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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Notre Dame's Mission Is Twofold

Boys' basketball preview: Pearson, Luderer give Knights hope of dethroning Harvard-Westlake as league champion.

November 24, 2000|ERIC SONDHEIMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SHERMAN OAKS — That sinking feeling, when you're going down with no lifeboat in sight, was about to overtake Coach Rob DiMuro of Notre Dame High.

For the third consecutive season, his basketball team had failed to make the Southern Section playoffs.

A 46-45 loss to Mission League rival Chaminade near the end of the 1998-99 season had left DiMuro and his players feeling miserable.

During the bus ride home, Notre Dame's outstanding sophomore player, Cody Pearson, asked DiMuro, "Are we ever going to win?"

Pearson and DiMuro locked eyes.

"It was a weird moment," Pearson said.

Instead of calling it quits, both vowed to dedicate themselves to ending Notre Dame's misery.

"That was the turning point," DiMuro said. "Neither one of us was going to fail."

Last season, when nearly everyone had given up on the talented Knights, they went 22-7 and finished second to Harvard-Westlake in the Mission League.

With the 6-foot-4 Pearson returning, plus 6-3 Michael Luderer and a group of toughened, determined seniors, Notre Dame enters the 2000-01 season ranked No. 1 in the region by The Times.

There won't be any celebrating, because the Knights have been highly regarded before during DiMuro's five years at the school, only to fail.

This time, though, everyone understands what's at stake.

"Nobody has the pain that we've had from what we've been through," DiMuro said. "Until we do something on a major scale, that pain remains."

No team has a better one-two punch than Pearson and Luderer. Pearson averaged 22.8 points and 12.3 rebounds as a junior. Luderer averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds and shot 43.8% from three-point range. Their teammates have accepted supporting roles: passing and getting out of the way.

That was the problem early in DiMuro's tenure, when he had several top players who never meshed. Players pouted, parents complained and expectations were never met.

DiMuro, who was a successful coach for Notre Dame's girls' team and for Pierce College's women's team, learned a lesson.

"It was a dark time all the way around," he said. "We realized we had to pick a team based on character. We could not get guys to sacrifice and play a role. This group enjoys setting up [Pearson and Luderer]."

Since 1995, Harvard-Westlake and Chaminade have dominated the Mission League. Harvard-Westlake won titles in 1995, '96, '97 and last season. Chaminade won in '98 and shared the title with Alemany in '99. For Notre Dame to finish on top, Pearson and Luderer will need help.

David Hungerford and Stepney Johnson, both 6-7 seniors, will share the center position and give DiMuro 10 fouls. Scott Barwick, a 6-4 senior, is a three-year varsity player who takes great satisfaction in acquiring scabs on his knees and elbows from diving for loose balls.

Ruben Sanchez, a senior guard, is intense and a dangerous outside shooter. Derek Hennessey, a senior guard, was a surprise over the summer with his scoring ability.

It's still going to come down to whether teams can stop Pearson and Luderer.

Pearson delayed selecting a college during the early signing period because he said he was unhappy with his summer performance. He's strong, a superb ball handler, likes to post up undersized defenders and turns up his game against top opponents. He scored 36 points in a three-point summer defeat to Division I power Clovis West.

"Cody is the sun and everything we do gravitates off him," DiMuro said. "Cody is better than he's ever been."

Luderer, a top receiver and defensive back for the football team, is capable of scoring points quickly. He's aggressive and plays to win every time down court.

"His care-free attitude is so important to the team," DiMuro said. "He's such a good basketball player and so underrated."

DiMuro was the fourth coach in five years when he took over at Notre Dame. He has finally brought stability to the program, but his work isn't done.

"We have more to prove than anyone," he said. "We haven't won anything yet. We're hungrier today than at any time. These seniors are serious players."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

PRESEASON BOYS' BASKETBALL TOP 10

1. Notre Dame (22-7)

2. Thousand Oaks (18-10)

3. Crescenta Valley (23-6)

4. Chaminade (17-9)

5. Oxnard (22-5)

6. Sylmar (12-11)

7. Simi Valley (28-4)

8. Grant (9-16)

9. Westlake (13-14)

10. North Hollywood (18-7)

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