At community college, many basketball players find themselves at a crossroads.
Those high school players who couldn't jump quite high enough, run fast enough or shoot well enough to play at a major university see this as a time to prolong a dream that may very well die in two years.
For others, it is a time to polish grades, perfect skills, and pick a university that has a shot at partying during "March Madness."
Either way, community college can be as educational for a basketball player as any development league or mini-camp, because reality becomes the coach.
This season, East L.A.'s Isaac Burton and John Mosley, L.A. Trade Tech's Eric Fuller, L.A. City's Kevin Griffis, and L.A. Southwest's Nicholas Braggs, are hopeful that their performances will bring the bigger college coaches calling.
For Coach Mike Miller the operative word is new. He holds a new position (head coach of men's basketball) at a new school for him (L.A. City) with all new players (no returning members).
However there is one old habit that Miller brings with him: winning.
At Ribet Academy High School, Miller's boys' team went 26-3 and was the 1990 Southern Section Small Schools Division champions. The next season his team had a 32-2 record and won the Southern Section Division V-A and the State Division V titles.
"We are setting high goals this season, so there is going to be frustration," Miller said.
This season, Miller is banking on contributions from sophomores Ed Forney, a 6-foot-5 forward who played under Miller last season at Cal State San Bernadino and averaged five points and four rebounds a game; Kevin Griffis, a University of New Orleans transfer who didn't receive much playing time; and Steven King, who attended L.A. City last year but didn't play.
Twenty-one points, four assists, six rebounds, and six steals are the numbers East L.A. star Isaac Burton averaged his first 10 games last season.
In the 11th game, Burton broke two bones between his wrist and elbow and Coach George Callines witnessed his team's 7-3 record start south, finishing at 13-18.
But Burton, a 6-foot-4 guard, is back. "He's quick, an outstanding shooter and has great instincts defensively," Callines said.
Incoming 5-foot-10 freshman Danny Barajas, who averaged 16 points, 10 assists, and four steals as a point guard for Schurr High, is one of the team's best shooters.
Sophomore John Mosley, a 5-foot-11 point guard, led the state in assists (279) and was third in assists (nine) among community college players.
Callines also hopes to get a sizable contribution from 6-foot-8 freshman David Ng, who averaged 16 points and eight rebounds at Bishop Amat.
"We have an outstanding chance to challenge for league title," Callines said.
L.A. Trade Techfinished an impressive 1991-92 season at 19-14, with a one-point loss in the last three seconds of the State Regionals to Cerritos, the eventual 1992 State Community College champions.
Trade Tech will have four returnees: Eric Fuller, Ryan Mack, Larry Blue and Bertran Usher.
Fuller, a 6-foot-2 all-conference point guard, is the team leader and is described by Coach Ollie Jones as "the type of player that makes the rest of his teammates better players."
Joe Weakly, in his second year as L.A. Southwest coach, is betting on the emergence of two high school hotshots. Brandon Lee, a 6-foot-6 forward from Glendora High, and former Locke standout Maurice Stillers, a 6-foot-5 guard, will give the L.A. Southwest lineup the one-two scoring punch it lacked last season (8-17).