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High Schools | SPOTLIGHT ON BOYS' BASKETBALL

San Bernardino Coach Gets Praised and Fired

January 14, 2002|BEN BOLCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jesse Spinner thought he was doing all the right things in his first month as San Bernardino High boys' basketball coach.

He went beyond teaching fundamentals, starting his players on a weightlifting regimen and taking them to Pepperdine and Westchester High games for a taste of big-time basketball.

Spinner guided his team to a 3-0 start, and compliments were showered upon him like confetti. San Bernardino Athletic Director Vernon Finley wrote Spinner a letter praising his performance and thanking him for taking over the long-dormant program.

Apparently, it wasn't enough.

San Bernardino Principal Darryl Adams fired Spinner on Jan. 2, only a few days after Spinner had received Finley's complimentary letter.

Spinner said Adams told him he was dismissed because of his record, which had slipped to 5-6, and his failure to keep the locker room clean and hire assistant coaches in a timely manner.

The official reason, according to a press release reportedly sent out by the school, was the team's lackluster performance in the San Bernardino Kiwanis tournament, where the Cardinals, a host team, went 1-3.

Spinner said he told Adams he understood and thanked him for the opportunity, though more recently he has questioned the decision.

"Most programs give a coach four or five years to get it turned around," Spinner said. "I was there for one month. It's weird, man. It's really weird.

"I thought I did a great job."

Adams did not return phone calls. Finley declined to comment.

Spinner said he hired his assistants as quickly as he could, given that he was new to the area. As for the locker room, Spinner said it was clean except for a wayward sock or pair of shoes.

Spinner, who teaches special education at the school, said he would like to coach again.

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A lasting legacy: Only hours after attending the funeral of teammate Andre Morgan in early December, Crenshaw players had to gather their composure for a game against Santa Monica Crossroads.

That was only one of many difficult moments the Cougars have handled with class since Morgan was shot multiple times and killed in late November while walking to a friend's house in Inglewood.

Crenshaw players and coaches received news of Morgan's death shortly before they were to leave for the Clovis West tournament, the first time Cougar Coach Willie West was confronted with the loss of a player in his 31-year tenure. West considered canceling the trip but figured that Morgan, a senior guard who was fighting for a starting position, would have wanted his teammates to go on without him. Crenshaw, shaken by its loss, went 2-3 in the tournament.

"Knowing that they had to come back and attend the funeral, they never focused on basketball," said assistant Kelly Williams, who coached Morgan for two years on the junior varsity.

Since then, the Cougars (12-5) have won 10 of 12 and are No. 15 in The Times' rankings. "I think they've rebounded well," Williams said. "They've come together."

One big reason for the turnaround has been the play of Marcus Williams, a junior point guard who has averaged roughly 22 points and 10 assists per game. Big man Terrence Jones and Leuzinger transfer Derrick Clark have complemented Williams, son of the assistant coach. Morgan, who dreamed of playing for UCLA, was not associated with gangs and had worked to improve his grades, to the point where he had become an honor student. He died a week before taking the SAT.

The killer was described as black, 5 feet 9 to 6 feet tall, wearing a black jacket, blue pants and a black beanie. According to police, he hopped into a car and fled the scene with two other people who had been waiting in the automobile. Anyone with information is asked to call the Inglewood Police Department at (310) 412-5246.

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More tragedy: Saugus forward Sheldon Bell died late Saturday night after being involved in a car accident in Saugus. Robert Smith, a football player at the school who was in the car with Bell, also died.

"Sheldon was a great kid," said Saugus Coach Jeff Hallman, who didn't know any further details about the accident. "He was playing extremely well and had a great personality. He was a big member of our basketball family and will be sorely missed."

Bell was a senior reserve who added a spark off the bench. Against Canyon Country Canyon last week, Bell finished with 17 points and seven rebounds. Hallman said players and parents planned to meet to consider ways to memorialize Bell.

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Money in (someone else's) bank: Jason Sanders may want to get his checkbook ready.

The Beverly Hills coach, who vowed to donate his $3,500 coaching salary to charity if his Normans didn't make the playoffs, needs his team to go 5-4 in its remaining nine regular-season games to get the 11 victories necessary to apply for a wild-card playoff berth. Five of the games are against teams that have beaten the Normans.

Making the playoffs for the first time in five seasons seems unlikely for a team that is 6-11 overall and 0-5 in the Ocean League.

Beverly Hills, losers of seven consecutive games, has come agonizingly close in several defeats, though. The Normans lost in overtime, 53-52, to West Torrance on Friday. It was the fourth time during the losing streak that Beverly Hills lost by three points or fewer.

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Team in turmoil: Woodland Hills Taft (9-5) has undergone a major shake-up at midseason, with a trio of three-year varsity players being kicked off the team.

Point guard Mustafa Asghari, averaging 26 points, was removed by Coach Derrick Taylor last week.

"He just refused to be a team player," Taylor said.

Also banished were starters Collins Ezeuka and Tyrone Melton.

Taft's new lineup, which included All-City player Steve Smith, who returned this week from a knee injury, came through with a 57-50 victory over Woodland Hills El Camino Real on Friday.

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Staff writer Eric Sondheimer contributed to this report.

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