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'Big Bus': End of the Line : For Crenshaw Seniors Kristaan Johnson, Tremaine Fowlkes, Reggie McFerren and Tommie Davis, It's Been an 'Awesome Run' That Includes Two City 4-A Titles

March 20, 1994|SEAN WATERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Big Bus was making its last stop in Oakland on Saturday. It was the end of the line for seniors Kristaan Johnson, Tremaine Fowlkes, Reggie McFerren and Tommie Davis, probably the most publicized passengers ever to ride to Crenshaw High.

Their transfers expired after the Cougars (28-2) played Carmichael Jesuit (31-6) in the CIF State Division I basketball finals Saturday at the Oakland Coliseum. It was a rematch of last season's title game, which the Cougars won 73-66. (See Sports, Section C, for results.)

All that remains of their high school careers are senior pranks, ditch days and a prom.

"It's sad, real sad," said Johnson, who started at Van Nuys Montclair Prep two seasons before transferring to Crenshaw. "I've started for four years and played about 130 games and lost only about 10. It's been an awesome run."

The Big Three--Johnson, Fowlkes and McFerren--have been together for two seasons, leading the Cougars to two City Section 4-A titles, and at least one State title. Their two-year record will be 57-4 if they win Saturday.

The Cougars, who flew to Oakland on Friday, were nicknamed the "Big Bus" by 6-foot-5 junior Ronnie Arch before the much anticipated March 12 game against Mater Dei of Santa Ana in the Southern California Regionals at the Anaheim Arena.

Said Arch: "Our team is like a big bus; Mater Dei is a little Datsun B-210. We're on a mission to run them over."

The previously undefeated Monarchs pushed the Big Bus to the limit before succumbing, 71-67. The big play came with the Cougars leading, 69-66, with 1 minute and 21 seconds left. Johnson, who has been criticized for being immobile, was knocked over by Mike Karich shortly before Clay McKnight sank a three-point shot that would have tied the score.

Karich was called for an illegal screen. Johnson, who scored a game-high 27 points, sank one of two free throws to put Crenshaw ahead, 70-66.

"I wanted to get the foul," Johnson said, "so I flopped. I exaggerated a little bit to get the ref's attention. He called it."

The Monarchs made only one free throw the rest of the way while Crenshaw played keep-away.

"I guess the little B-210 gave them a scare," Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight said. "Willie (West Jr., Crenshaw's coach) has got a great team. A Who's Who of basketball."

While the Monarchs have the player of the future in freshman Schea Cotton, the Cougars had the team of the year, including their own freshman, Travis Reed.

"There's only one freshman going to Oakland, and it's not Schea Cotton," Reed said.

Said Arch: "The bus is-- honk, honk-- rolling over."

After winning last season's State title, the Cougars were investigated by the Los Angeles Times for allegedly violating residence eligibility requirements. The City Section found the allegations groundless.

West is still questioned about some of the passengers on his Big Bus, which began rolling long before the current riders were old enough to travel alone.

*

As a youth, Kristaan Johnson looked as round as the basketball his small hands could dribble. He spent his summers playing ball and hanging out with Willie West III, the coach's son.

"I remember Coach West taking us out for a barbecue dinner," said Johnson, who grew to become one of the greatest players to compete at Crenshaw. "I was so full, I got sick."

While his father, Marques, completed his career at UCLA and in the National Basketball Assn. with the Milwaukee Bucks, Johnson grew up in the Cougar family, idolizing the stars who once made Crenshaw famous.

"I used to look up to Darwin Cook and John Williams. I was this fat and out-of-shape boy. No one knew I could play basketball. They thought I would play football."

Another prominent Cougar used to challenge Crenshaw cheerleader Denise Gibson, later West's wife, to a game of one-on-one when he was only 6.

"Denise West didn't know my son from the man on the moon," said Reggie McFerren Sr. "This little guy used to do his best to beat her."

In 1991, another little boy used to run into the Cougar gym and ask West if his brother, Aaron, was finished with practice. Two years later, Ronnie Arch grew to 6-foot-4 and transferred to Crenshaw from Westchester during his sophomore year.

Arch was one of nine players who transferred to Crenshaw in 1992. "Other than Kris and Reggie, I didn't know these kids," West said of the nine on their first day of practice. "Assistant Coach (Maurice) Duckett pointed to Arch and said: 'You know who that is? That's Ronnie Arch.'

"I was looking for a smaller kid," said West, who is 6 feet, "not one who was taller than me."

Another father and son have also competed for the Cougars.

Raymond Palmer Sr. was a teammate of Marques Johnson's on the 1972 Cougar team, while Raymond Jr., a 6-5 junior forward, is Kristaan's teammate.

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