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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Corona Centennial's Gelaun Wheelwright takes a lesson to heart

Gelaun Wheelwright missed an opportunity to play for USC, but he hasn't missed many shots lately as he's led Corona Centennial deep into the playoffs. 'The lesson learned is don't take anything for granted. Nothing is guaranteed,' he says.

March 17, 2011|Eric Sondheimer

The way Gelaun Wheelwright of Corona Centennial has been making shots, you'd think smoke would be coming from his fingers after the ball goes through the net.

He has scored 31, 38 and 27 points in the Huskies' three Southern California Regional playoff games while making 17 three-pointers.

"Gelaun is crazy," teammate Dominique Dunning said. "He can shoot the lights out, and he's doing it at the right time."

It's ironic that Wheelwright will be playing at USC's Galen Center on Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Division I regional final against Santa Ana Mater Dei. Two summers ago, Wheelwright was set to become a Trojan.

He was the first player to commit to new USC Coach Kevin O'Neill. Then, last summer, O'Neill decided Wheelwright had not developed his game enough, and the two parted ways.

"I really didn't work on my game like I should have," Wheelwright said. "The lesson learned is don't take anything for granted. Nothing is guaranteed."

Wheelwright received what was essentially a public reprimand, with recruiting services and others reporting on the fallout.

"Gelaun did not have a very good summer," Centennial Coach Josh Giles said. "If he had played with the same intensity and same focus as he's doing during the playoffs, he'd still be going to USC."

Said O'Neill: "We didn't think he was performing at a level that was needed. He's a great kid, a really good guy, and we really wish him nothing but the best."

It took some deep contemplation from Wheelwright before he was able to move forward.

"When things didn't work out with USC, he was very down," Giles said. "It took him a long time to get over it."

Said Wheelwright: "I was a little surprised. I really didn't think it was going to happen."

Wheelwright found another school, Weber State, and signed last November.

"I like the fact the coach told me I'm going to have to work to get a spot and nothing is guaranteed," he said.

Wheelwright won't be thinking about USC this weekend. It's all about trying to lead his team to a state championship. He's one of three Centennial guards with college scholarships, joining Dunning (New Mexico) and Michael Caffey (Long Beach State).

"This group, I love playing with," he said. "We come out every night and play our hearts out."

Centennial (30-4) has been on a mission after losing to Long Beach Poly, 68-52, in the Southern Section Division 1AA championship game.

"Coach Giles told me I have to step my game up in order for us to get a ring because Dominique and Mike bring it every night," he said. "I'm the X factor."

Spectators can sense the fun Wheelwright's teammates are experiencing as they watch the players smile when he begins to put on a show.

"When he starts getting into a rhythm, he'll make shots from anywhere," Giles said. "Everybody in the gym and everyone on his team knows what to do — give him the ball."

Said Wheelwright: "When I hit a couple in a row, I feel like I can't miss."

If Wheelwright starts hitting threes in bunches at Galen Center, it will be tough for Trojans fans to watch.

But Wheelwright has used his bout with adversity to understand what's needed to succeed.

"I learned to leave everything on the court," he said.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

Times staff writer Baxter Holmes contributed to this report.

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