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Bigger Is Not Necessarily Better for Championship


The Arrowhead Pond is a fine venue for Southern Section boys' basketball championships--if you like an arena so quiet that you can hear the ball leaving the referee's fingertips during tip-off.

The Pond works well--if you desire an outside shooting display so horrid that it's as if players are trying to put the ball through the opening of a Coke can hoisted 10 feet above the hardwood.

The Pond is OK--if your first priority is decent parking.

Make no mistake, most players relish the rare opportunity to compete in a professional arena. But they've also had to endure small crowds that only echo inside a cavernous arena that seats about 19,000 for basketball. Two years ago, only 14,115 attended six championship games, an average of 2,352. The marquee Division I-A championship between Santa Ana Mater Dei and Simi Valley drew an estimated 7,500.

Players have also had to contend with a backdrop that has been known to significantly lower shooting percentages and humble even the best marksmen.

In the 2000 Division II-AA championship, Brea Olinda, a team that relied on its perimeter game to reach the final, made one of 15 three-point shots and 10 of 43 field-goal attempts.

With the section's five-year contract with the Pond set to expire after the 2002-2003 school year, now might be an appropriate time to evaluate other venues for the future.

The best alternative appears to be the Anaheim Convention Center, which seats 7,700, has a decent shooting backdrop and generates a high-energy atmosphere when filled near capacity.

"I love it. I think it's probably one of the most underused arenas in America," said Villa Park Coach Kevin Reynolds, whose teams have played at the Pond and the Convention Center. "I think 6,000 people in [the Convention Center] would pack the place and it looks awesome with a great atmosphere as opposed to 6,000 people at the Pond, where it doesn't look like there's anybody there."

Paul Castillo, the section's assistant commissioner who oversees boys' basketball, said the Convention Center has been mentioned as a possible venue for championships. But so far there has not been much of a push to move into a new arena.

"We haven't looked too hard into Anaheim at this point because of our contract with the Pond," Castillo said. "We need venues that will seat between 10,000-13,000. Last year, we had an exceptional crowd and no place else would have held us."

Combined attendance for the morning and evening sessions last season was 21,131, shy of the all-time mark of 25,739 set in 1994 but a drastic improvement over the 2000 attendance figure. It's important to remember, though, that last season's attendance was spread over seven games.

Tom Danley, the director of athletics for the Anaheim Union High School District, said the Convention Center would be an ideal venue for the championships but acknowledged that the ball is in the court of section officials.

"The Anaheim Convention Center is one of the best-kept secrets as far as an outstanding arena for sporting events in the entire state of California," Danley said. "This would undoubtedly be a great place not only to hold Southern Section finals but regionals for the state playoffs."


Back on track: A week ago, Mater Dei was standing on shaky legs. The Monarchs were riding the first three-game losing streak of Coach Gary McKnight's 20-year tenure and faced the grim prospect of facing Corona Centennial in the championship game of the Orange tournament.

The way Mater Dei was playing, there were no assurances it would even make it that far. And if the Monarchs did, they would have to contend with a Centennial team that had already handed them a two-point loss.

But after blowout victories over Anaheim, Foothill and Orange, Mater Dei socked it to Centennial on Saturday with an 84-67 triumph that left little doubt as to which was the better team. Guard Wesley Washington scored 21 points for the Monarchs, who used an 8-0 third-quarter run to break open a tight game.

"We did a lot better job of executing our offense [than in the previous meeting]," McKnight said. "We did a real good job of ball movement, making the extra pass, and that made all the difference for us."

McKnight attributed part of his team's success to a consistent starting lineup comprising Mike Gerrity, Trevante Nelson, Mike Strawberry, Harrison Schaen and Washington.

Schaen, whose effectiveness had been limited earlier in the season because of lingering foot problems, is starting to become the post player he will need to be if the Monarchs are to win their fourth consecutive Southern Section title.

But Mater Dei (11-4), No. 9 in The Times' rankings, can't afford to look that far ahead. The Monarchs play No. 13 Villa Park on Friday and Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy, the top-ranked team in the nation, on Feb. 2. Mater Dei's Serra League schedule includes a combined four games against No. 3 Santa Margarita and No. 21 Bellflower St. John Bosco.

"We've got some tough teams ahead of us," McKnight said. "We're going to have to step up."


Making the grade: Palm Desert guard Josh Zazulia not only can make the three-pointer but probably could calculate the trajectory of each shot before it sailed through the net.

Zazulia, who has a 4.5 grade-point average and scored 1,240 on the SAT, is part of a starting lineup that averages a 4.1 GPA.

The Aztecs' top 10 players average a 3.9 GPA, and three guards scored at least 1,300 on the SAT.

"We play student-athletes who understand the game," said Coach Don Brady, whose players are also heavily involved in volunteer work and regularly speak to elementary and middle school students about good choices.

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