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High School Team Profile:
Chino Hills Ayala High School --(Oct. 19, 1998)

"I'm a John Wooden disciple: Discipline, up-tempo, fundamental basketball."--Tom Gregory

The quote above was the one we used last year when we profiled Chino Hills' Ayala High, and it still applies. If you've seen Ayala play, then you know that coach Gregory actually practices what he preaches, discipline, up-tempo play, and basic, fundamental skills. It's how Ayala managed to get as far as they did last season in making it to the second round of the Southern Section Division I-AA playoffs where they lost to Capistrano Valley, 61-55, but not before Chasen Jones, then a sophomore, hit for 8 three-pointers. And it's how Ayala managed to compile a 29-3 record this summer against some of the best teams in SoCal, losing only to teams like Ontario and Artesia, clearly some of the best around. And it's how Ayala this year will manage to do well with a young group of players in a very competitive league featuring some of the finest D-I prospects around.   

Ayala High school is located in Chino Hills. The Head Varsity Coach since 1990 when he started the program at the then-new school with a team of all freshman and sophomores. For the last 8 years has Gregory has had some incredible successes.  And if you are a UCLA basketball fan, or a University of Nebraska fan, the name may Tom Gregory will certainly be one that is familiar. The UCLA connection dates back for the last 15 or 20 years, and Gregory was for several years the director of the John Wooden Basketball Camps held every summer at UCLA, and hence his affection and dedication to the principles espoused by Coach Wooden.  His affiliation with and affection for Coach Wooden is also one reason Ayala was invited to attend and play in the inaugural First Annual John R. Wooden High School  Invitational High School Classic played at the Pond last December, in a game where they matched up against Glendora and Casey Jacobsen (something that they'll do again this year on December 1, 1999 at Glendora High).  The Nebraska connection is easy:  Tom was a 3 year starting point guard for the University of Nebraska.  And there's a sort of Laker connection too: He has also been the director of Jerry West's basketball camps for several summers, and prior to Harrick leaving town, he was also a director of Jim Harrick's basketball camps.    Before coming to Ayala, Gregory was the head coach at Savanna High School (CIF Orange League) in Anaheim for 11 years. He's a
product of SoCal, and he played his high school basketball at Troy, where he was the starting point guard. It's easy to tell that he was a point guard. He is very direct, quick, and likes to get to the point of things with a minimum of idle chit-chat; he's results oriented, a hands-on type of coach, who understands the game not just from a coaching perspective, but from a playing perspective. His philosophy is to "take care of the ball and play a disciplined game."

Unlike last season, where Gregory believed he was a "bit thin" at the guard spots, this year he has what he believes could be one of the best backcourt combinations in several years with Chasen Jones and Chris Pacana. And he's got a few players up from the JV's and a couple of definite D-I prospects. Ayala could go pretty deep into the playoffs,  and there's some good talent.  And like last year, there are a couple of football players whose absence during the early tournaments will hurt them, but whose presence with give them a lift when the regular season begins.

The team this year is almost completely different, and there are only three returning players.  Gone to graduation are Shane Unrein (6'-5" F), Roman Dolven (6'-7" C), A.T. Simmons (6'-1" PG), Jay Espinoza (6'-0" SG), and Dave Winans (6'-2" F). Also not on the roster is Ekene Agwuene (6'-3" Jr. F), who either transferred or just won't play.  But returning are Jock May (6'-7" Sr. F), Chasen Jones (5'-11" Jr. PG), and Daniel Sherman (6'-6" Sr. F), and at least two of these three (Sherman and May) are being recruited pretty heavily. Here's a more complete look at the roster:

Jack May (6'-7" Sr. F)
Jean Rene Stephens (5'-11" Sr. SG)
Marc McCoy (5'-10" Jr. SG)
Chad Fune (5'-11" Sr. SG)
Marcus Wilson (6'-6" Sr. C)
Chris Pacana (5'-11" Jr. G)
Marcel Berk (6'-4" Jr. SG/SF)
Damien Wigfall (6'-2" Sr. F)
D.J. Lucas (6'-5" Jr. F)
Chasen Jones (5'-11" Jr. PG)
Jerry Miranda (6'-3" Jr. F)
Daniel Sherman (6'-7" Sr. C/F)
Nick Vavakin (6'-6" Jr. C)

Again this is a new team, featuring a bunch of guys up from the jv program and a couple of new transfers.  And it all starts in the backcourt, where Jones and Pacana, a transfer from Rowland, will make things happen and feed the big men inside. Jones is a returning 1st Team All-League player, with a great handle, a good first step who can shoot the lights out when he gets hot. His real forte' is not driving and penetration, but shooting, and Chasen has a great touch from out beyond the arc. He also makes very nice entry passes, pushes the ball on the break and gets the ball to the big men Jack and Daniel. The only downside for the team is that Chasen is also a football player, and depending upon the success of the football team, Chasen might not be available until the time the season starts and will miss most of the December tourneys. But when he's back, he and Pacana, who evidently either didn't want to play with or behind Julius Barnes at Rowland, will really be quite a combination for the next two years. Pacana is probably the best all-around player on the team, with the most sound fundamentals. He's smart, knows the game and sees the floor well, and he can shoot and run the break, and we would expect to see Chris and Chasen trade off at the 1 and 2 spots throughout the season depending upon which of them has the hot hand.

