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He Polishes Players With Potential : Basketball: Roger Milstein has earned a reputation for helping high school players earn scholarships to Division I schools.

August 19, 1993|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BEVERLY HILLS — At the beginning of the summer Alex Lopez stood 6-foot-10 1/2, but the Campbell Hall basketball player desperately needed to grow before his senior year.

The summer season ended last week and Lopez is still 6-10 1/2.

But grow he has, although none of it can be measured with a ruler.

Lopez played the past two months for Team Avia, a collection of much of the Southland's top talent, including point guard Shelton Sharpe and swingman Art Tillett of Santa Monica High and point guard Rasheed Hazzard and forward Larry Atkins of Venice.

In contrast to many summer teams whose style resembles a free-for-all on hot asphalt, Team Avia is spelled with a capital T for a reason.

Teamwork, passing and defense are prominent in the vocabulary of Coach Roger Milstein. So are character and class. His approach differs so drastically from a typical summer team that Team Avia's players and their families give the 59-year-old Milstein, who has never coached even at the high school level, a buildup bordering on the supernatural.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 26, 1993 Home Edition Westside Part J Page 8 Column 1 Zones Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Coach--Roger Milstein was mistakenly identified as coach of the Crossroads High boys' basketball team in the Aug. 19 Westside edition. Milstein coaches Team Avia, a summer youth basketball team.

"Roger has been the answer to my prayers," said Deborah Ledford-Lopez, Alex's mother.

"He is heaven-sent. He is our white-haired angel," said Dean Hartman, father of Jason Hartman of Thousand Oaks.

Summer basketball, in Milstein's view, serves as finishing school for Division I prospects. They match up against the best at national tournaments. They learn about life on the road. They learn to communicate confidently with adults.

"The reputation we've built is very different (from most summer teams)," Milstein said. "I believe in teaching a value system. I believe in the players constantly being together. I believe in loyalty."

And the players believe in their coach. "Roger has got me all the colleges that are after me," Hartman said. "They call me and say they have talked to Roger about me. Some haven't even seen me, they are going on Roger's word."

As well as his files. Milstein hands recruiters inquiring about a Team Avia player a file containing statistics, transcripts and Scholastic Aptitude Test scores.

"He is so well-organized." said San Jose State Coach Stan Morrison. "He brings a business perspective to coaching that is unique."

That is because coaching is nothing more than an all-consuming hobby for Milstein, a successful businessman who owns a Westwood collection agency. His assistant coaches are his son, Mark, and family friend Daren Kalish, a recent Loyola Marymount graduate.

"Coaching is a great way to give back to the community, to help kids," said Milstein, who lives in Beverly Hills. "If I write a check to a charity, I never see the results. With coaching, I see the fruits of my labor, how much kids appreciate it."

As their high school coaches and teammates will soon discover, the Team Avia players improved markedly this summer:

* Lopez was named to the all-tournament team at the prestigious Basketball Congress International tournament in Phoenix two weeks ago. Although he has yet to fulfill lofty expectations after three years as a starter at Campbell Hall, Lopez thinks his scoring average will skyrocket.

"I am more confident that I can do my things offensively," said Lopez, who averaged 11.9 points as a junior. "I'm not afraid to do it now. I feel a lot stronger physically, and with a presence."

* Hartman is a rugged 6-8 forward who runs and shoots well. He benefited from matching up against some of the best players in the nation.

"I got better because of playing better competition," said Hartman, who averaged 14.1 points and 7.3 rebounds for Thousand Oaks last season.

* Arthur Lee of North Hollywood is a quick playmaker who developed confidence directing the offense on a team full of standouts.

"Roger let us play but still gave us structure," said Lee, who averaged 12.7 points and 4.0 assists as a North Hollywood sophomore last season. "I feel more confident about going out and playing hard, about being a leader on the court."

Team Avia finished fourth among 62 teams at the season-ending BCI tournament, losing only to national power Riverside Church (N.Y.). Team Avia also was 10th at the Long Beach Slam N Jam International tournament, and finished second in the Slam N Jam League.

Milstein's involvement with many of his players did not conclude at season's end, however. He will advise Hartman and Lopez on their college choices, even joining the families when recruiters make home visits in September and October.

"We've already had meetings to help us with what to expect," Dean Hartman said. "Roger is like family. He will sit with us when recruiters come to our home. He can ask things I don't know about."

Such dependence might make some families uneasy. Yet Milstein, it seems, inspires only trust.

"He is a sincere person dealing with kids and handling kids," said Loyola Marymount Coach John Olive. "He takes personal care of them, he really does."

Milstein held something of a two-day recruiting audition for Lopez and Hartman last month, bringing them to his office to field calls from dozens of college coaches. Lopez, in fact, refers all calls from recruiters to Milstein.

"Rather than having coaches calling day and night, pounding Alexander, we refer things to Roger," Ledford-Lopez said. "I like it that way."

For years, people have complimented Ledford-Lopez on her son's basketball ability. At the BCI tournament, she received kudos of a different kind, which excited her as much as watching Alex make the winning basket against Utah in the team's final game.

"The hotel manager said this was the nicest team they've ever had, and the tournament complimented our boys on their outstanding conduct," she said. "College coaches commented on that too. Roger holds the players to high standards. He chooses a good group of boys then offers reasonable guidelines."

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