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These Four Freshmen Have the Coaches Singing Their Praises

January 03, 1991|MITCH POLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You can call them the Four Freshmen.

Or perhaps the Fabulous Four.

But whatever you call them, the freshmen foursome of Cameron Murray of Glendora High, Toby Bailey of Loyola, Alex Lopez of Campbell Hall and Jelani Gardner of Bishop Amat are already making a major impact at the varsity level.

Murray, Bailey and Gardner are leading their teams in scoring and Lopez is among the top scorers and rebounders for Campbell Hall. Murray averages 23 points, Bailey 20, Gardner 18 and Lopez 14 points and eight rebounds.

Not exactly typical figures for freshmen, especially when you consider that they are still only 14 years old.

But Rich Goldberg, president of the American Roundball Corp. youth basketball program, says they are anything but typical freshmen. All four have been starters on the same youth team in the ARC program.

"That's a very special group," Goldberg said. "They've been together since the fifth grade and now they've come into high school at the same time and have just made an immediate impact.

"Right now they're the best freshmen in Southern California. By the time they're juniors they'll be the best players in Southern California."

Murray and Lopez have played on the same youth team since the fifth grade and Bailey and Gardner have competed for the squad the past two seasons. As a group, they led their youth team to the national Amateur Athletic Union title in the 12-year-old division in Seattle two summers ago and a third-place finish in the National AAU Championships for 14-year-olds in New Orleans last summer.

So it is not a surprise to see the quartet having immediate success for the high school teams.

"It was not at all unexpected," Goldberg said. "Last year as all-stars they were playing against high school varsity players and beating them. We're not surprised about (their success) but it's neat because we anticipated them doing this and they've been able to fulfill all of the expectations."

The most experienced of the four is Murray, a 6-foot guard whose brother was the all-time CIF Southern Section single season and career scoring leader and stars as a sophomore forward at UCLA.

"Cameron has been with us the longest," Goldberg said. "He's been with us since the third grade."

Glendora Coach Mike LeDuc said he is not surprised with the play of Murray, who also ranks among his team's leaders in three-point baskets, assists, steals and rebounds.

"I expected him to get off to this good of a start because of the background he has," LeDuc said.

In fact, LeDuc said Murray is as polished a freshman as you could find.

"I think he's just exceptional," LeDuc said. "I think you'd have to look really hard to find anyone better at his age group."

He said Murray excels in all aspects of the game.

"I think he just handles the ball so well and he sees the floor very well," Murray said. "That is his strength. But when you look at Cameron, he doesn't have a part of his game that is a weakness. He doesn't have a weakness that jumps out at you other than a weakness that any freshman might have."

LeDuc attributes Murray's rapid success to his experience before arriving at Glendora and that he has been close to his older brother.

"I think he's benefited a lot from Tracy and anyone who's had the opportunity to be around a player like Tracy--and he's been around him as much as anyone could," LeDuc said.

Although there are high expectations for Cameron, the coach said they have not come from the coaches or school.

"I think the expectations are a lot of what others have placed on him," he said. "For us, we just want him to improve and keep working to get better. As far as Glendora goes, we're not putting any pressure on him at all."

The expectations have also followed Lopez throughout his career, partly because he was always the tallest player on his youth squads and is 6-10 as a freshman.

Coach Joe Jackson of Campbell Hall said it is important to place the size and ability of Lopez in perspective.

"A lot of people look at Alex as being 6-10 and say he should just dominate at this level," Jackson said. "But you have to remember he's in high school now and it's a new level and there's a lot he has to learn. He has a (NCAA) Division I body but he's a long way away from Division I skills."

Lopez is one of the top all-around players for Campbell Hall, a Southern Section 1-A Division school with only 265 students. But Jackson said there are a lot of moments when he plays like a freshman.

"As far as his skills go, I'd say he's about a freshman," Jackson said. "He does make a lot of good plays but he also makes a lot of freshman mistakes. There are times when you can say, 'I can't wait until he's a sophomore or a junior' because he's playing so well and then there are times when you can say, 'Yeah, he's a freshman.' "

But Jackson said he thinks Lopez will eventually develop into an outstanding player because of his desire to learn and improve.

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