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High School Team Preview:
Santa Monica Crossroads--(Oct. 29, 1998)

"To have a good basketball you need to focus on only two things:  Hard work and winning.  But my goal is to do more than just have a good basketball team; it's about turning out good people."--Darryl Roper

Darryl Roper is going into his 10th season as the head coach of the Santa Monica Crossroads varsity. During those ten years, they've only lost a few games, to schools like Crenshaw, Dominguez and during the playoffs; they've perennially won their league and gone to the playoffs.  But his job is, as he says, about more than that, it's about turning out successful students who will go on as well-educated adults and lead productive lives. "Some people hear about our program, and they think that just because their son is talented, he can automatically get into the program. Hey, it's not like that here. This is a very tough school to get into. Every applicant comes through the front door, takes the ISEE [Independent School Entrance Exam, a standardized private school admission test required of most good private school], and then we only take about one out of 10 applicants. So just because a kid can play is no guarantee of anything here."

Last year we wrote that Darryl had accomplished most of what he had set out to do when he started coaching.  Well, he's got a few things left to do, like maybe winning another state title.   Crossroads, which plays in Southern Section Delphic League along with Campbell Hall, Montclair Prep, Pacific Hills, Brentwood, Landmark West and Whitney, has taken the league title every year for the past nine years. They've been to the State Finals four times, three times in Division III, twice  under former coach Elliot Turret (losing in 1983 and 1986), and they won under former coach Dave "Rockfish" Benezra in 1987 defeating Colusa.   They won again in Division IV under Coach Roper in 1997 where they won it all with Baron Davis leading the way to defeat Encina Sacramento 93-57.  Last season, Crossroads again won league, made it to the Southern Section CIF semifinals, and ultimately lost to cross-town rival and eventual state champion Verbum Dei, 82-72.  And if it was any consolation, this past summer, Crossroads pretty much hammered Verbum back on two occasions during summer league and tournament play.  So there.  But these two teams could be at it again in Division IV as they both return just about everyone from last year's rosters.

Darryl Roper is a Los Angeles native. He attended LA Fremont High, and his team won the City Championship in 1975, and then lost in the semifinals to Dorsey in 1976, the year he graduated. He credits his former Fremont coach Dave Yunai (now at CSULA) with being his true mentor. "Everything I learned about the game, all the fundamentals, he taught me. He's really my true mentor, both as a player and a coach."  After graduating, Roper attended Cal State Fullerton, where he played for Bobby Dye (now GM of the Boise, Idaho CBA franchise) and as a sophomore his team went to the NCAA "Great Eight,"  the only Fullerton team to advance to the NCAA Tournament.  Roper became and assistant Crossroads for one season in 1982 following his college graduation, and then he went overseas to play pro ball in Europe, Israel, and Australia.  When he came back to the US in 1989, he got a call informing him that Benezra had left but had recommended Darryl for the job.  He's been there ever since and has a truly remarkable record in the last 9 seasons. He's also coached Austin Crochere, now with Indiana, and seeing many of his players go on to D-I and to the pros is very gratifying. "But it's just as satisfying to see a kid get a good academic scholarship at a good college.  Not everyone can play at the level of a Baron Davis or Austin Crochere," Roper told us.  

Darryl says that one day he'd like to move on to the pro coaching ranks, or to a college position provided it was the right one.   He's had some opportunities to go to the college and pro ranks,  but has so far turned them down. "I'm beyond the point where I'd want to be a recruiting coach or a graduate assistant. I would like one day to coach in the pros where I could really flourish. But for now, it's a pretty good job and I have no plans to move unless the right thing comes along," Roper told us today.  Darryl is married, and has two daughters ages 9 years and 9 mos.  Neither of them wants to play basketball (yet) although the 9 month old does have a great crossover from what we hear.

Last season the Crossroads team was young, and just coming off the year of Baron. They did reasonably well, actually great all things considered, especially with the transfer of E.J. Harris, then a promising young point guard to Crenshaw, who is now a senior there. But most of the team returns this season, and they've got a couple of good new players, so the future is looking good.

Here's the roster:

Isaiah Fox (6'-9" So. C)
Felipe Williams (6'-3" Jr. SG/SF)
Chad Gordon (6'-3" Sr. SG)
Devrin Anderson (6'-2" Jr. SG/PG)
Mischa Taylor (6'-6" Sr.  SF/PF)
Albert Gersten (6'-3" Sr. SF/PF)
Kristofer Lofgren (6'-3" So.  SG/SF)
Daniel Utsinger (6'-1" Sr. SG)
Robert Cave (5'-10" So. PG)
Adam Shimolian (6'-3" Sr. PF)
Joe Abrams (6'-1" Fr. G)
Jed Harmsen (6'-3" So. SG/SF)
Anthony Locke (5'-7" So. PG)

As you can see, most of last year's team is back.  Isaiah Fox will once again start at center.  Fox is the type of player who can be dominating, and loves to play against bigger and better competition. He was at the Nike All-American Camp this summer and did very well against rising seniors and juniors, more than holding his own, and is one of the better big men in the class. He's got a nice touch around the basket, good footwork, can play good defense and move offensive players out of the paint and rebounds well.  Roper is very pleased with his progress and he gained some valuable experience and confidence last season and has consistently improved over the summer.

