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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Gang rivals on the street, teammates on the court

When gang members unite, good things can happen: Kilpatrick, a juvenile detention center in Malibu, is a case in point. It’s facing West Hills West Valley Christian in division finals.

March 02, 2010|Eric Sondheimer

Kurt M. Keller, the boys' basketball coach at Kilpatrick, a juvenile detention center in Malibu, always wonders what will happen when rival gang members from the Crips and the Bloods are brought together on the same team.

Sometimes they cooperate, sometimes not.

"We have kids who in the past would rather shoot at each other than pass the basketball to each other," he said.

Not this year. That Kilpatrick has advanced to Thursday's Southern Section Division 6A final against West Hills West Valley Christian at Ontario Colony is something to celebrate.

Teenagers who arrive at Kilpatrick are wards of the court. They come and go depending on how much time they have to serve. The longest they stick around is nine months. During the holidays last December, Keller got a 6-foot-5 player and told him, "You're the best Hanukkah present ever."

Only three players have been with the team since the season began. Anthony Hubbard, the team's standout during the playoffs, started the season on junior varsity.

Keller, who works as a probation officer, is excited how the players have come together.

"They're passing the ball to each other, and it's unbelievable," he said. "Don't get me excited."

It might not be a big deal to many when teammates display unselfishness, but having rival gang members unite is what makes Keller smile.

Kilpatrick hasn't had much success in basketball, but the football program received attention through the 2006 movie, "Gridiron Gang," starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and based on a 1993 documentary.

Now Kilpatrick's basketball team is trying to win a section title. The Mustangs were the only team in the Delphic League to knock off Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, which is playing in the Division 5A final.

"I've never had a kid for two seasons, and we don't want to," Keller said.

Mater Dei trying to win final

Santa Ana Mater Dei's boys' team has lost in championship games the last three years, but it's not as if the Monarchs were beaten by bad teams. Lakewood Artesia, Compton Dominguez and Riverside King knocked off Mater Dei, and each had outstanding players leading the way.

Etiwanda will take a crack in Saturday's 6:30 p.m. Division 1AA final at the Honda Center.

"I have a lot of respect for their program, their coach and their kids," Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight said.

Mater Dei had to make a lineup change several weeks ago after starting point guard Tommy Stangl suffered a broken foot. Sophomore Katin Reinhardt moved into the starting lineup, and Gary Franklin Jr. took over the point guard duties.

Who's No. 1?

The Southern California regional pairings will be announced on Sunday afternoon, and one of the big decisions will be which team gets the No. 1 seed in Division I boys, especially if Mater Dei and Westchester each win section titles.

It's a big decision because the No. 2 seed would have to get past No. 3, and that will probably be Woodland Hills Taft -- unless Taft upsets Westchester in Saturday's City Section Division I final.

Whatever happens, the Division I tournament should be filled with top teams.

Atanga is back

Ojai Besant Hill has made it to the Division 5A final against Sierra Canyon on Friday at Colony, and a big reason was the Southern Section decision to grant a hardship waiver to 6-8 Yannick Atanga, who turned 19 during the summer. He has signed with Santa Clara and is finally in top shape.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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