LA PALMA — By his own admission, Jermaine Galloway was an uncoordinated child.
That's not to say he was a geek whose wardrobe looked like something out of Pee-wee Herman's closet. Galloway's problem back then had more to do with being a lanky kid trying to play sports in a body bent on reaching its current 6-foot-9 height too fast.
"I played soccer and baseball but I wasn't good," Galloway said. "My coordination wasn't good. . . . About the eighth grade I just stuck to basketball."
Kennedy High School Coach John Mayberry, for one, is glad he did. With Galloway leading the way at center, the Fighting Irish head into Wednesday's game at Los Amigos on top of the Garden Grove League. Kennedy tied with Rancho Alamitos for the league title last season, Galloway's first on the team as a sophomore.
Galloway has led Kennedy in scoring in 21 of its 22 games this season and is averaging 24 points and 11 rebounds. He got a career-high 35 points against Mission Viejo in the Irvine Tournament in December. And he probably could have scored more points in some games if it weren't for his unselfishness.
"He's passing very well, sometimes too much," Mayberry said. "I want the ball in his hands at crunch time."
Trouble is, every opponent has figured out that strategy, so they try to double- and even triple-team Galloway. Which is something he sees as more of a nuisance than an effective deterrent.
"I know I'll get doubled (teamed) every game," Galloway said. "But if they keep it up, I just find the open man. If they want to win, eventually they have to cover the open man."
Not many players--particularly in the Garden Grove League--can guard Galloway straight up. It was an unenviable assignment last year when Galloway was a mere 6-7, and it has become a darn near impossibility this season after he grew two inches over the summer.
"Just his size alone makes him a factor in the game because nobody else (in the league) has anybody close to him," said Jim Perry, La Quinta coach. "You have to go back to Clayton Olivier (Los Amigos) and Johnny Rogers (La Quinta) to find a similar big-time dominating player."
While stretching his 195-pound frame during the summer, Galloway also was refining his skills in a Slam-N-Jam league at Cerritos College. His teammates there included Loara's Tes Whitlock, Mater Dei's Reggie Geary, Whittier Christian's Ruben Oronoz and, for a couple of games, Marina's Cherokee Parks.
A player hanging around that group could get better almost by osmosis, but Galloway has followed more conventional routes to improve his game. With the help of Mayberry, he has been sharpening a hook shot that could make him practically unstoppable next year. It's one of the legacies Mayberry hopes to give Galloway.
"I want him to go out of here and say, 'I learned some skills,' " Mayberry said.
Galloway has no problem with that, especially since he has grown to like the shot.
"They (opposing players) try to block it, but nobody's gotten it yet," Galloway said. "It's an easy shot in the middle (of the key), but it gets a little tough in the baselines. It takes practice. You can't just walk out there and shoot it."
Perfecting the hook might help solidify his already valuable stock with recruiters from USC, Arizona, Nevada Las Vegas, California, Colorado, Brigham Young, Syracuse and Cal State Long Beach, all of which already are jockeying for inside position with the junior.
But those seriously interested in landing Galloway, who wants to major in business or law enforcement, should take down the following prerequisite:
"I want to go to a college that gets its fans out to the games," Galloway said. "I like it when the crowd gets going and people are yelling. That's what I like about our school. They are fully behind us."
So are his parents, James--the Kennedy booster club president--and Delores, who Galloway said attend all his games. His 6-6 brother, Kenny, a former Cerritos College player, and girlfriend Brandy Thiele, a softball player at Savanna, also show up. Two other brothers are in colleges in Texas.
"My dad stands right under the basket at all the home games. He's making suggestions to the referees," Galloway said laughing. "My mom's more mellow."
That's one personality trait Galloway apparently inherited from his mother. Though invigorated by vociferous crowds, Galloway prefers a subdued demeanor on and off the court. He converses quietly while sitting in the coaches' office at Kennedy, occasionally resting his chin on a hand whose long fingers reach up to the glasses he wears during classes because of a slight myopia.
"He's a very shy young man. He's a courteous, quiet young man," said Mayberry, who has been involved with the National Junior Basketball program for years and who has known Galloway since the player toiled at that level in the early '80s. "Another thing I enjoy about him is that he's part of the team."