Backing these guys up and vying for playing time will be Stephens, McCoy, and Fune, all three up from the jv squad.  Stephens is a great defender, while McCoy is the real shooter; Fune will add depth on both ends, but notably is also one of the better defenders on the floor, and we'd look for all three to get some significant playing time until Chasen returns.

On the wing, look for Marcel Berke, who can swing from the 2 or 3 spot. He's a great shooter and very athletic, can slash to the basket and finish inside. He's a decent rebounder but does need to step up his defensive intensity on occasion. Still, by the end of the season, he should be a nice college prospect. Also on the wing we'd expect to see Damien Wigfall, another very athletic player up from the jv's, who will be a good rebounder and defensive player at filling the lanes and stopping the break.

In the front court, look for Daniel Sherman to start at center or play the four spot depending on the circumstances. He's a great athlete with a lot of unrealized potential, partly due to grade and discipline matters which cost him some valuable playing time, but he's one of the most athletic players on the team, very fast and an incredible jumper (he can hit 6'-5" in the high jump), and he's destined to grow a bit more. He's already wearing size 19 shoes and with some more seasoning will be a good college prospect. Right now there are several school looking at him, including Cal Poly Pomona which is going hard to get him. In the other forward/post spot, look for   Jack May, who is being recruited by Montana State, Navy, Gonzaga, St. Mary's and San Jose State. Jack is a big guy, with good footwork, an excellent rebounder and nice touch in close.  He and Sherman will definitely start and barring injury, will pretty much carry the front court between them.  Backing up will be Marcus Wilson, another player who has come up from the jv to add depth to the center spot; he's got good footwork and a nice shot from in around 10' and can rebound well, but needs to put some weight on to be truly effective at moving other guys out of the paint. Also at center, look for Nick Vavakin, a transfer from Covina to vie for time. He's a hard working guy, who can block shots and rebound and also adds another dimension to an already strong frontcourt.   At the four spot backing up Jack, look for D.J. Lucas, also up from the jv, who has tremendous offensives skills, but needs to get a bit more polish defensively and on the boards, and Jerry Miranda, up from the jv too, who is a real wide-body, a capable defender and rebounder, but who needs work on his offensive game.

As you can tell, this is a deep and talented team, one that can meet almost every situation thrown at it by the teams they'll be seeing. Ayala will see some very tough teams in Sierra League this year, including Baldwin Park, Diamond Bar, Nogales, Rowland, and West Covina, and who besides Diamond Bar and Rowland will challenge is a mystery. Ayala will also have some great preseason contests to get them ready for the league, starting with the Reebok Compton Tip-Off Classic, where they will play Serra on November 30 at Compton City College in one of three games to be played that day.  Of course the Reebok Compton Tip-Off Classic is a three-day event which runs on November 30, December 1 and 2, and will feature some of the top teams in the area. It's not a tournament, but an exhibition event, featuring each of the best teams playing a single game, and following Ayala's Nov. 30 appearance, they will travel to Glendora for another event where they will play host Glendora at 8:00 p.m. on December 1, 1998.

Following the Glendora game, they'll appear from December 7 through 12 at Ocean View High School's Tournament of Champions, which this year features a 20 team field: Fontana, Ayala, El Modena, Santa Barbara, Crenshaw, Pasadena, Long Beach Poly, Mater Dei, Centennial Corona, Long Beach Jordan, Edison Huntington Beach, Redondo, Morningside, Serra, LA Fremont, A.B. Miller, St. John Bosco, Compton, and San Diego Horizon, with the possibility of a couple of other teams coming in.

Ayala then takes a break, and will appear in the Best in the West from December 26-31 down in Long Beach at the Pyramid. We'll be getting the brackets and the list of participants soon. Stay tuned.  Of course, then Ayala begins it's tough league and pre-league schedule, and they are set to play Eisenhower at home as one of their first games.

This is now a team which is no longer thin at the guard spot, or anywhere else for that matter. We think they will contend for a league title, and will go deep in Southern Section Division I-AA playoffs. Whether they've got the stuff to get past Artesia, Long Beach Poly, Glendora, or other I-AA perennial favorites is something only time will tell.

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