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California Gold Takes Top Spot in Nike Event

July 17, 1994|CHARLES SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

California Gold, a team made up of some of Southern California's top high school basketball players, took first place in the 1994 Nike Scholastic Festival in Deerfield, Ill.

California Gold was one of 12 teams playing a two-day round-robin format followed by a two-day single-elimination tournament that culminated in a July 5 championship game.

Corey Benjamin, a 6-5 shooting guard from Fontana, headed a team that included Olujimi Mann of Santa Ana Valley, Jelani McCoy of San Diego St. Augustine, Schea Cotton and Clay McKnight of Santa Ana Mater Dei, Jarod and Jason Collins of Harvard-Westlake and Ben Sanders and Danny Walker of Westchester.

The team was coached by Pat Barrett, a West Coast Nike representative.

California Gold, which went 7-2 in the tournament, pulled off an unexpected quarterfinal win over the Southeast Breeze team coached by Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Virginia) Coach Steve Smith.

Southeast Breeze featured two of the nation's top high-school prospects, Kevin Garnett of Mauldin, S.C., and Ron Mercer of Goodpasture, Tenn.

The tournament held some surprises for Benjamin.

"I thought the competition would be a lot tougher," Benjamin said. "I thought there would be people a lot taller than me, but they were basically my size. We had so much talent on our team that (the other teams) couldn't overcome our depth."

Garnett and Mercer played well enough in the tournament to solidify their top billing, but according to Nike publicist Tom Feuer, Benjamin was the story of the five-day event.

"Corey Benjamin was a big surprise," Feuer said. "He is one of the players to watch in Southern California." Benjamin, a junior, finished third in the slam-dunk contest behind Cotton and winner Ronnie Fields, a 6-3 guard from Chicago Farragut.

*

Inglewood's Paul Pierce, who is considered the No. 1 player on the West Coast by national sportswriters, headlined a talented Southern California squad that competed July 5-9 in the Adidas ABCD Camp in Teaneck, N.J..

Pierce, a 6-6 swingman from Inglewood, was joined by teammates Arthur Lee of North Hollywood, Mark Seaton of Servite and Matt Jaeger of San Diego Vista.

The Lakers, as they were called, finished 9-2 in the 16-team double-elimination tournament.

More than 140 players participated in the camp. Pierce was chosen by sponsors as one of the top 12.

"I went to that camp to show what I can do among the (nation's) best," Pierce said. "I went to become a household name. I was satisfied with the way I played, but I'm always working to improve. This experience will make me sharper for next season."

Pierce is a member of the K-Swiss traveling team, which includes Duane Davis of Fairfax and Leonard Butler of Gardena Serra, that will compete in the Slam 'N Jam Invitational July 16 through July 25 at West Torrance and South Torrance high schools.

*

Several area players showed well July 9-12 in the West Coast All-Star Camp at Cal State Dominguez Hills.

Loyola's Moose Bailey and Verbum Dei's Andre Larry and Darwin Carter were picked by tournament sponsors to be among the top 40 players.

Over 400 players competed.

Donnie Wilcher of Fremont also played well but wasn't there for final-day evaluations.

Crenshaw's Ronnie Arch and Raymond Palmer were among the participants who impressed tournament co-sponsor David Pump. "They both have great upside to their game and lots of potential," he said.

However, Arch and Palmer were sent home early from the camp for unspecified reasons.

Bailey, a 6-1 guard, participated in the Great Western Shootout at Cal State Dominguez Hills last week, as well as the West Coast All-Stars.

Bailey said the experience will better prepare him for the upcoming season.

"(The camps) show me what my strengths are and what I need to work on," Bailey said. "I'm working on my defensive quickness and first step on offense. I'm also lifting weights to get stronger. I know what my brother (Toby) went through getting double-teamed, so I want to be ready."

As a member of the traveling team, Team Avia, Bailey will also compete in the Slam-'N-Jam NIT and the BCI Invitational in Phoenix, July 25-31.

Pierce and Benjamin were among the top 16 players at the West Coast All-Star Camp.

"(Pierce) was the best player in the camp and is the best player in the state," Pump said.

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