CANOGA PARK — Three minutes into a War on the Floor tournament basketball game against Compton Dominguez High on Wednesday, Sylmar's Brandon Jacobs was stealing the show from the giant Dons who surrounded him.
Jacobs hit his first three shots--including a pair of three pointers--and Sylmar raced to a 10-4 start against the two-time defending Division II state champions.
The impressive run was nothing new for the 5-foot-8 point guard. Jacobs, who some consider the finest point guard in the region, has been turning heads for years during summer competition.
But summers certainly are not the season of Jacobs' discontent. It's the regular season--December through March--that routinely puts Jacobs in a freeze while trying to juggle school and sport.
Jacobs, who was academically ineligible as a freshman, was again forced out during his sophomore season when his grade-point average slipped to 1.8. Students must maintain a 2.0 GPA to retain eligibility.
He missed the Spartans' final nine games of the season, including their playoff run, which ended with a 48-38 loss to Franklin in the City Section 3-A semifinals.
Sylmar Coach Bort Escoto, who last season guided the Spartans to their second league title in the school's 35-year history, has often considered what might have been if his playmaker had never left.
"I think it may have cost us a City championship," Escoto said. "I think Brandon was the last piece to the puzzle. Right before he became ineligible, we were running people over. We were in a rhythm."
Jacobs--who was averaging 10.7 points and 5.2 assists as a sophomore--was devastated and depressed by his academic woes. He went to Escoto a few weeks later and quit the team, saying he wanted to work on his grades and didn't want to play anymore.
"I [told him], 'I think you're making a bad decision only because life got hard for you and you just quit,' " Escoto said.
Over time, Jacobs agreed.
Jacobs, a Pacoima resident who enrolled at Sylmar through the science and math Magnet program, blames himself for his academic failure.
"I was lazy," he said.
However, Escoto says the Magnet program--which includes advanced curriculum--is too difficult for Jacobs and the soft-spoken, shy teenager is just too proud to admit it. Jacobs disagrees.
"When I was in junior high, I was in the Magnet school and it was easy then," said Jacobs, his voice barely above a whisper. "I guess when I got to high school I got tired."
In the several weeks that followed, Jacobs and his mother Teresa Jacobs formed a closer bond--one that led back to basketball.
"She talks to me now all the time," said Jacobs, who hasn't seen his father in four years. "Before, we weren't that close. I really didn't have anyone to talk to."
Jacobs, the second of Teresa's four children, credits the communication with his mother for his return to the game he has played since age 4. "She knows I love the game," he said.
With her help, Jacobs mapped out plans he hopes will lead to a college scholarship. Summer-school courses in geometry and history--and basketball--are all part of the blueprint.
Meanwhile, Escoto never doubted Jacobs' return.
"I knew he would be back," Escoto said. "He loves to play. It's in his heart."
As far as Jacobs is concerned, he's starting over. Clean slate. He's planning on his junior year being his first full season.
He wants to put to rest the fear-of-failure syndrome that he said has plagued him all over.
"I wanna prove that I'm not scared of anybody," he said.
Despite his lack of confidence, some area City coaches think Jacobs has the necessary tools to be very successful. He has a nice smooth stroke, a knack for finding an open teammate and excellent ball-handling skills.
Chatsworth Coach Fluke Fluker has been eyeing Jacobs for two years and said he can't think of a better point guard in the Valley.
"He's exceeded my expectations of where I thought he would be," Fluker said.
"I'm looking forward to seeing him play next year--I'm just not looking forward to playing against him."