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Follow the Bouncing Ball to All Corners of the Country : High school basketball: Crescenta Valley, Harvard-Westlake and other local teams would rather not be home for the holidays.

December 17, 1995|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Winds of 100 mph greeted the Crescenta Valley High boys' basketball team as the commercial airliner approached the airport in Las Vegas.

In a moment of terror, the aircraft went askew, its left wing coming perilously close to scraping the runway. The pilot recovered, but the plane was forced to reverse course and return to Los Angeles.

"We were close to crash-landing," Coach John Goffredo recalled of the 1990 incident. "We had kids screaming and throwing up. It was ugly."

But not calamitous enough to prevent the team from returning to Las Vegas on the next available flight. Several hours after their brush with disaster, the flight-weary Falcons had their high-tops firmly on the floor in time for tipoff of the Las Vegas Christmas Classic.

Goffredo, who every year guides his team to an out-of-town tournament during the two-week holiday break, wouldn't have had it any other way. Next week, the Falcons will fly to Hawaii for the St. Louis High tournament in Honolulu.

Several other area teams will hit the road during the holidays, traveling to points across the United States for tournaments that promise either national exposure, heightened competition or just plane . . . er, plain fun.

"Each year, we've tried to go further and further away," said Verdugo Hills Coach Scott Kemple, whose team will compete in the High Sierra tournament in Reno Dec. 27-29. "My high school coaches always took me away for tournaments and I had such a good time. Looking back, the things I remember most are the tournaments, not so much the wins and losses."

At least 11 area teams will travel to tournaments over the next two weeks. Harvard's boys, ranked No. 1 in The Times' regional poll and 12th in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, will embark Monday on a two-week journey in which the Wolverines will compete in national tournaments in Ft. Myers, Fla., and Lewes, Del.

Alemany's girls, ranked third, will play in Pickerington, Ohio, Dec. 28-30 in another high-profile affair that will include three of USA Today's Top-40 teams.

The Canyon, Chatsworth, Thousand Oaks and Palmdale boys are scheduled to play in out-of-town tournaments. Girls' teams traveling include Crescenta Valley and Palmdale.

Crescenta Valley, which will travel to Honolulu along with Burroughs, will visit Hawaii for the third time in Goffredo's 18-year tenure.

"When the players come back years later, they always talk about the tournament trips," Goffredo said. "We've won some and we've lost some but we go every year. I've given up on Christmas vacation with my family."

Jason and Jarron Collins won't be home for Christmas. On Monday, Harvard's 6-foot-11 twin towers and their teammates will open play against Mariner High of Cape Coral, Fla., in the City of Palms Classic.

After spending Christmas in Orlando and visiting DisneyWorld, the Wolverines will travel to Delaware for the Slam Dunk to the Beach tournament.

"We've been gone for Christmas before but never without our family," Jarron said.

Said Jason: "It'll be a little hard on some of the family members of the team."

The competition will be arduous as well. At both stops, the Collins twins, considered among the nation's top 50 juniors, will square off against some of the nation's best high school teams and top college prospects.

Harvard opens in Delaware on Dec. 28 against Baltimore Dunbar, a perennial national power.

"We'll be challenged," Jarron said. "East Coast players are stronger and more physical. I'm looking forward to seeing how good some of these players are."

Harvard Coach Greg Hilliard, whose team won the Southern Division III-A championship last season, said each year the Wolverines search for a high level of competition, especially since the Collinses suited up as freshmen.

"We always try to find tournaments that will stretch us and help develop our team," Hilliard said. "The past couple of years, we've really been trying to find competition that's better than us."

It's no secret that coaches crave competition in the weeks preceding the start of league play. The December tournaments provide it.

The Southern Section publishes a list of tournaments in need of participants. Virtually every high school team is involved in at least one, and many play in two--logging six games in a few days.

Entering some tournaments requires travel arrangements no more elaborate than chartering a school bus. And no more expensive.

Lengthy trips, however, require hotel accommodations and, in some cases, air fare.

Why spend time and money to travel? It has more to do with camaraderie than competition.

"It helps chemistry and builds team unity," Palmdale Coach Garry Phelps said. "When you actually room with the guys, you learn more about everyone and what it means to be a team."

Canyon Coach Greg Hayes agrees.

"It does help to develop a closeness," Hayes said. "But it enhances the whole educational experience. The games are, actually, only a small part of the high school basketball experience."

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