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100% Pure Talent : Schea Cotton is 16, but he already has the attention of fans and recruiters nationwide and may be good enough to shift the balance of power in basketball from Central L.A. to Orange County.

July 31, 1994|CHARLES SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What is a manchild?

In basketball terms, it is a young athlete whose physique and talents belie his age.

To fans who have seen Schea Cotton play, it is Schea Cotton.

UCLA recruit Toby Bailey, formerly of Loyola High School, offers the most appropriate summation of Cotton on the hardwood: "He is a kid in a man's body."

Bailey's Cubs lost to Cotton's Mater Dei Monarchs in last year's Southern Section Division I-A semifinals.

Bailey, like others who have watched and played against Cotton, marvels at his athletic ability: "Schea can jump, is incredibly strong and is extremely quick."

Adjectives such as vast and unlimited are generally used to describe the 16-year-old's potential.

"I just go out and let my actions speak for themselves," said the 6-foot--5, 215-pound sophomore.

And Cotton has everyone listening.

An article on Cotton in the July 25 issue of Sports Illustrated validates his status as high school's newest basketball sensation.

"I try not to get caught up in all the hoopla surrounding me," Cotton said. "I just go out and play my game."

With the national emergence of Cotton, Inglewood's Paul Pierce and Fontana's Corey Benjamin, it now seems the Best in the West play outside the central city.

Last year, fans could attend a Crenshaw game and see four future Division I scholarship athletes.

Many of Southern California's high-profiled players--Bailey, Fowlkes, Johnson, Washington's Dayron Harris (Long Beach State), Verbum Dei's Andre Miller (Utah), Manual Art's David Rickenbacker (San Diego State), Crenshaw's Tommie Davis (Houston) and Reggie McFerren (Kansas State) played in the Central City.

The focus of attention has shifted from Crenshaw to Inglewood, thanks to Pierce.

"I've worked extremely hard to get to this point so I relish the notoriety," said the 6-7 forward, who led the Sentinels (30-4) to their best season in 14 years.

Pierce averaged 23.2 points and 11 rebounds for Inglewood, while finishing runner-up to St. John Bosco's Jelani Gardner (Cal) for 1994 Division II Player of the Year.

"Paul is the best player in the senior class," said John Bailey, father of Toby and Moose. "He reminds me of Toby because he plays a lot of center, but can play the (shooting guard) and (small forward)."

John Bailey was an assistant coach of the California Seniors traveling team that won the Slam-N-Jam NIT two years ago. That squad included Toby, Jacque Vaughn of Kansas and Charles O'Bannon of UCLA.

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John Bailey has been around enough talented players to know Cotton is worth the billing: "Schea is a strong all-around player that is every bit as good as advertised."

Cotton, who was named to the Los Angeles Times All-County Team as a freshman, averaged 18 points for the Monarchs. He scored a team-high 16 points in Mater Dei's 71-67 State Division I semifinal loss to Crenshaw. It was the Monarch's second consecutive loss to Crenshaw in the semifinals.

Another player who made a name for himself at the July 1-5 Nike Scholastic Festival in Deerfield, Ill., was Fontana's Benjamin. The 6-5 junior was Co-MVP of the Citrus Belt League with teammate Travon Carmichael last year, averaging 18 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Said Nike publicist Tom Feuer of Benjamin's performance at the festival: "He was the story of the camp."

Benjamin's brother Sonny, a 6-8 forward at Oregon State, was a member of the California Seniors team that won the NIT in 1992.

Benjamin, who watched many of his brother's games, learned a valuable lesson. "Watching those guys play taught me how to conduct myself on the court and to be ready to play every game," he said.

Last year's seniors have left this year's seniors with a tough, perhaps even impossible, act to follow.

"I don't see any big-named players in the Central City like last year," John Bailey said. "Toby's class was exceptional in terms of the depth of talent."

Toby agrees: "There was a lot of talent last year. There may be a couple of superstars in the future but there won't be that many great players (in the area) in one class for a while."

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But Kevin Gibson, coach of two-time City runner-up Dorsey, believes there are enough talented players to make the 1994-95 season as competitive as years past. "I think (talent-wise) the city will come pretty close to last year," Gibson said. "We have some players, so do Crenshaw, Washington, Manual Arts and Fremont."

There is certain to be more parity in the area, with the departure of Fowlkes and Johnson loosening Crenshaw's stranglehold on the City title. Every team has one or two solid players: Bailey at Loyola, Donnie Wilcher at Fremont, Ronnie Arch and Travis Reed at Crenshaw, Darwin Carter at Manual Arts, Will O'Neal at Dorsey and Ty Lamar Gordon at Washington.

Next year could be the year that Dorsey--or several other area teams--finally breaks through.

"We should be better than last year, with nine returnees this year," Gibson said.

"I think every team is a lot more experienced, to a man, than last year. Regardless of who's gone, it's going to be a good season."

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