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Mater Dei, Westchester players have warm acquaintance

They'll vie for the Southern California Division I regional title, but many already have faced off in summer play.

March 18, 2010

Jordin Mayes is a slick ballhandler who can score with a flick of his wrist. Kareem Jamar is equally adept at shooting jumpers and slashing to the basket. Dwayne Polee Jr.'s hang time requires him to file a flight plan.

This scouting report on Westchester High's basketball stars comes courtesy of a player who has never faced them in a high school game, yet has a feel for them down to what brand of sweatband they prefer.

All Santa Ana Mater Dei High guard Gary Franklin Jr. needed to know about the Comets he learned in June, July and August.

When Franklin's top-seeded Monarchs (32-1) face second-seeded Westchester (30-3) on Saturday night at the Galen Center in the Southern California Division I regional championship, it will be the first time the powerhouses have met since 2006.

Yet most of their players clash multiple times each summer on the club circuit. That is the period in which elite players typically get a chance to feel each other out.

"The kids know them much better than we do as coaches because they play against them all summer for the last three or four years," Westchester Coach Ed Azzam said. "They know what to expect."

Polee has an especially good feel for what Franklin likes to do. That's because they were longtime teammates on the California Supreme, a top summer team. At one point both planned to attend USC.

"It always came up in conversations like ‘Man, we'll be able to go there together,' " Franklin recalled.

The duo later switched allegiances after the school's alleged NCAA transgressions involving former coach Tim Floyd and star O.J. Mayo. Franklin has signed with California and Polee is considering Nevada Las Vegas, Georgia and New Mexico.

Mater Dei guard Tyler Lamb's friendship with Polee predates even Franklin's. They have been friends since age 10, playing with and against each other on various club teams. Polee was already able to dunk by the time the boys met.

The task of stopping the high flier on Saturday is going to fall to Mater Dei forward Keala King, another former summer teammate and opponent of the 6-foot-6 senior. Monarchs Coach Gary McKnight said no amount of familiarity could prepare someone to defend against Polee, who averages a team-high 20.2 points and 9.8 rebounds.

"It's not natural how high he can jump and how long he can hang in the air," McKnight said. "You can't emulate that in practice. You can't say, ‘Hey, go hang in the air for five minutes and let's see how we can guard you,' so he's going to present a lot of problems."

Mater Dei's guards present their own challenges — Franklin and Lamb average a combined 35.8 points — and it seems as if whoever prevails on the perimeter will win the battle of guard-oriented teams. Westchester will counter Mater Dei's trio of Lamb, Franklin and Max Hooper with a formidable group in Mayes, Jamar and Denzel Douglas.

"Defensively for us," Azzam said, "it's going to be a perimeter-oriented game."

Azzam said he wouldn't ask his players for a scouting report on Mater Dei because he has tape of several games. But if the coach wanted to know what it feels like to beat a Monarchs player, he could always ask Jamar, whose Team Ariza summer team once edged Franklin's California Supreme on a buzzer-beater.

Azzam can't relate; he is 0-8 against Mater Dei since McKnight started coaching there in 1982. Both coaches are thankful that high school basketball bears little resemblance to the summer style of play.

"Summer ball is a lot different from real basketball," McKnight said. "In real basketball, guys actually coach defense, don't put the best player in the box and have four guys sit off to the side and go one on one. It's a different world."

When it comes to whether Westchester and Mater Dei players would rather beat each other in a big summer game or Saturday's regional final, there's no debate.

"The high school game, easy," Jamar said. "You can brag in the summer, but you're only bragging for a little while. Years from now, you can talk about your high school team."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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