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GIRLS' BASKETBALL STANDINGS | Eric Sondheimer

Esperanza Is Lovein His Stellar Play

January 29, 2002|Eric Sondheimer

Whenever Mark Lovein steps on the court for Anaheim Esperanza High, the students ought to be chanting, "UN-der-RA-ted."

The 6-foot-8 junior is one of the best-kept secrets in Orange County basketball.

Averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds, Lovein is a 16-year-old with a bright future.

It's surprising one of the high school basketball powerhouses hasn't sent out one of its talent scouts to gauge Lovein's interest in transferring.

That's how it seems to work these days--show potential at an under-publicized program, then abandon friends and teammates right when you start getting good. Except Lovein says he isn't going anywhere.

"Winning is everything right now in high school basketball," he said. "I think it should be more about community. I grew up in Yorba Linda and you should build a team by what you have and not by bringing people in or having people from our area go to different schools."

Lovein has played varsity since his freshman year, with Coach John Cyrus working hard to develop his potential.

"When you suggest something to try, he does it," Cyrus said. "You have to take some chances and risks to grow."

Last season, Lovein weighed 225 pounds. This season, he's a lean 205, thanks to trading late-night burgers for fruit.

"The healthier diet has made a dramatic difference. He's in the best shape of his life.

"I thought I was weighted down [last season]," he said. "I wasn't able to jump very high or play to my full capability. I'm able to run the court and not get tired. I can play the whole game hard. I've lost a lot of fat. I feel my body hasn't gone through all its changes."

If Lovein can add more strength and keep improving his three-point shooting, he'll have a chance to play college basketball.

He already has shown he can perform well in big games. This season for the 14-9 Aztecs, he scored 16 points against Newport Harbor and 28 points against Claremont, two quality opponents. He's among the top players in the always competitive Sunset League.

And yet, Lovein is still trying to gain attention.

"I don't think many people have heard of me," he said.

This summer, Lovein plans to join Rockfish, a travel team that will allow him to test his skills against players with college aspirations.

He has great confidence in Cyrus, a sixth-year coach who's always offering advice.

"A coach knows what he's doing," Lovein said. "That's why he has the job. Why not listen to him?"

Cyrus wants his players to succeed, but success isn't always measured in wins and losses.

"We follow rules and if you don't, there's consequences," he said. "It's about helping them grow up to become young men."

Lovein has a 3.5 grade-point average and possesses the work ethic to keep improving.

"I love basketball," he said.

Last Thursday, he went to Pauley Pavilion to watch the UCLA-Stanford game.

It was a chance to envision himself in a college atmosphere. He's confident that if he keeps improving, he'll have the opportunity to fulfill his goal.

*

Mike Lingua of Canyon Country Canyon was a soccer player who knew little about football when he went out for the team last fall.

On Friday, he leaves for a visit to Fresno State and is expected to accept the school's offer of a football scholarship, completing a meteoric rise in a sport he's still learning.

Lingua will become a punter for the Bulldogs. Credit Canyon Coach Harry Welch for bringing Lingua to the attention of Fresno State Coach Pat Hill.

Welch put together a highlight video of Lingua's punts.

"Sometimes his leg is equal to what they are in the NFL," Welch said. "His leg strength is incredible."

*

All-City guard Steve Smith of Woodland Hills Taft demonstrated he's in basketball shape, scoring 29 and 35 points in consecutive games last week. Smith sat out the first month this season to rest his knees from football.

Smith, a junior receiver, will be pursued intensely by USC and UCLA this year. That former Taft quarterback Brandon Hance is transferring to USC from Purdue helps the Trojans. Smith's father said last week that his son is "leaning" toward USC because of Hance.

*

Torey Lovullo, 36, who played baseball for Van Nuys Montclair Prep, UCLA and in the major leagues for eight years, has been hired as manager of the Cleveland Indians' Class-A team at Columbus, Ga.

*

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

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