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A Night to Remember : No Matter What Former Manual Arts Basketball Standout Dwayne Polee Ever Does He Will Probably Always Be Known Most for Incredible Title Game Performance

February 15, 1996|LONNIE WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's understandable that Dwayne Polee gets nostalgic every year when the City Section high school basketball playoffs begin.

That's because he will always be remembered for his performance in the championship game 15 years ago, when he led Manual Arts to an 82-69 victory over three-time defending champion Crenshaw before the largest crowd to watch a city title game.

Polee put the finishing touch on a legendary high school career by scoring a City 4-A Division championship game-record 43 points before 14,123 at the Sports Arena, then the biggest crowd to see a high school basketball game in the state.

"It was like a fantasy come true . . . a night that will always be special," said Polee, who went on to become a two-time West Coast Conference player of the year at Pepperdine. "Everything I threw up just went in. It was my night."

Polee's final line on March 6, 1981 speaks for itself. The 6-foot-5 swingman made 17 of 20 shots and nine of 15 free throws. He had six rebounds, three steals and two assists.

For two years, Los Angeles basketball fans had awaited this matchup, ever since Crenshaw defeated the Toilers, 109-67, in the title game during Polee's sophomore season.

"Everybody knew that in order to win city, you had to go through Crenshaw," said former Manual Arts coach Reggie Morris, now coaching at Locke High. "They always had star players and usually had great big front lines."

At the start of the 1980-81 season, Crenshaw was a heavy favorite to win its fourth consecutive title behind UCLA-bound center Gary Maloncon. The Cougars' toughest competition was expected to come from a Stuart Gray-led Kennedy team and Manual Arts.

"But the game everybody wanted to see was Manual and Crenshaw," said Polee, who graduated from Pepperdine three years ago and is a social worker with the Los Angeles Department of Children's Services. "We all grew up together in L.A., playing for Chuck Moore at Van Ness Park. And all of our friends and family basically knew each other."

Playing in the tough Southern League, Manual Arts' chances of knocking off Crenshaw were believed to have dimmed when the Toilers lost two key players, Lewis Clark and Terry Wright, at the beginning of the season.

"That hurt us because they were two great players. . . . I mean they were starters," said Polee, who played one season with the Clippers and two in Europe. "That's why Coach Morris should be given so much credit, because he kept the team together."

During the regular season, Crenshaw lost three games, which helped Manual Arts take over as the city's No. 1 team going into the playoffs. The Toilers had struggled early in the season but lost only one game, to St. Bernard in December, 57-53. Manual Arts went into the playoffs with a 17-game winning streak.

The Toilers had several talented players in forward Johnny Brown, who averaged 26 points; and center Byron Roberts, considered the best defensive player in the city. Everyone knew, however, that Polee was the star when he scored a career-high 50 points against Jefferson on the final day of the regular season and finished with a 32.1-point average heading into the playoffs.

"There definitely was not any love lost between the two schools," Morris said. "Nor was there any between me and [Crenshaw Coach Willie] West at that time, or Dwayne and Maloncon."

After a week of trash-talking leading up to the game, Polee knew he was ready to play.

"The Sports Arena was just packed. People were standing in the aisles and everything," Polee said. "We were just ready to play, and I knew that it was my game in warmups. I was so confident. I didn't have a worry in the world."

After a spirited rally in their locker room--one that included banging on the walls for Crenshaw players to hear--Manual Arts heard the loud roar that greeted the Cougars when they took the floor. Minutes later, the Toilers heard an even louder response when they ran out.

On Crenshaw's first possession, Polee set the tone of the game when he took a charge from a Cougar player. From there, he let his offense take over.

Chris Baker, The Times' prep editor at that time, wrote that Polee "used almost every shot in his arsenal, from routine jumpers to acrobatic, hanging bank shots. Once he changed hands in the middle of a shot, making an off-balance left-hander as he fell to the floor."

West tried everything to stop Polee, from double- and triple-teams to a box-and-one defense, but nothing worked.

"It just didn't matter what [West] did, or who guarded me, because no one was going to stop me that night," Polee said. "I see Coach West every summer, and he still kids me about that game. He says, 'Boy . . . Polee, you sure put on a show that night.' "

Polee made 12 of 15 shots in the first half as the Toilers took a 41-32 lead. In the second half, he did not miss a shot.

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