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Twin-Engine Props

Harvard: Wolverines fly high with Collinses, but there are five 'other' guys to give team lift.

March 02, 1996|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They call Alex Gelbard "Gelbows," a nickname born of his propensity to protrude a pointy joint whenever an opponent drives the lane.

Jason Segel answers to "Doctor Dunk," although he craves more than the 15 minutes of fame he received during an East Coast slam dunk contest.

And Abed Abusaleh, a.k.a. "Air-Ball Abed," is determined to sink a three-point shot, even if it means hurling enough bricks to build a small fire station.

Who are these colorful characters? They're among the other guys on the Harvard-Westlake High basketball team, players with catchy cognomens, surnames other than Collins and contributions overshadowed but not to be underestimated.

"They're not just along for the ride," Harvard Coach Greg Hilliard said.

This is their team too. And it's a team on a roll.

Harvard (25-2) will defend its Southern Section Division III-A championship at 9:30 a.m. today against Morningside (20-8) at the Pond in Anaheim. As expected, twins Jason (6 feet 11) and Jarron (6-10) Collins, the tallest and most-talented high school basketball tandem in the region, have been the centers of attention this season.

But unlike the Collinses, who next season figure to face a college recruiting blitz the likes of which few high school players have seen, members of the Wolverines' supporting cast maintain a high level of productivity and keep a low profile.

"They deserve all the attention they get," Gelbard, a forward and the team's only senior starter, said of the twins. "They're humble with all the success they've had, they're incredible players and it's a great opportunity for everybody to be able to play with them. But the other teams don't realize what the other players on our team are capable of."

Harvard defeated Duarte, 82-56, in a semifinal last week. While Jason (17 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks) and Jarron (17 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists) were their usual unstoppable selves, Gelbard scored 14 points, guard Ryan Smiley scored 16 and sixth man Rico Cabrera chipped in with 14.

Their efforts were needed, considering point guard Leo Da Costa suffered an ankle sprain in the opening minutes and did not return.

But Da Costa is the first to admit his absence would not hinder Harvard the way, say, the departure of Jason or Jarron would.

"Without them, we wouldn't be where we are," Da Costa said. "They're great players and great to be around."

All agree. But the team has others. And they include:

* Segel. The 6-4 junior forward is seventh man and self-appointed court jester.

"I'm not nearly as skilled a basketball player as some of the other guys," Segel says. "But I have a lot of bravado."

Not to mention a made-for-the-highlight-reels dunk.

During Harvard's two-week East Coast trip in December, Segel wowed a Florida crowd with a two-handed slam made with the front of his jersey pulled over his head. Before the dunk, Segel stood poised, calling for silence with outstretched arms. After the dunk, he dove headfirst into the stands.

"He put on an absolute show," Da Costa said.

Segel also keeps the team loose with impressions of everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Kermit the Frog. He even does Hilliard.

"You spend five minutes around Jason and he'll come up with a pretty good impression of you," Abusaleh said.

An aspiring actor, Segel has dabbled in bit parts and studied in England. After the season, Segel is scheduled to begin rehearsals for a school production in which he will deliver a 22-minute soliloquy on stage.

"I love getting up in front of people," he says.

His most memorable moment this season? The dunk, of course. Not because he made it but because Jarron allowed him to. Jarron qualified for the competition ahead of Segel but deferred to his teammate.

"He knew it was something important to me, so he stepped back and let me do it," Segel said. "I appreciated that."

* Da Costa. The 6-1 junior point guard is the son of Paulhino Da Costa, a Brazilian percussionist and respected session musician whose credits include work with Michael Jackson and Al Jarreau.

But music doesn't run through Da Costa as much as basketball does. "I play a little bit of piano," he says.

Da Costa plays the point better, averaging a team-high four assists. "My job is to get everyone involved and pass the ball as much as possible," Da Costa said.

Da Costa also is the best dancer on the team, according to Smiley. But the title might be up for grabs at the moment. Da Costa's ankle remains sore and he is questionable for the game today.

* Abusaleh. The 6-2 senior guard, a standout running back on the football team, plays sparingly, averaging 0.2 points and 0.2 rebounds.

Abusaleh was recruited as a football player by several Ivy League schools and will attend Columbia in the fall.

Why basketball?

"I made the decision I was going to compete for a spot on this team," he says. "I thought if I worked hard I could be sixth or seventh man. But just because I didn't make it doesn't mean I don't want to be a part of this team. I'm not a quitter."

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