Felipe Williams will cover the two/three swing position.  And Roper calls him the "new & improved" version of Felipe Williams since he's started to develop more of a jump shot this year than last, and he'll definitely be a bigger offensive threat on the court, slashing and shooting from the wing. He's still a very powerful rebounder, who has great leaping ability, and can outjump guys 6'-9" or taller for the board. Felipe has explosive power and energy, great speed and he'll be a major part of the offense this season in addition to his great defensive play.  Backing up primarily at the three or wing forward position will be Albert Gersten, who is one of the best long-distance shooters on the team. He's another very smart, crafty player with a big body who can go inside our outside, but will principally be a zone-buster on this team with his good outside shooting.   

At the two spot primarily, look for Chad Gordon to start.  Chad, the MVP of the team last season,  is getting some looks from schools like Weslyan, Cal Poly SLO, UC Riverside, Syracuse, and from the Air Force, which is where his father attended. Darryl says that Chad will probably wait until the spring to sign and he can certainly go mid-D-I or better by the time the season ends.   Chad has developed impressive footwork, great court speed and agility, and had true sprinter speed: He's been timed at 10.3 in the 100. Chad impressed a lot of people at the Superstars Camp this summer in San Diego and we'd expect him to get a lot of attention this spring.  Backing up at the two will be Dan Utsinger, who is a decent shooter and a better defender with a developing outside shot, and Chris Lofgren, a very good young player who will again spend some time developing his game. Chris has greatly improved his shot and with a good handle can penetrate and drive or create a shot off the dribble.

Mischa Taylor, a South African native, was a great athlete, but just an "ok" player last season; he was really just learning the game for the first time, having specialized in soccer. But over the last season and summer he's really elevated his game, and impressed a lot of people at the Double Pump Fall Discovery Shootout. For now he's given up on soccer, but may play a little volleyball in the spring just to stay loose. He's getting some looks from the Ivy League schools, like Harvard and Columbia, but Darryl also thinks that some of the other eastern schools will start to get involved with him shortly.  Soccer has given him great foot speed and footwork, and the volleyball has developed his hands, and for now, he's managed to get comfortable playing the four, and has learned some good post moves.   Backing up at the four will be Adam Shimolian, a good placement player who can mix it up inside and rebounds very well, and who is really crafty and gets things done you wouldn't expect of a 6'-3" 220 pound guy down in the paint. 

At either the two or one (Darryl isn't sure) will be Devrin Anderson, Anthony Locke and Robert Cave.  Devrin's still probably the best defender on the team, and has a good shot and a decent enough handle to get the ball up court under even the toughest of pressure. Last year, coach Roper told us "He's the only one who could ever defend Baron in practice."  Devrin can also be an explosive player, with a very quick first step, and he's also an excellent student.  He's gotten some looks from Stanford, USC (not likely with their scholarship limits and size needs), Santa Clara and Long Beach State, which might just be the leader for Devrin next year. Locke is a new transfer from Pilgrim, a lefty who defends, with quick hands and feet who will help a lot with his good passing and defensive skills.  Darryl hasn't gotten to know his game very well, but he saw him playing a few days ago against Baron Davis, who had come back to school to visit, and he looked pretty solid.  Oh, Baron looked pretty good too.  And when Locke and Devrin aren't covering the point, look for Robert Cave, who is an extraordinary shooter with a good handle who just needs to get time and work on his confidence level.

Two other players will probably be platooned back and forth this year between the JV and the varsity. One is Joe Abrams, a young, quiet and unassuming player with a smooth game, a good shot and nice body balance. Joe previously played club ball for ARC and then over at Hoopmasters for John Fischer, and Roper thinks that he'll see some time this year on both teams.  Jed Harmsen is another good young player who will also see double-duty.

Local fans will get plenty of opportunity to see Crossroads, and so will the out-of-town fans.  In December, Crossroads will first play in the Reebok Compton Tip-Off Classic at Compton College, where they'll play on the second day of action, Tuesday, December 1, in the 6:30 p.m. game against Compton Dominguez, and this will be a great matchup with Tyson and Isaiah, one that we've been looking forward to for a while. That game will be preceded at 5:00 p.m. by Pomona v. The Bishop's School, and then at 8:00 p.m. you'll see Compton v. Lynwood.   And don't forget that the Reebok Compton Tip-Off Classic will also take place on Monday, November 30, with Serra v. Ayala at 4:30, followed by Long Beach Jordan v. Riverside at 6:00 p.m. J.W. North, and then at 7:30 p.m. it will be Bishop Montgomery v. Long Beach Poly.

The next day, Wednesday, December 3, Crossroads will be at Southwest LA College for the Westchester Classic which will feature Crossroads v. Westchester in the 6:30 p.m. game. Other games in that exhibition will be LA Washington v. Long Beach Jordan, and Verbum Dei v. Horizon, and that's another one you won't want to miss.

Then on December 14, Crossroads will play Harvard-Westlake at Harvard-Westlake in Studio City. On December 16, they'll play at Crenshaw, and coach Roper hopes to have his team show E.J. why he never should have transferred. :-0).

On December 17, the team leaves for the Kreuel Classic, where they will be the only other team from California besides Alameda St. Joe's, and actually the two of them will be in the same bracket with the possibility of meeting up down the road.  Crossroads will then return to Los Angeles for the Christmas holiday, and then they'll be back on the road for the Nike Holiday Classic down in San Diego from the 26th through the 31st.

This will be a bigger and better year for Crossroads, and the team, which is still young, benefited greatly from playing together during last season and during the summer. We'd look for them to take it very far in Southern Section and possibly beyond.

The Swish Award
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