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High Schools | Eric Sondheimer

Buddy System Is the Solution at El Segundo

January 25, 2002|Eric Sondheimer

Starsky had Hutch, Thelma had Louise, Lassie had Timmy, so there's nothing wrong with turning to a best friend in a time of need.

At El Segundo High, basketball players Jeramie Hopson and Dashawn Strong are so close they have their own call for help: "Koo-coo."

Don't laugh, it really works.

"I'll always jump in and help him or he'll jump in and help me," Hopson said.

Humor, wit and laughter, more than fists, get these two seniors out of predicaments.

They can't look at each other without smiling. Maybe their parents are keeping a secret because they act more like brothers than teammates.

They laugh at each other's jokes, borrow each other's possessions and talk constantly on the phone.

"We like the same music, the same clothes and sometimes I wear his shoes and don't give them back," Hopson said.

Said El Segundo Coach Rick Sabosky: "Everywhere they go, they're together. It's been a treat to watch them mature."

In their case, maturity means they've gone from acting like 8-year-olds to 14-year-olds.

They've led El Segundo to an 18-3 record and transformed the Eagles into a Division IV-AA title contender. Strong, who's 6 feet 5, is averaging 22.7 points and 13.4 rebounds. Hopson, who's 6-2, is averaging 17.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and is the team's defensive stopper.

Hopson has the more outgoing personality. He was selected Homecoming King. Strong, at 225 pounds, is the gentle giant.

They met as freshmen at El Segundo. They remembered playing against each other the previous summer. Strong arrived from Redondo after the school didn't offer the classes he needed.

On the first day of school, Strong saw Hopson in a doorway but was too shy to approach.

"I didn't want to say anything because I didn't want to look stupid," Strong said.

Hopson recognized Strong and immediately greeted him. By the end of their sophomore seasons, they had become best friends.

"He's cool," Hopson said. "We play well together. We have a bonding thing."

Teachers, though, have been warned not to let them sit side by side in class. That happened in a history class, and the teacher had to separate them to put a stop to the constant chatter.

"He's funny," Strong said.

Said Hopson: "I'm never serious. I'm always joking. He gets me in trouble because he's always laughing."

Sometimes they have to be reminded that not everyone appreciates their humor. They were kidding with a large classmate wearing a red hood. Hopson called him "Hawaiian Punch." Strong called him "Kool-Aid." The classmate didn't think it was funny.

Soon, security was called to break up the wrestling match, and the jokesters were last seen being escorted to the assistant principal's office.

On the court, they are mostly serious. Strong uses his strength to dominate around the basket. Hopson has an explosive drive to the hoop and can hit the outside shot. He made 82 three-pointers last season.

They've tried to learn from one another.

"I think my jump shot has gotten better because of Jeramie," Strong said.

Added Hopson: "He's always calm. I get frustrated quicker than him. You can never tell if he's mad or not. I'll have a good game one time, a bad game next. He talks to me and makes it better."

It would be interesting to see who'd win a one-on-one game, but that's not possible.

"We've played twice and never finished," Hopson said. "It's 9-9 and it's not serious anymore."

Said Strong: "We can't stop laughing."

Between them, they're showing everyone how to have fun while succeeding in basketball.

Southland football coaches are going to feel envious of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame Coach Kevin Rooney and his two assistants, Joe McNab and Jeff Kraemer. Usually, at a team banquet, players chip in to get their coaches a gift, like a trophy or sweatshirt. Notre Dame players bought the coaches a $350 gift certificate to Lawry's.

The coaches and their wives went to the restaurant last week. Kraemer had prime rib and lobster tails. "Best coaching gift we've ever gotten," he said....

One of the top winter baseball games is set for Saturday at 2 p.m. at Huntington Beach Edison. Andy Beal of Palos Verdes Peninsula, perhaps the No. 1 sophomore pitcher in the nation, will throw the first two innings against Edison, the defending Southern Section Division I champion....

David Johnson, an outfielder from Agoura High and Pierce College, committed to Gonzaga....

Westlake Village Oaks Christian, in its second year of existence, is having quite a season. Its boys' basketball team is 17-0. Its girls' soccer team is 15-0. The boys' soccer team is 9-3-3 and the girls' basketball team is 12-7.

*

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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