If you want to witness a freak of nature, go watch Kene Izuchukwu of Palisades High play volleyball. He jumps so high that he could be an astronaut in training.
FOR THE RECORD:
High school sports: In Eric Sondheimer's On High Schools column in Monday's Sports section, an item in which he predicted that the coming prep football season would be the year of the receiver said that Jordan Payton, one of the top receivers, attended Westlake Village Westlake. He attends Westlake Village Oaks Christian. —
His coach, Chris Forrest, calls him "a phenomenon in the world of volleyball."
He has a 41-inch vertical leap and a volleyball approach jump of 11 feet 11 inches. He's only 6 feet tall but can dunk a basketball as easily as a 7-footer.
"When he goes up to hit, it doesn't seem like he's going to come down," Forrest said. "He flies, and every tournament we go to, he draws a crowd. It's a pretty amazing feat when you see him jump."
Izuchukwu was born in Albany, N.Y., but his parents are from Nigeria. He played basketball all his life until discovering volleyball as a freshman. He played on Palisades' 2008 City Section championship team and has continued to improve. Two weeks ago, he committed to UCLA.
"I just love to play volleyball, and the fact I have the ability to jump makes up for my lack of height," he said. "When I'm able to jump high, I'm able to see the block better and view the court in a different way. It's easier to direct my shots."
Volleyball teams usually want big, tall, strong players who can raise their long arms above the net and reject hits. That's why so many college teams are loaded with players 6-7 and taller. But Izuchukwu soars so high that he's a highlight video on almost every play.
"When he goes up to block, it's pretty much effortless," Forrest said.
Izuchukwu is an A student who startles people when they see him for the first time.
"First, I'm an African American playing volleyball and second, I jump higher than a lot of basketball players, so when they see me playing volleyball and my ability to jump, they're surprised," he said.
Izuchukwu still likes to play basketball in pick-up games, and almost certainly, someone will ask him to dunk. But his passion and future is in volleyball.
"He stands out everywhere he goes, even amongst the best players," Forrest said.
John Robinson's return
John Robinson is a legend in Los Angeles, twice serving as football coach at USC and with the Los Angeles Rams. He last coached in 2004 at Nevada Las Vegas, but he has come out of retirement at 74 to be the defensive coordinator at San Marcos High in San Diego County.
Robinson has two grandsons growing up and wanted to get involved in the new community he lives in.
"I thought it would be fun to help," he said. "You spend your life coaching, then all of a sudden retire. I owed something to somebody and felt this was the way I might pay it off."
Robinson is a radio commentator for NFL games on Sundays, but he's enjoying passing along his years of wisdom to teenagers.
"They look at me and say, 'That guy is 112 years old,' " he said. "All football players want somebody to help them get better."
The year of the receiver
Months before the football season begins, I can already conclude it's going to be the year of the receiver. USC and UCLA get to pick and choose who they want, and there will be lots more available for other schools.
The competition for No. 1 will be fierce among seniors George Farmer of Gardena Serra, Victor Blackwell of Santa Ana Mater Dei, Nelson Spruce of Westlake Village Westlake, Antoine Arnold of Temecula Chaparral and junior Jordan Payton of Westlake Village Oaks Christian.
After two months of preparation, baseball action in the City Section gets serious this week. The West Valley League championship will be decided after the two-game series set for Tuesday and Thursday between Chatsworth and Woodland Hills El Camino Real. And the Marine League title will be determined by the two-game series between Wilmington Banning and San Pedro. One of these teams will win the City Division I title on May 28 at Dodger Stadium.