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Basketball Stars Offer Contrasts

April 28, 1993|ERIC SHEPARD

Jacque Vaughn of Pasadena Muir High and Charles O'Bannon of Lakewood Artesia are regarded as the top two senior basketball players in Southern California.

Recruiters from many major college programs across the country tried to sign them. Vaughn, a 6-foot-3 guard, made his decision to attend Kansas last fall and signed in November. O'Bannon, a 6-6 forward, waited until after the season to make his selection. He has with UCLA.

When Vaughn selected Kansas, he called a local newspaper reporter with the information. Then he went to practice to work on his goal of leading Muir to a Southern Section championship.

O'Bannon's announcement last Friday was broadcast live on a Long Beach cable television station and simulcast on radio. Attending the well-planned news conference were about 25 newspaper, television and radio reporters.

The circumstances surrounding the two signings were different as well. Vaughn made his decision during the middle of football season and was not considering any local schools. O'Bannon chose between Kentucky and UCLA, and his older brother, Ed, is a starting forward at UCLA.

Last Thursday, O'Bannon was surrounded by a dozen reporters at Artesia's annual basketball banquet. Everyone wanted to know where he was going to college. After he and his date settled down to dinner, Kentucky Coach Rick Pitino addressed a crowd of 300. Pitino visited the O'Bannon's home earlier that day to make one last recruiting pitch.

When O'Bannon finally decided on UCLA early Friday morning, he stayed home from school to rest before the evening's news conference.

When he and his brother arrived at the television station, Artesia Coach Wayne Merino motioned for them to enter through a back door. The O'Bannon family was then privately briefed about the news conference and told how to handle questions from the media.

When the cameras began rolling, O'Bannon read from a written statement, flanked on stage by his parents and Merino. The 30-minute conference included call-in questions from viewers.

O'Bannon said he was relieved to finally select a school, but added that he enjoyed the recruiting process and would not have changed a thing.

Many reporters were also relieved O'Bannon had reached a decision, and some wondered why an 18-year-old high school athlete would call a news conference to announce his decision.

Considering O'Bannon has not proved anything beyond the high school level, isn't utilizing the media taking things a bit far?

It was O'Bannon's decision to wait until the spring to sign a letter of intent. He knew by not signing in the fall that he would be under great pressure from recruiters all season. He responded by leading Artesia to the State Division II title.

But the banquet, attended by several college coaches and open to the public for $22 a ticket, was planned by Merino. Merino also orchestrated the news conference.

"A program should speak for itself," said Rocky Moore, who coached Vaughn at Muir. "When you have to showcase what you have, that's not right. Don't showcase high school kids. They're kids and should be treated as such.

"Jacque Vaughn was considered to be one of the top five players in the country, and I could have showcased him if I had wanted to. I could have called every reporter in town when he reached his college decision. I could have built it up by saying he was leaning toward a West Coast school. But that's not what high school sports is all about. That kind of attention should be saved for college or the pros."

Merino is experienced at showcasing talent. Ed O'Bannon, who led Artesia to a State title in 1990, had a news conference at the school that spring when he announced he would attend Nevada Las Vegas. He later enrolled at UCLA when it became apparent that UNLV would be slapped with sanctions because of NCAA violations.

Charles O'Bannon has received even more publicity than his brother, even though Ed was more highly regarded in high school.

Teammate Avondre Jones, a 6-11 senior center who still has not signed, also has been well touted.

Merino has made a name for himself with talented players, but it has not been accomplished without questionable sacrifices.


O'Bannon's signing with UCLA could help Coach Jim Harrick with two other recruits. The Artesia senior said he would do everything he could to get Jones and Jerald Honeycutt, a 6-9 senior forward from Grambling, La., to join him.

Jones is expected to announce his decision Friday. He is considering UCLA, USC, Michigan and Arizona. He has also shown interest in Iowa and Louisiana State.

Honeycutt also is considering Arkansas, Louisiana State, Memphis State and Tulane.

The spring signing period ends May 15.

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