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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Guards in City Section final deserve attention

Taft's Michael Williams and Westchester's Dominique O'Connor are worthy of college scholarships, even if no one will offer them one.

March 06, 2009|ERIC SONDHEIMER | ON HIGH SCHOOLS

It's the fourth and final month of the high school basketball season, and here's the most puzzling revelation to date: College coaches have yet to make a final judgment on senior guards Dominique O'Connor of Westchester and Michael Williams of Woodland Hills Taft.

What are they waiting for?

"You're going to regret the day you didn't sign him," Taft Coach Derrick Taylor told one recruiter about the 6-foot-1 Williams, who's averaging 18.9 points and is one of the premier shooting guards in the Southland.

As for the 5-9 O'Connor, Westchester Coach Ed Azzam said, "Renardo [Sidney of Fairfax] is the most talented player in the City. Dominique is the best player. He deserves recognition and consideration for City player of the year."

And so tonight's 8 o'clock City Section Division I championship game between top-seeded Westchester (29-2) and third-seeded Taft (25-3) at USC's Galen Center is yet another opportunity for O'Connor and Williams to convince the skeptics that they deserve a college scholarship.

There's not much more they can do.

O'Connor has proven he can play pressure defense with the best despite his size, and can dribble through the key, draw a foul or score. He also can connect from long range. He's averaging 19 points and six assists.

"The thing Dominique has had to convince them is he's not a liability defensively," Azzam said. "He's anything but. He's an outstanding on-ball defensive player, quick, fast, strong and a good athlete."

Azzam has gone through this before when point guard Bobby Brown ended up as a last-minute Cal State Fullerton signee after being overshadowed on the Comets' 2002 state championship team that featured Lakers forward Trevor Ariza. Now Brown is playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves, so there's hope for O'Connor.

"It just takes a lot of time and patience to convince them because the first thing they look at is his height and can he compete against the bigger, stronger guys," Azzam said. "I think he's convinced a lot of them he can play at the next level."

Williams was the sixth man on Taft's championship team last season. He'd come off the bench and be counted on to contribute from three-point range.

This season, he has moved into the starting lineup and assumed a key role offensively. He had 23 points at the Galen Center last week in a 67-45 victory over Fairfax in the semifinals.

"He just dominates every good team we play," Taylor said.

It's frustrating for both players that college recruiters are still debating where they'd fit in.

"I feel I have to do what I'm doing and somebody will notice and pick me up," Williams said.

Added O'Connor: "They're doubting me, and it's keeping me motivated. I want to play college basketball, and when I get to play college basketball, they'll be saying the same things, so I can never let people get to my head, 'Oh, he's too small.' I'm going to play my game and if my team is winning and I'm doing good, everything is going to work out fine."

Tonight's final will feature the best collection of guards in the City Section, with four of the players headed for All-City recognition.

Besides O'Connor, Westchester has junior guard Jordin Mayes. Besides Williams, Taft has senior Justin Hawkins, bound for Nevada Las Vegas.

In the end, however, it's going to come down to the performances of O'Connor and Williams.

Parking outrage

Three days before Saturday's Southern Section boys' basketball finals at the Honda Center, the City of Anaheim announced the parking fee will be $15 instead of $12.

It's an outrageous decision in a time of a 10.1% unemployment rate in California. Families already are facing a $12 admission fee for the morning session and $14 for the evening session.

"This late notice has been hurtful," Southern Section Commissioner Jim Staunton said. "I can promise you it will be reviewed by our staff."

The parking fees charged by some professional venues are out of control, and I'm beginning to wonder if it's really worth it for high school athletes to have a chance to perform in a professional sports setting if their parents, grandparents and friends can't afford to attend the game.

The Coliseum charges a $25 parking fee for USC football games. It's $15 for UCLA games at the Rose Bowl. Dodgers games are $15. The Ducks are $15. The Lakers are $12 to $25. The Angels charge $8. USC basketball is $10 and UCLA basketball is $9.

To charge a $15 parking fee for a high school event is shameful.

--

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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