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HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL

Azzam family takes different routes to reach same road

Coach Ed Azzam aims for another title at Westchester High. His son, Evan, is a sophomore guard at the California Academy of Mathematics and Science, which is also enjoying playoff success.

February 27, 2009|Ben Bolch

Talk about traditions unlike any other.

Players from the son's team miss games to prepare for class. Players from the dad's team miss class to fly across the country for games.

The son's team sends players on to study at California, Cal Poly Pomona and UC Irvine. The dad's team sends players on to compete for the Lakers, Sacramento Kings and Toronto Raptors.

U.S. News & World Report ranks the son's school No. 26 in the country. USA Today ranks the dad's team No. 12 in the nation.

About the only obvious similarity between the schools of Evan and Ed Azzam is that they tend to attract students from outside their vicinity, the lures being academics at the California Academy of Mathematics and Science in Carson and boys' basketball at Westchester High in Los Angeles.

"Evan sometimes talks about comparing our teams, but it's not relevant," said Ed Azzam, the legendary Westchester coach. "Academically or athletically, it's just not the same thing."

Of course, that father and son have reached similar postseason destinations makes it all the more remarkable.

Both Westchester and CAMS have advanced to the semifinals of their playoff divisions; the Comets will play Reseda Cleveland on Saturday at the Galen Center in the City Section's Division I and the Rebels will play La Verne Lutheran tonight at Long Beach Cabrillo in the Southern Section's Division V-A.

Westchester is supposed to be here. The Comets, bidding for a 10th City title in Azzam's 30th season, are again loaded with talent.

Expectations are different for CAMS. The Rebels, in only their fourth season, are three years removed from a 1-15 season in which they suffered a 90-point defeat.

Evan Azzam perfectly embodies his overachieving CAMS team. An undersized 5-foot-8 sophomore guard, Azzam is a steady ballhandler who shoots with uncanny precision. His three-point shot before halftime Tuesday helped the Rebels (20-5) upset third-seeded Huntington Beach Brethren Christian in a quarterfinal.

"You look some players up and down and you're like, 'Oh, he's probably not a ballplayer,' " CAMS forward Quincey Jackson said. "That's the first thing you would think of Evan. But he's one of the most clutch shooters I've ever seen."

Evan gets his touch largely from his dad, a scrappy guard at Gardena High who went on to become a player of little renown at West Los Angeles College and a coach of major significance at Westchester. But when it came time to pick a high school, Evan decided his interests in math and science should trump any athletic endeavors. So when a CAMS recruiter spoke at his middle school, Evan applied and became one of 166 students admitted for the Class of 2011.

Located on the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills, CAMS opened in 1990 seeking to increase the nation's pool of college graduates in the fields of math and science by offering an intensive college preparatory education to motivated high school students. The public school draws from 11 school districts encompassing more than 625 square miles. Current enrollment is 616.

For the Rebels, athletics tend to be an afterthought. The players' dedication to their studies crystallized for Ed Azzam following a CAMS game in his son's freshman year.

The elder Azzam noticed two starters were missing and asked his son about it. "He said, 'Daddy, they either had a project or a test the next day,' " Ed Azzam recalled. "That's kind of when it kind of dawned on me, the difference between CAMS and a lot of other schools. My kids would never consider missing a game -- and it wouldn't even enter my mind -- and that's the difference. The academics here come first in all that they do."

CAMS' players routinely miss the team's 6:30 a.m. practices -- held so early because that's when the Rebels have access to the gym at Dominguez Hills -- to prepare for schoolwork.

Junior guard Bobby Miyashiro missed the team's opening playoff victory because he was attending a college tour in Northern California.

"I jokingly refer to them as nerds," CAMS Coach Scott Levester said of his players. "I just happened to get some athletic nerds."

Though Evan averages 11.9 points, the second-highest average among the Rebels, Levester doubts that Evan would get off the bench at Westchester. Evan did play for his dad during a summer tournament a few years ago when the team was short a few players. "He did fine once he got over the initial shock of having to guard somebody bigger and quicker," Ed said.

Ed, 54, attends as many CAMS games as his schedule permits, with his presence making Levester more nervous than any of the Rebels' players. "I'm worried about myself as a coach and I'm second-guessing myself so that if I do this, what is he going to think? Because he's a legend," Levester said.

Evan concedes he's more comfortable keeping his dad at a distance when it comes to basketball. "I've always liked getting advice from my dad, but I don't know that I'd ever like getting coached by Dad," Evan said.

But father and son have made plans to attend each other's games this weekend.

A few more victories and they might be able to hop a flight together to Sacramento for the state championships.

"It would be awesome if we could get that far," Evan said. "Anything past this is unbelievable."

--

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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