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Keefe Takes Look Back 10 Years to Title

Playoffs: Former Woodbridge star, now in the NBA, recalls Warriors' Division II triumph.

March 18, 1997|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Adam Keefe was in his fourth NBA city in five days and was slowly recovering from a painful hamstring injury that sidelined him for six weeks, so it wasn't surprising that he didn't remember the 10th anniversary of Woodbridge's state basketball championship.

"I had no idea it's been 10 years," Keefe said from his hotel room in Charlotte, N.C.

But once he took a moment to reflect on those simpler times, 10 years seemed like 10 days to Keefe.

"That was one of the highlights of my high school career," he said. "Athletically, it was the highlight. Without a doubt."

Keefe was only a junior in 1987 but he was unquestionably the star of Woodbridge's Division II state championship team. He averaged 22.2 points, 12.8 rebounds and was named the state's Division II player of the year after the season.

But as good as he was that year, Keefe said he didn't feel very confident going into the state title game in Oakland against Richmond De Anza.

"I remember never being so nervous in my life before that game," Keefe said. "I literally got sick to my stomach before the game. Up until that point, it was the biggest game I had ever played in. When you spend so much time doing something, you want it to come out right."

It turns out, Keefe had no reason to worry. Woodbridge easily defeated De Anza, 89-63, and set records for most points scored and for margin of victory in a state title game.

Woodbridge's state championship was the first won by an Orange County boys' basketball team since Orange won in 1920. There was no state championship tournament from 1929 to 1980 and the Southern Section did not participate in the tournament in 1981 or 1985.

Keefe had 25 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. The Warriors shot 60% from the field and 92% from the free-throw line.

"All I remember was that everybody played exceptionally well," he said. "Everything just clicked."

Keefe said the state final wasn't much different from the season. The Warriors finished 28-5 and beat Saugus, 65-53, in the Southern California championships to earn their trip to Oakland.

"That was the toughest, hardest-working bunch of guys I've ever been around," Keefe said. "We all had one mission. Those guys would do anything within or outside of the rules to win. . . . throw balls off somebody's face while they were going out of bounds, get in fights, anything it took. There was no sacrifice that was too great."

Keefe said his team simply took on the personality of their coach, Bill Shannon.

"He was an old-school coach," Keefe said. "He wasn't a touchy-feely kind of guy. We all grew up in the same area and we had known each other our whole lives. That's what made our team so close."

Everyone had a role that year.

"My role was just to score," he said.

Keefe went on to score and rebound so well at Stanford that he became the Atlanta Hawks' No. 1 draft pick. Keefe said seven of his Woodbridge teammates also played major college or community college basketball.

In his fourth NBA season, Keefe is with the Utah Jazz. His role is to back up the Jazz's Karl Malone. Keefe said he is not that far removed from his high school days. He is up on Woodbridge's newest star, Chris Burgess, and he still talks frequently to Shannon, who works for Disney in Orlando.

*

An Orange County boys' team won another state basketball title in 1987. Mater Dei beat Concord Ygnacio Valley, 69-51, to win the Division I state championship. But the star of that team, LeRon Ellis, was more difficult to track down. In fact, he was impossible to track down. Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight said he hasn't spoken to Ellis in more than a year.

Guy Zucker, Ellis' agent, hasn't heard from Ellis since his client was cut by Quad Cities of the Continental Basketball Assn. four months ago. Ellis was a No. 1 draft pick of the Los Angeles Clippers and floated around the NBA until he was released by the Miami Heat last year.

McKnight said Ellis was the heart and soul of Mater Dei's first state championship team.

"He scored the first 18 points of the second half against Fairfax [in the Southern California final]," McKnight said. "They had a great team. . . . Chris Mills, Sean Higgins. He just ate them up. Every time I get down in the dumps, I'll pop that tape in. It's a classic."

Many of Mater Dei's playoff games were classics that year. The Monarchs beat Brian Williams' Santa Monica St. Monica team, 48-47; Long Beach Millikan, 53-52; Fresno Edison, 63-62, and L.A. Fairfax, 46-42. The finals victory over Ygnacio Valley was somewhat anticlimactic, but the Monarchs were led by Ellis' 28 points, six rebounds and four blocks.

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