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Family Courtship

Canyon's Waite Honed His Basketball Skills in Spirited Backyard Games


CANYON COUNTRY — The patch of concrete in the backyard, the one that used to be a badminton court, changed Brian Waite's athletic career in a way few could have predicted.

He laughs when he talks about it, knowing the court had little chance to remain a shuttlecock surface when his father, a former college basketball player, purchased the family's current home in Canyon Country.

Indeed, the badminton net used by the previous resident didn't last long, getting replaced by a basketball hoop and, ultimately, a litany of family memories.

Elbows flew as fast as the insults in the Waites' backyard, some in jest and some in anger as Waite and his two younger brothers grew up with jump shots, pick-and-rolls and, of course, a little heckling.

Waite, a 6-foot-5 senior at Canyon High, realizes it all paid off.

The swatting stalwart of the Cowboys averages 4.2 blocked shots and dominates inside with averages of 14.2 points and 7.9 rebounds. Despite battling ankle problems, he helped Canyon to its first Foothill League championship since winning consecutive titles in 1986 and '87.

Canyon (16-10) hosts a first-round game in the Southern Section Division I-A playoffs Friday against the winner of a wild-card game tonight between Simi Valley and Santa Ana Foothill.

"Without him, we don't win, that's for sure," Canyon Coach Chad Phillips said. "We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him."

Waite showed his importance early in the season by scoring 25 points against Crescenta Valley center James Jenkins, a Times' All-Valley selection last season. But Waite was forced to sit out eight games because of a sprained right ankle, sustained while driving to the basket against Antelope Valley.

"Every time it happens, it's frustrating," said Waite, who has sprained the same ankle four times. "I'll be playing good, get my game going and then I'll get an ankle sprain. Then I'll have to get strength back and get in shape when I come back."

The Cowboys, 5-1 at the time of Waite's injury, never fully recovered until Waite returned. He played sparingly in a stunning 85-42 league-opening loss to Saugus, but he made his presence felt a few days later in a victory over Hart, scoring the decisive basket in overtime and starting the Cowboys on a seven-game winning streak.

During the streak, Canyon played Saugus again and won, 77-61.

"I could see where Brian could make a difference in that league or any league," Crescenta Valley Coach Jim Smiley said. "He played very hard and very effectively against us."

Waite has been playing efficient, no-nonsense basketball since his early days. His father, Doug, was a physical, burly forward at Utica (N.Y.) College from 1976-79. He brought his rough-and-tumble style of play to the backyard games with his sons.

"Working around the basket is second effort," Doug Waite said. "That's something we always tried to stress."

Though thinner than his father, Waite demonstrates a similar nose for the ball, deftly snaring offensive rebounds and exhibiting effective post-up moves.

His father notices. The little kid has grown up. The rumbles on the old badminton court have gotten more competitive in recent years.

"I keep coming in and telling my wife, 'They keep hurting me,' " Doug Waite said. "I think she likes me to go out there, though. She hasn't cut me off yet."

* Today's basketball playoff matchups, D10.

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