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Lord of the Hoops : Prep basketball: Veteran guard leads La Canada to its fourth consecutive Rio Hondo League championship.

February 21, 1991|GARY KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jeff Lord loves Chinese food.

That appetite alone was reason enough for Lord to join a basketball-playing contingent last summer for a trip to Shanghai, China.

The team, made up of high school players from Southern California, played four games in 10 days, winning every game easily.

Lord, a senior at La Canada High, has fond memories of the sights, the sounds and the people of Shanghai.

But the food . . .

"I love egg rolls, but I don't think the people in China have ever heard of them," Lord said. "I guess that's something Americans made up.

"We tried raw fish and ate a lot of other things. I lost 10 pounds, which, for me, is like 50 for someone else."

Indeed, the bone-thin, 6-foot-4 Lord could hardly afford the drop in weight, which he regained during the fall.

If you look at 175-pound Lord now, there's no sign that he lost anything. He still has the great outside shot that earned him All-Southern Section honors last season and helped La Canada win a share of its fourth consecutive Rio Hondo League championship two weeks ago.

But if you look at the individual statistics of the Spartan players, it's obvious something is missing from Lord's game this season.

Points. Six of them a game.

Last season, Lord averaged 23 points for a Spartan team that lost in the quarterfinals of the Southern Section 3-A Division playoffs. This season, Lord is averaging 17 points for the Spartans, who played Azusa in a second-round playoff game Tuesday night at Azusa.

In Lord's case, however, less seems to be worth more.

La Canada, which defeated Santa Ana Century, 63-33, and Azusa, 57-39 in the first two rounds of the playoffs, has five players averaging more than 10 points a game.

Sophomore center Richard Mandeville averages 15 points, senior forwards Jeff Burns and Sean Whiting average 11 and 10 points, respectively, and senior point guard Jason Berns averages 10 points and eight assists.

"I have a chance to be more of a team player this year," Lord said. "Last year, I went into games thinking I had to score. This year--I never thought I would say this--it's a lot more fun doing the other parts of the game.

"I always thought scoring was the only thing. But I'm having a lot more fun this year just watching people do well."

Those who watched Lord develop during his career at La Canada have seen a player that has improved a facet of his game each year.

When he arrived at La Canada as a freshman, Lord was still making the transition from center to guard.

Throughout grammar school, Lord was the one of the tallest players on his teams.

"I was always the center," he recalled. "I couldn't even shoot outside the key."

In eighth grade, Lord was selected to play for a traveling team that included players from all over Southern California. His new teammates towered over him, forcing Lord to switch to guard.

"I learned to dribble and shoot outside that year," Lord said. "When I got to high school, it was obvious what my position was going to be."

Lord played about six games with the varsity his freshman year and spent the rest of the season honing his outside shot with the junior varsity.

As a sophomore, he played the entire season with the varsity. He split time at point guard and off guard and averaged 10 points.

Last season, Lord and senior center Louie Nieto were the key players for the Spartans, who finished 19-7 after losing to eventual 3-A champion Dos Pueblos in the quarterfinals of the playoffs.

Lord got off to a quick start this season. He averaged 23 points and was named most valuable player of the Saugus tournament before he was slowed with the flu and a sprained ankle.

In retrospect, it might have been the best thing that could have happened to the Spartans.

"The other guys picked up the slack when Jeff was injured," La Canada Coach Tom Hofman said. "Because of their development, we didn't need Jeff to score as much, which was better for the team."

Said Lord: "Last year, (opponents) would have hurt us if they shut me down. This year, I can score nine points and we'll win by 50. Or I can score 30 points and we still find a way to win. It doesn't matter what they do to me because we other guys that can do the job."

Lord has always dreamed of playing for Brigham Young, but he believes the chances of continuing his career are better at smaller Division I or Division II schools.

San Francisco, Weber State and Southern Utah have contacted Lord, who, Hofman says, only needs to improve his aggressiveness to succeed in college.

"He's a real finesse player right now, a real offensive player," Hofman said. "He's such a nice kid, he needs to develop a meanness. That will be the determining factor at the next level because the natural skills are already there."

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