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McKay Makes L.A. Price Right

Knights turn an 8-7 start into a shot at their fifth consecutive state championship today as confident senior guard rises to the occasion.

March 20, 2004|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Schuyler McKay has helped the Los Angeles Price boys' basketball team develop a reputation for winning easily. The Knights did not lose faith when they opened with an 8-7 record and were soon apologizing for their selfish play.

Heading into today's Division V state championship game against Modesto Christian in Arco Arena in Sacramento, McKay and the Knights (24-7) aren't counting down to an unprecedented fifth consecutive state title after turning their season around. They recognize the difficult task ahead. Modesto Christian has been ranked higher in Division V for most of the season, but McKay believes Price has the experience and talent to finish the job.

"I'm very confident in my teammates and my ability to rise to the occasion and perform well," said McKay, a 6-foot-5 guard who averages 17 points and 10 rebounds. "We have a very good team, so much raw talent that it's just ridiculous."

McKay and teammate Sam McDonald have a chance to win a fourth consecutive title for Price, something only one other Knight has accomplished, Oscar Edwards.

Price's talent and string of state titles have many doubting whether Modesto Christian can unseat the Knights, who are 215-36 in nine seasons since the program was established. Among the victories was an 80-72 win over Modesto Christian in last season's state championship game.

In addition to McKay, the Knights also returned Darren Morrison, a 6-2 senior guard who was the division's co-most valuable player last season, and have been aided by the improvement of 6-9 sophomore center Terrence Sutton.

But the Knights lost Edwards and five others to graduation. They then struggled with their chemistry and cohesiveness. As a result, Price began the season 8-7, albeit some losses notched against tough opponents such as Los Angeles Dorsey, Riverside King and Reseda Cleveland, but other defeats weren't as easily explained.

Particularly, the second meeting against L.A. Brentwood.

With McKay out because of an injury, Price defeated the Eagles by 15 points in December. With McKay back a month later, the Knights lost to Brentwood by 16.

Price had nowhere else to look for excuses. The mirror said it all.

"It finally clicked," said Price Coach Michael Lynch, a former 17-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Dept. "They realized, 'If we don't start playing together, then we're done.' "

The Knights held a players-only meeting in which McKay and other veteran players looked teammates in the eyes and explained what would happen if their shoddy play continued.

"We basically said, 'We're going to lose every ball game if we're going to keep playing like this,' " McKay said. "I didn't want to be responsible for not continuing the legacy."

Afterward, the team returned to Lynch's office and apologized for their selfish play. Since then, Price has not lost a game.

Opposing coaches aren't aware how intimidating McKay is behind closed doors, but they know he's an enforcer on the court. McKay's frame is wiry and muscular, and he possesses the will to change the course of a game.

"If there's one word to describe him, he's tough," said Santa Monica New Roads Coach Rhea Taylor, whose team lost both Harbor League games against Price this season. "He's going to get the rebound, he's going to make the big defensive play, he's going to get the offensive tip-in. He's so multi-faceted."

One area that has been a concern to college recruiters is McKay's outside shooting ability. McKay, a post player during his first two seasons at Price, had to adjust after moving to shooting guard last season and is now just getting settled.

"I've been branded with that weakness, but I feel I can shoot the ball well," he said.

McKay said it's an area he has spent time trying to improve. "I'm working on it constantly," he said. "I just shoot until I can't lift my arms anymore."

Though fully qualified, McKay is still waiting for his first scholarship offer. His future hasn't been a distraction, however. He planned all along to wait until after his senior season to fully explore his college options.

Even if he winds up playing at the junior college level, McKay has won people over with his determination alone.

"He has his game face on even when he's not playing," Taylor said. "His toughness is second to none."

So will be his collection of state titles, if the Knights can get past one last opponent.

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