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Basketball gold at the end of the Grapevine

Bakersfield will be a showcase of high school excellence and college potential when it hosts the state basketball championships this weekend. Here are 10 reasons to hop on Interstate 5.

March 25, 2010|Eric Sondheimer

There are at least 10 reasons to be excited about this weekend's state basketball championships at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield:

•Los Angeles Price guard Allen Crabbe is the best player in America not selected for the McDonald's All-American game. He's going to deliver a sixth state title for Price, and in a couple of years, when he's a college All-American at California, people will be asking, "How did he get out of Los Angeles?" He's 6 feet 6, drains three-point shots, dunks, makes free throws, blocks shots and got an A in calculus.

•The best professional prospect is female. Watch and admire 6-foot junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis of Santa Ana Mater Dei, a future WNBA first-round draft pick who's committed to Connecticut and is going to do a great dance after the Monarchs win the Division II title.

•Westchester has become the model for how a championship team should play. The Comets' three guards are fabulous. No one seems to care who scores the most points. Forward Dwayne Polee Jr. could beat the Lakers' Shannon Brown in a dunk contest, and he has become much more than a spectacular dunker. Center Reggie Murphy is growing up figuratively and literally.

•The next big college prospect in Southern California is 6-8 sophomore Grant Jerrett of La Verne Lutheran. One scout says his arms and legs are so long that he resembles a "praying mantis." He wears size-17 shoes and his father is 6-10.

•Fifteen of the 20 teams playing in Bakersfield represent private high schools, but public schools can scream loud and long because they rule Division I. Not a single private school made it to the finals in Division I boys or girls. Now, if all 20 teams had ended up being private schools, then it would be truly a sign of the approaching apocalypse.

•Jordan Mitchell, a 6-9 senior at Gardena Serra, is getting so good he no longer should be considered a project. "He's come a long ways," Coach Dwan Hurt said. "He's improved with almost every game." Watch him dunk, rebound and block shots in the Division III final against Oakland Bishop O'Dowd on Saturday.

•Who says Long Beach Poly is a football school? The Jackrabbits are going to win their record-setting fifth consecutive Division I girls' championship. Can we set up a game between Poly and Mater Dei for Sunday afternoon?

•When it comes to coaches going from the outhouse to the penthouse, San Diego Lincoln's Jason Bryant knows the feeling. He was the coach at Van Nuys in 2006 and 2007, when the Wolves went 2-22 and 8-17. Now he's the coach of a team playing for the Division II boys' title. "I'm just blessed," Bryant said.

•There's a reality show taking place in watching the father-son duo of Coach Eric Cooper and freshman guard Eric Cooper Jr. of La Verne Lutheran. "Now that we've done all this, I understand why he's yelling at me," Eric Jr. says. According to the father, "I don't yell so much now because he's starting to understand. I'm harder on him than anybody. He represents not only the team but me." And the younger Cooper is on his way to becoming a major-college prospect.

•The Basque cuisine in Bakersfield will pleasantly surprise the tourists from Los Angeles, as will mountains filled with wildflowers along the way. And one resident of Bakersfield warned, "You may want to prepare yourself for encountering friendly people, even though you are an L.A. alien."

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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