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HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL

Division I boys' preview: Westchester looks into mirror at McClymonds

Westchester may have a wealth of junior talent and McClymonds may have four senior starters, but the Division I boys' basketball finalists have a lot in common.

March 21, 2009|Ben Bolch

SACRAMENTO — Oakland McClymonds High was supposed to be one year removed. The Warriors, state champions last season, had their longtime coach retire and two of their best players graduate.

Westchester High was supposed to be one season away. Seven of the Comets' top 10 players are juniors.

So much for a high school basketball season following script.

Tonight, McClymonds and Westchester will play at Arco Arena for the state Division I boys' title.

McClymonds is the first Division I team to make three consecutive championship game appearances and is seeking to become the first Northern California school to win consecutive titles since Alameda St. Joseph Notre Dame and Jason Kidd did it in 1991 and '92.

Westchester has four state championships to its credit.

And the schools have more in common than just success this season.

McClymonds, which is known as "the school of champions," has a storied athletic history that in basketball produced NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell and former NBA player and coach Paul Silas.

Westchester has produced current NBA players Trevor Ariza, Amir Johnson and Bobby Brown.

And, as much as this year's teams differ in makeup -- McClymonds (29-1) starts four seniors; Westchester (34-2) has all those juniors -- their styles are undeniably similar.

"They're a mirror of us," McClymonds Coach Brandon Brooks said.

Both push the pace on offense and pressure the ball on defense.

When asked what they know about the Warriors, Westchester players such as junior guard Jordin Mayes point to "what they did last year in the state playoffs."

Which was rout heavily favored Compton Dominguez by 19 points in the state title game, getting big contributions from seniors Damario Sims and Frank Otis and juniors Will Cherry and Damon Powell. Otis moved on to Southern Methodist and Sims also graduated, but the other two players are back.

Brooks describes the Montana-bound Cherry as "a great defender who is crafty and creative offensively" and Powell as a forward who is "always bringing excitement to the court."

Along with senior shooting guard Justin Standley and senior point guard Quincy Hill, they have led the Warriors to one of the best two-year runs in state history, going 61-1. Their only loss came in January against Northern California power Concord De La Salle.

"We take kids from the area and teach them how to play," said Brooks, himself a former McClymonds point guard. "We try to bring back old-school fundamentals; how to play the correct way."

Westchester Coach Ed Azzam also seems to be getting the best out of a group that includes a lockdown defender in Mayes, high-flying junior forward Dwayne Polee Jr. and senior guard Dominique O'Connor, the City Section player of the year.

"Nobody really expected us as juniors to be at this level doing what we're doing," Mayes said.

Except that when you play for Westchester, there are always high expectations.

"We expect to go to the postseason and make it far. We expect to go to state," said Polee, whose short jump shot with four seconds left lifted the Comets over rival Fairfax in a Southern California regional semifinal.

And now that the Comets have reached Arco Arena?

"We've got two banners on the wall this year," O'Connor said, referring to the City and Southern California regional titles, "so why not put this last one on there?"

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ben.bolch@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Finalists who know the ropes

WESTCHESTER

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McCLYMONDS

*--* 1,812 Enrollment 532 34-2 Record 29-1 5 National ranking 11 4 State basketball titles 1 *--*

NBA ALUMNI

Westchester: Trevor Ariza, Hassan Adams, Bobby Brown, Gabe Pruitt, Amir Johnson, Jason Hart.

McClymonds: Bill Russell, Paul Silas, Antonio Davis, Nate Williams, Joe Ellis, Odis Allison.

OTHER FAMOUS ALUMNI

Westchester: Linebacker/

football coach Ken Norton Jr., comedian Phil Hartman, UCLA volleyball coach Al Scates, baseball players Roy Smalley, Brian Barton and Mark Volman, musician Howard Kaylan.

McClymonds: Baseball players Frank Robinson, Curt Flood and Vada Pinson, sprinter Jim Hines, MC Hammer, politician Ron Dellums.

-- Ben Bolch

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