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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Huskies' Arrival Ahead of Schedule

City basketball: North Hollywood, with one senior in starting lineup, plays Manual Arts for Invitational title today.

March 04, 2000|PAIGE A. LEECH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — It's not a stretch to say the North Hollywood High boys' basketball team, which starts only one senior, is a year away from reaching its potential.

But this team refuses to wait. North Hollywood (21-7) plays Manual Arts in the City Invitational championship game at 3 p.m. today at Loyola Marymount.

"These extra four [playoff] games are a great workout for us for next year," Coach Rob Bloom said. "They can only help us. And if you can win a championship . . . why not?"

Playing for the equivalent of 17th place in the City Section was never the Huskies' goal when the season started. No. 2-seeded Manual Arts (16-8) can say the same. The Toilers won the City Championship title last year, but couldn't qualify to defend their title.

Now the teams are more concerned with each other than the championship they're not playing for.

"We're excited," said Bloom, in his fourth season. "The school's excited. I think we're ready for the challenge."

North Hollywood, with only junior Kenny Hauser averaging double figures in points at 17.6, is the underdog to a team that has outscored three playoff opponents by an average of 37 points.

The Huskies' playoff run hasn't been nearly as easy. North Hollywood defeated University, 71-59, and Hamilton, 71-65, before upsetting top-seeded Venice, 61-60.

Regardless, Bloom likes his team's chances against the Toilers and relishes the underdog role.

"We're looking to win the thing, we're not just happy to be here," he said. "They may take us lightly. If we take good shots, don't turn the ball over [and] can get the lead and stay in the game early, gain some confidence, anything can happen."

After a letdown in Sunset Six League play, North Hollywood has returned to the form it showed during third-place finishes in the Simi Valley and Las Vegas tournaments in December.

The Huskies led Simi Valley, 42-40, early in the third quarter of a Simi Valley tournament semifinal before falling, 79-65.

Bloom is encouraged by the Huskies' effort against Simi Valley, which plays Mater Dei tonight in the Southern Section Division I-A final.

"We were right with Simi Valley for three quarters," Bloom said. "I can't imagine Manual Arts being any better than Simi Valley."

The Huskies peaked early in January, Bloom said. With a 12-3 overall record, North Hollywood seemed headed for its second league title in four years.

But the Huskies, averaging 17 turnovers a game, lost their second league game to Verdugo Hills, 51-44, signaling trouble. A 10-point loss to Grant, a formidable team, was followed by losses to last-place Poly and Canoga Park.

That's when Bloom decided the Huskies needed a change. Practices became less structured, with less running and more playing.

"I tried to make it more fun," he said.

North Hollywood responded with a four-game winning streak.

An Invitational championship would provide the junior-dominated Huskies a nice springboard into summer competition and next season.

With starting center Eric Roller the only senior playing a significant role, Bloom can't help but look forward.

"I think we'll definitely be capable of being among the best four or five teams [in the region]," Bloom said. "A lot depends on development. I think Kenny Hauser can be a weapon that not too many people can contend with. If he can put on a little weight and get to 6 feet 5 or 6-6, he can be a real terror next year."

Hauser, a 6-4 swingman, is averaging nearly twice as many points as any teammate.

Point guard Dominic Johnson and forward Guz Ruiz each average 9.1 points, and Roller and shooting guard Nathan Stern each average about eight points.

"We've got a lot of guys who have gained a lot of experience this year," Bloom said.

Bloom, a University High graduate who five years ago was coaching professional basketball in Denmark, is a walk-on coach who owns an all-sports youth camp in West Los Angeles.

He took over at North Hollywood almost as a favor to former coach Steve Miller, a longtime friend.

Bloom, 34, never expected to have such talented and intelligent players. The team boasts a cumulative 3.6 grade-point average.

While Bloom has indicated he might not coach much longer at North Hollywood, he isn't quite ready to turn in his clipboard and whistle. Not yet.

"I'm definitely committed to this group for one more year," he said.

Who wouldn't be?

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