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High Schools | Eric Sondheimer

Woodbridge Players Gladly Follow in Footsteps

November 25, 2001|Eric Sondheimer

In this era of athletes traveling by car, bus, train, even subway, to attend the high school of their choice, boys' basketball Coach John Halagan of Irvine's Woodbridge High has a novel idea.

"Why not go to the school down the street?" he said.

Of course, Halagan was being sarcastic. He knows no sport produces more movement of top athletes than basketball.

The lure of fancy shoes, sweats and uniforms, promises of exposure to college recruiters and trips to big-time tournaments have basketball players choosing schools based on hype rather than neighborhood values.

Nowadays, when basketball players are introduced by the public address announcer, their hometowns are usually mentioned because so many live far away from campus.

Halagan is one of the fortunate coaches still getting to work with athletes who actually live in the school district. This season, he'll have five varsity players whose older brothers played for Woodbridge.

Since 1991, 10 sets of brothers have played varsity for Woodbridge. It's a rare feat in a time of open enrollment and free agency.

"It's nice to see siblings come through," he said. "It lets you know maybe you're doing something right."

Younger brothers can be crucial to the success of any program. They hang around their older brothers, sneak into the locker room or the gym, and learn about tradition and sacrifice. By the time they reach high school, they know what the coach expects and understand the meaning of commitment and hard work.

David Burgess, whose brother, Chris, was an All-American at Woodbridge, is a 6-foot-10 sophomore. He used to run around the Woodbridge bench as a water boy.

"I used to look at the top of his head," Halagan said. "It's hard to believe he was ever little."

David's other brother, Josh, also played for Woodbridge. The family lives five minutes from the high school. Chris attended Santa Ana Mater Dei as a freshman before transferring to Woodbridge. David talked to Chris about how to choose a high school.

"He told me there's nothing like being around your community and friends," David said.

Burgess is joined by 6-6 sophomore Jon Winder, 6-1 senior Jacob Clark, 6-0 senior Jared Barlow and 6-3 junior Jordy Perkins as younger siblings hoping to maintain Woodbridge's basketball excellence.

The school has won four of the last six Sea View League championships and won Southern Section titles in 1987 with Adam Keefe and 1997 behind Chris Burgess.

Halagan, in his 10th season as coach, looks forward to working with the younger brothers.

"From a coaching perspective, continuity is important," he said. "We've got guys having grown up watching Woodbridge basketball."

The experience gained by a younger brother is invaluable. David Burgess remembers sitting in during his brother's home visits with college coaches. What other 12-year-old got to meet Mike Krzyzewski, Steve Lavin, Rick Pitino and Roy Williams?

And David received a taste of the hectic world of college recruiting when he answered calls for his brother.

"I had a phone in my room and it would ring so much I took it out of the wall," he said.

But David cherished those days hanging around Chris and having a first-hand look at the glamour and excitement that follows a player of his prominence.

"I remember tagging along and sometimes he'd get annoyed, but I didn't care," David said.

Chris is a senior at Utah after transferring from Duke. He spent several weeks in Irvine this summer, training with David, a 250-pound 15-year-old with improving skills.

"He's taught me all the low-post moves," David said.

One of the challenges a younger brother faces is living up to expectations. For David, reaching the level of Chris could be difficult.

"I was given high expectations to meet and some can't handle that," he said. "I shook it off. I'm my own player. Chris has taught me all I know. He's been my instructor. I want to get to where he was or better."

Some high school coaches joke that the Southern Section should have two different tournaments in March--one for neighborhood teams and an open division, primarily for schools that bring in players from all over.

Woodbridge might be able to win both.


Eric Sondheimer can be reached at

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