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Afflalo Is the Real Showman at Pauley

January 06, 2003|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

About 12,000 people, many of them prompted more by curiosity than an interest in high school basketball, went to Pauley Pavilion on Saturday expecting to see a breathtaking performance from a legend in the making.

They witnessed a breakout display, all right -- just not from LeBron James.

While James turned in a solid but unspectacular performance to lead Akron (Ohio) St. Vincent-St. Mary to a 64-58 victory over Santa Ana Mater Dei in the Pangos Dream Classic, it was Compton Centennial's Arron Afflalo who was the showstopper.

Afflalo scored a career-high 42 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had five assists during Centennial's 86-79 loss to Carson in double overtime.

The 6-foot-5 junior guard made plays big (such as a three-quarters-court basket before the halftime buzzer) and small (such as an assist to Michael Gordon for a pivotal three-pointer late in the third quarter).

"I haven't seen anything like that in high school in a long time," Centennial Coach Rod Palmer said. "The last performance I saw like that was from [Boston Celtic star] Paul Pierce when he was in high school."

Afflalo, the only returning starter from last season's state Division III runner-up team, was at his best late in the game. He made two free throws to give the Apaches a two-point lead with 34 seconds left in regulation.

After Carson's Samuel Hill made a leaping, one-handed rebound off the glass to send the game into overtime, Afflalo responded by scoring seven of Centennial's nine points in the first extra period. His turnaround jumper with 33 seconds remaining gave the Apaches a 69-68 lead.

Carson forward Ekene Ibekwe, who turned in a fine performance with 27 points, made a free throw to send the game into a second overtime.

But Afflalo made a three-pointer to give Centennial (7-5) its last lead at 75-73, and then made two free throws to tie the score, 77-77, with 50 seconds left.

That Ibekwe and the Colts pulled away for the victory didn't diminish Afflalo's accomplishments.

"I just felt like I was the guy who needed to have the ball at the end," said Afflalo, who plays point and shooting guard but primarily handles the point late in games. "It was a big night for me, but we should have got the victory. It would have been so much sweeter."

Afflalo, averaging a team-high 24 points, has done more than emerge as Centennial's leader in the view of Palmer, who labeled his star player the best junior in Southern California.

"He brings leadership and a certain confidence," Palmer said. "Our team looks to him, and he knows that he if he doesn't play well we may struggle. For the most part, he's responded all season."

Fans who came to see the next NBA superstar Saturday also might have witnessed the next big thing in high school hoops.

Said Afflalo: "That was just the way it turned out."


Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight said he did not skip the postgame news conference Saturday night after his team's game, as was widely reported. McKnight left after a brief interview with ESPN, he said Sunday when reached at home, because he was not told there was a news conference.

Dream Classic officials told the media that McKnight and the Monarchs would answer questions after St. Vincent-St. Mary players. But nearly 30 minutes after the Fighting Irish left the interview room, an official announced that Mater Dei had departed.

"I always talk to the media, win or lose," McKnight said. "I'm more gracious than that."

Asked to assess James' performance, McKnight said he was impressed with the St. Vincent-St. Mary star's all-around game (21 points, nine rebounds and seven assists) but not his 0-for-nine shooting from beyond the three-point arc.

"If he's going to go to the pros, he's going to have to knock down some threes," McKnight said. "We did a pretty good job on him defensively. But he's such a guy to reckon with. And he makes his teammates look good."

McKnight said he was disappointed because the Monarchs squandered a chance to win despite playing tentatively early and missing layups and free throws.

The coach said he was pleased with senior guard Wesley Washington's 18-point performance and the ability of sophomore guard Mike Gerrity to handle St. Vincent-St. Mary's pressure.


McKnight said he does not consider himself a serious contender to replace embattled UCLA Coach Steve Lavin should the Bruin coach lose his job.

"I think I better start winning more games," said McKnight, whose record at Pauley Pavilion dropped to 1-2 on Saturday. "[UCLA Athletic Director] Dan Guerrero never knocked on my door for the UC Irvine position, so I really doubt he'll knock on my door for the UCLA position.

"A few have [made the transition from high school to college coaching], but it's a pretty good stretch."


Los Angeles Price's 23-game winning streak, the longest in the Southern Section, came to an end Friday when the Knights lost to L.A. Verbum Dei, 77-72, in overtime.

Price hadn't suffered an on-court loss in 32 games, since losing to Verbum Dei, 74-57, on Jan 5, 2002. But Price had to forfeit its final two regular-season games last season because it had scheduled more games than section rules permit.

San Juan Capistrano St. Margaret's (14-0) now holds the section's longest winning streak. Coincidentally, St. Margaret's last loss was against Verbum Dei in the second round of last season's Division IV-A playoffs.

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