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Price Is Ready to State Its Case

November 29, 2002|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

After a trying first season during which his team won one more game than it lost, Los Angeles Price High boys' basketball Coach Michael Lynch wrote that he "went before the Lord in prayer, asking that he send student-athletes to Price High from the north, south, east and west."

That was in 1997. Over the next five years, he recalled in an article for an inspirational newsletter, his prayers were answered

From the north came guards Paul Simon of Los Angeles Fairfax and Derrick Williams of North Hollywood Campbell Hall. From the south came guard Chris Alexander of Hawthorne Light and Life Christian School. From the east came forward Kalief Washington of Rosemead. And from the west came guards David Pendleton and Frank Peace of Westchester.

With its throng of transfers in place, Price established a tradition of excellence rivaled in Southern California only by Compton Dominguez. Heading into their season opener on Monday, the Knights have won four consecutive Southern Section titles and three state championships in a row, becoming only the second team besides Dominguez to accomplish the latter.

Price could become the first team in California to win four consecutive state titles with another victory in late March at Sacramento's Arco Arena.

Still, players and coaches at the tiny school (enrollment: 70) attribute their success to much more than an influx of talent, however massive. They contend that their religious faith and steadfast acceptance of each other have allowed them to dominate other schools in Division V -- the smallest in California -- with enrollments two and three times their size.

"It's our faith in each other and in what we believe that has brought us to this point," said Lynch, 43, a former Los Angeles Police Dept. detective who came to Price straight out of the Amateur Athletic Union coaching ranks. "I came here with no high school [coaching] experience, so it cannot be that Coach Lynch is this tremendous Xs and O's man. And I haven't had the impact transfer that has been mind-boggling."

"Faith" is the word of choice on the pristine Price campus, located at the sprawling Crenshaw Christian Center on an otherwise squalid stretch of Vermont Avenue between Florence and Manchester boulevards in South Central Los Angeles. Administrators beamingly refer to the gated complex as "an oasis," though the high school is a somewhat pricey sanctuary considering its yearly tuition of $4,200.

The 32-acre center encompasses preschool through high school and a ministry run by Frederick K.C. Price, one of the nation's most influential African American televangelists. Price delivers his sermons every Sunday morning at 9:30 in the FaithDome, a geodesic structure that seats 10,145.

Several Price players, among them Williams, a senior guard who transferred after his sophomore year, attend services at the FaithDome, though the only religious entrance requirement at Price is that students believe in Christianity.

Since Lynch's arrival, fans regularly pack the team's 1,400-seat, state-of-the-art gym. That's what happens when your team posts 65 victories over two seasons, as the Knights did from 2000-2002.

Hoops hysteria has reached such a pitch that only five of the school's 42 boys didn't try out for either the varsity or junior varsity teams this season.

Lynch's up-tempo, guard-oriented style results in breathless, high-scoring games that often render seats unnecessary. The Knights love to trap and employ full-court pressure on defense, creating turnovers and additional scoring opportunities that, as Lynch put it, "will equal out our bad-shooting games."

This season's team has already garnered national acclaim, featured as one of "25 teams to watch" in Street & Smith's preseason basketball guide.

Price has three returning starters, led by Williams and 6-foot-5 senior forward Oscar Edwards, who could become the first player to be a part of four California state-title teams. Edwards averaged 12 points and nine rebounds last season and was an all-state Division V selection along with Williams, who averaged 15 points and three steals. Also returning is point guard Paul Simon, the Knights' best on-the-ball defender, who averaged nine points and five assists.

Lynch, a friendly and gregarious man crowned by a clean pate, does his best to de-emphasize statistics and individual achievements in an effort to foster team unity. Observers such as Randolph Simpson, assistant principal and athletic director at Price, say the approach is key to the team's success.

Simpson should know. He used similar tactics to win three City Section titles as coach at Los Angeles Manual Arts.

"[Lynch] has taken a team with not a lot of superstars, but a lot of guys who work together as a cohesive unit and gotten them to achieve and believe in themselves," Simpson said. "He preaches the team effort, that everybody is an intricate part of this team, from the first man to the 15th man. That's important because you have to build that camaraderie."

Lynch said this season's schedule might be the toughest in school history.

Price, which under Lynch has never scheduled teams in its division before league competition in an attempt to strengthen itself for the playoffs, plays Gardena Serra, Los Angeles Verbum Dei and could face Los Angeles Dorsey and Long Beach Poly in tournament action.

If Price wins another state title, Lynch and his players will complete what has become an annual rite of winter: marching in front of the FaithDome congregation to a standing ovation.

Said Edwards: "We've already declared that we're going to win the state championship. We're going to get it done."

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