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High Schools | Eric Sondheimer

Balanced Artesia Slices Through the City Section

January 22, 2006|Eric Sondheimer

There's no point in playing the City Championship game in boys' basketball on March 4 at the Sports Arena because Artesia has already proved it's worthy of the championship trophy.

Of course, Artesia (19-1) plays in the Southern Section, making it ineligible to compete for the City title, but that doesn't mean the Pioneers don't deserve to hoist a banner proclaiming themselves "the best in Los Angeles" after completing the rare hat trick of defeating Westchester, Los Angeles Fairfax and Woodland Hills Taft in the same season.

Taft (13-5) was the latest City power to fall to Artesia, losing 64-40 on Saturday in the California Hoop Challenge at Artesia.

"They're too good," Taft Coach Derrick Taylor said. "We can't play with them."

Artesia, ranked No. 1 in the Southland by The Times, could be headed for a state Division III championship because it has the most balanced and effective starting five anywhere.

Less than five minutes into Saturday's game, every Artesia starter had scored in helping the Pioneers open a 15-2 lead.

And that's the difficulty in trying to come up with a strategy to beat the Pioneers: All five starters contribute in many different ways.

James Harden, a 6-foot-6 junior, was Artesia's leading scorer against Taft with 14 points. He has scored more than 1,000 points in his brief varsity career while becoming a dependable rebounder.

Senior point guard Derek Glasser rarely makes turnovers, is always unselfish and knows how to settle everyone down in pressure situations.

Sophomore guard Malik Story scored 13 points against Taft and repeatedly hits clutch shots when needed.

Sophomore guard Jason Pruitt is close to becoming one of the best for his age group as he keeps improving like his brother, Gabriel, USC's standout guard.

Senior center Shawntell Norman is learning to throw his 6-9 body around in the middle, causing havoc.

"They shoot the ball and don't make mistakes," Taylor said. "It's not like when a Westchester team walks into the gym, 'Holy Cow, what am I getting into?' They just execute."

On Saturday, the Pioneers were on top of their game after getting a scare on Friday when they needed overtime to defeat Lakewood Mayfair, 74-71, in a Suburban League game.

As for who's the best City team he has played, Artesia Coach Scott Pera selected Fairfax, saying, "I just think they have more people that can put the ball into the hole."

Los Angeles Fremont, which should win the Coliseum League title, and Los Angeles Jordan, which is 19-2 and winning the Eastern League, could join Fairfax, Westchester and Taft as City title contenders.

But as far as No. 1 in Southern California, Artesia has no challengers for now.

*

One of the most fortunate basketball programs in the Southern Section is Los Angeles Loyola because it was able to persuade Jamal Adams to become its coach.

Adams spent the last eight years as a volunteer assistant at his alma mater while earning big bucks as a stockbroker.

After Jim Williamson resigned as coach, Adams applied for the position.

Loyola's athletic director, Chris O'Donnell, told him, "Make sure you know what you're doing."

Adams quit his job and became an economics teacher at Loyola. His salary took a hit "by a large magnitude."

But the students at Loyola are grateful, for Adams' leadership and easy-going coaching demeanor have helped the Cubs to a 13-5 record and 4-1 mark in the Mission League.

"I love my school," Adams said.

And after the Dow lost 213 points on Friday, O'Donnell joked, "He should be very happy he wasn't a stockbroker today."

*

Another coach in the Mission League, Greg Hilliard of North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake, continues with a remarkable streak.

In 31 years of varsity coaching, Hilliard has never received a technical foul. It's a sign of extraordinary self control and respect for the officials.

"How can I give him a 'T' when he never says anything?" official Marvin Nudell said.

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

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