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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
PREVIEWS : VALLEY PAC-8

Strong Showings Take Sylmar to Head of Class

January 13, 1998|MICHAEL LAZARUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sylmar High has lost half of its games, but one of the losses showed why the Spartans may be the best team in the Valley Pac-8 Conference.

Playing Simi Valley in the semifinals of the Hart tournament two weeks ago, Sylmar was less than impressive.

Guard Brandon Jacobs, the Spartans' best shooter, missed most of his shots and only center Joey Youman scored in double figures.

Yet, after three quarters, Sylmar trailed the top-ranked team in the region by only three points.

Simi Valley eventually pulled away for a 14-point victory, but the game served notice to the rest of the Valley Pac-8 Conference.

The next night, Sylmar defeated Cleveland, one of the best teams in the Northwest Valley Conference. In a tournament in Fresno last week, the Spartans won their opening game by 29 points before losing to Fresno Edison by five.

Sylmar (7-7) had setbacks early. Junior forward Jeremiah Turner, expected to be a top player, broke a bone in his hand. He may return next month. Dedrick Washington and Ervin Gonzales have been fighting nagging injuries, and Jacobs was slowed by the flu.

But the balanced Spartans have played better in recent weeks, with no player averaging more than 10 points. Since every other team in the Mid-Valley League sports below-.500 records, the Spartans figure to be the favorite among the conference's 3-A teams.

"I told them if we have somebody score 30, then we're in trouble," said Sylmar Coach Bort Escoto.

The Spartans are a rarity in the conference--nearly every other team has a go-to player when it needs points.

Senior guard Keron Wilkerson, who is averaging 24 points, helped North Hollywood (10-6) to the best nonconference season of any East Valley team. The Huskies have steadily improved since struggling in the Simi Valley tournament, beating University in overtime last week.

"We're playing better and better," North Hollywood Coach Rob Bloom said. "The biggest difference is we're learning to be less selfish. The passing is starting to work."

The Huskies' biggest challenge should come from Grant, led by talented Gilbert Arenas. The junior guard leads City Section players from the region with a 32.9 scoring average and leads Grant (9-6) in every statistical category.

But the Lancers have little else. Sophomores Mike Yildiz and Krishna Evans and senior Adir Levy need to contribute more.

Even the struggling teams in the conference have consistent players.

Poly forward Ellis Richardson has been the lone bright spot for the Parrots, who advanced to the 3-A quarterfinals last season after finishing 8-2 in conference play. With four returning starters, Poly is 6-8. Richardson has led the team in scoring in every game.

Van Nuys (1-11), which won a game last week in its own tournament, features forward Jesse Keane, who averages 18 points.

The only team without an established scoring threat is Monroe, which lost forward Mark Cumbiss to ineligibility before the school year began. Cumbiss averaged 17 points and seven rebounds.

The Vikings (2-9) lost another key player when senior John Ennis, a starting forward last season, decided to skip basketball to concentrate on baseball.

Canoga Park, the defending East Valley champion, lost almost everyone, including All-City guard Carloes Harper, to graduation. The Hunters are 3-11 but Coach Ralph Turner expects improvement.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

AT A GLANCE

* THE PROVEN: Junior Gilbert Arenas had played only 37 games for Grant, but he's already broken the school career scoring record and leads the Lancers in almost every offensive category. . . .Keron Wilkerson averaged 20 points a game for North Hollywood as a junior, now he's up to 24. . . .Ellis Richardson helped lead Poly to the 3-A championship game last year despite battling an ankle injury and averaged 18.2 points and seven rebounds. . . .Canoga Park point guard Vlady Sandoval is the only returning starter for the Hunters.

* THE PROMISING: Winless a year ago, Reseda has already won six games with a team made up of sophomores and juniors, but seniors Victor Koopongsakron and Jaime Gibrian are the most improved. . . .Sylmar's Joey Youman has been solid filling in for injured center Jeremiah Turner. Turner broke a bone in his wrist and may return later in the season.

* FAST FACT: Jay Werner of Poly and Howard Levine of Grant are the only conference coaches with more than three years experience at their current school.

* 1996-97 STANDINGS: East Valley League (4-A): Canoga Park 7-3 in league, 15-11 overall; Monroe 6-4, 8-15; North Hollywood 4-6, 10-13; Grant 4-6, 7-15; Mid-Valley League (3-A): Poly 8-2, 18-8; Sylmar 8-2, 17-9; Van Nuys 3-7, 8-14; Reseda 0-10, 0-20.

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