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Eric Sondheimer

Playoff changes produce great title-game matchup

March 02, 2007|Eric Sondheimer

When it comes to genius promoters, add the name Paul Castillo to the list that includes P.T. Barnum and Don King.

Castillo is the assistant commissioner of the Southern Section who helped revise the basketball playoff divisions for this season, and look what his tinkering produced: Santa Ana Mater Dei (29-3) playing Lakewood Artesia (28-2) for the Division I-AA boys' championship at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Honda Center.

"It's the one everyone wanted to see," Castillo said.

This should be a better matchup than any state championship game later this month in Sacramento. It might be the best section championship game in decades. The two nationally ranked teams met on Dec. 29, with Artesia winning, 58-57, after trailing by 13 points in the fourth quarter.

Bring your cameras and autograph pens, because no less than nine players on the teams are considered definite NCAA Division I scholarship recipients. And the battle of the sophomores ought to be extraordinary.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday March 06, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
High school basketball: A column by Eric Sondheimer in Friday's Sports section said West Hollywood Pacific Hills was the only school to be playing in both boys' and girls' Southern Section basketball finals. Norco also had both teams playing.

Artesia's Renardo Sidney, a

6-foot-10 sophomore, might be seeing double when surrounded by Mater Dei's Wear twins, David and Travis, 6-10 sophomores.

Mater Dei's Taylor King, bound for Duke, will take on his fellow McDonald's All-American, Arizona State-bound James Harden of Artesia.

Oregon-bound point guard Kamryon Brown of Mater Dei will get to display his skills against USC-bound guard Malik Story of Artesia.

It has all the makings of a high school classic, and if you can't get a ticket, watch it live on FSN Prime Ticket.

Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight wasn't thrilled when the Southern Section stacked most of the top programs in one division.

"The fans love it," he said. "The coaches are dying a thousand deaths."

There has been dissension and grumbling among many schools about the new playoff divisions, which are based primarily on a league's competitive equity and not on individual school enrollment.

The makeover has resulted in a group of schools getting their first opportunity in years to compete for a section championship.

Take Division III-A, which North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake and Compton Centennial have recently dominated. Their leagues, however, were elevated to Division I-AA, and both schools suffered early playoff exits. So look who's playing for the Division III-A title: Corona del Mar and La Canada Renaissance Academy.

It's good that different schools get an opportunity to win a championship. But it's not good when the divisions become so weak that it raises questions of credibility. And don't even bring up how it affects teams selected to represent the section in the state playoffs.

Look at North Hollywood Campbell Hall (28-1), a team that could compete against Artesia and Mater Dei this season. Unfortunately, Campbell Hall got stuck in III-AA, where the Vikings have won playoff games by margins of 59, 65, 48 and 38 points. Up next is La Canada, which might be wishing Santa Margarita were back in the division.

One school not complaining is West Hollywood Pacific Hills. Of the 565 schools in the Southern Section, Pacific Hills is the only one whose boys' and girls' teams are playing in championship games.

In the Division I-AA girls' final at 8:15 tonight at Long Beach State, the matchup couldn't be better: Long Beach Poly (30-1), ranked No. 1 in the state by CalHiSports.com, taking on No. 2 Brea Olinda (30-0).

However terrific the championship matchups are this season, changes are still needed. Playoff groupings should be done on a school-by-school basis instead of by league strength, allowing strong programs to be placed in the same divisions.

But at least in Division I-AA, the Southern Section got everything right.

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

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