comets won the L.A. Games championship, defeating Cleveland, 77-75, in the final--but that was last year. "If we win it this year," said Azzam, "I'll probably be the greatest coach in the history of basketball."

St. Monica probably has a better chance of winning the games than Westchester, but Klemm said he has no quarrel with this year's seedings. That could be because he doesn't want to make the higher-seeded squads mad at his Mariners and give them more incentive.

Seeded ahead of St. Monica and Westchester are No. 1 Manual Arts, defending 4-A City champion and 1988 Division I state titlist; No. 2 Santa Ana Saddleback, No. 3 Santa Ana Mater Dei, No. 4 Cleveland and No. 5 Loyola.

Klemm, whose team lost in the 5-AA CIF semifinals to eventual champion Long Beach Millikan, could give the higher seeds a run for their money. He has four starters returning and may have more depth than on any of his other squads. He expects to be "eight or nine players deep."

If that happens, it would give him more bench strength than past St. Monica teams that included current college players Earl Duncan, Jason Matthews, Jason Joe and Brian Williams. Duncan started at Syracuse and transferred to Rutgers. Matthews is at Pittsburgh, Joe plays for Weber State, and Williams played his freshman year at Maryland and transferred to Arizona.

The returning Mariner starters, who will be seniors in the fall, may not be as talented as that quartet, but they're not far from it. They include 6-5 forward Cleveland Jackson, 6-6 center John McFarland, 6-4 forward Mark Johnson and 6-3 guard-forward Craig Martin.

Jackson, a Times All-Westside selection last year, averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds a game last season. McFarland, who received All-Westside honorable mention, averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds. Johnson averaged 12 points.

Austin McKellar, a 6-footer who played some quality minutes as a freshman last season, should be the regular point guard next season, taking over from All-Westside senior Chris Cotton. His backup will be 5-9 sophomore Mike Avery. Another strong player at the off-guard spot will be 6-0 junior Renaldi Thruston, who is coming off a fine junior varsity year.

If that's not deep enough for you, Klemm adds that he will also have good incoming freshmen and sophomores season.

Azzam's squad will be shallow, however, and his starters will be comparatively short--all having played guard at one time or another and all 6-1 or under.

Azzam said that his only returning starter, 6-1 junior Michael Mitchell "will play all over" and that the other regulars should be juniors Damian Wilson (6-0), Mike Mulligan (6-1) and Kelley Robinson (5-8) and sophomore Terrence Black (5-10). All have skills, he said, and all "are pretty good athletes. They're just not very big."

Westchester's biggest man, 6-8 sophomore LeRoy O'Brien "is just not ready yet," Azzam said. "We've got some other kids who are coming around, and we'll be good--but not by June 17."

On Saturday, St. Monica will open against Centennial at noon at Dorsey High School, and Westchester will face Palos Verdes at 10 a.m. at Banning High.

Other Saturday openers:

At Banning--Culver City-Banning, 9 a.m.

At Jordan High--Fairfax-Loyola, 10 a.m.; Bel-Air Prep-Washington, 11 a.m.; University-Gahr, 1 p.m.

At Fremont High--Santa Monica-Western, 11 a.m.

At Hamilton--Blair-Hamilton, 9 a.m.; Palisades-Chaffey, noon.

At El Camino College--Venice-Moreno Valley, noon.

At Crenshaw High--Crossroads-Narbonne, 10 a.m.; St. Bernard-Reseda, 11 a.m.

Second- and third-round games will be played Sunday and fourth-round games on June 24 at all locations. The championship game is at 3 p.m. June 25 at El Camino. Admission is free to all games.

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