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SoCalHoops High School Report

High School Team Preview:
Citrus Belt League's Fontana High--(Oct. 6, 1998)

"We like to play an up-tempo game. I try to give the guys some structure, but I also like to let
them run and improvise. With our schedule and the opponents we have, you've really got to
do a little of  both."--John McNally, Fontana High head coach.

Fontana High plays in the Citrus Belt League of Southern Section of CIF, with A.B. Miller, Colton, Eisenhower, Redlands, and Rialto.  The city of Fontana itself  was formerly the Inland Empire's steel manufacturing capital, and the town still retains some of the toughness and edge that goes along with a town with steel plants, smelting operations and metal fabricating facilities.  Of course, the area also used to feature vineyards and orchards before all the housing developments moved in, but that's another story. The image and ethos of the tough, hard-working, blue-collar area still remains, and Fontana still gets more than it's share of tough-nosed, hard-working players. 

Head coach John McNally is in his 10 year of coaching at the high school level, his 4th as a varsity coach, and his 3rd as the head coach at Fontana High, which has the distinction of being the largest single enrollment school in Division I-AA (the largest division) of Southern Section CIF.  With an enrollment of 4,500 students, Fontana has a huge pool of talent to draw from and for each of the last three years that McNally has been at the helm things have continued to improve.  McNally has been coaching since he was in college, attending Mt. Sac JC, and he continued coaching kids as a student at UCLA.  He had played "some" in high school at Hacienda Heights Wilson, but then broke his leg during his senior year, putting an end to his playing days.   But he wanted to stay involved, and got busy coaching as an assistant  when he turned 19, just one year out of high school  Following his graduation from UCLA, he started coaching as an assistant at Nogales, where he also taught classes full-time. In 1995, he was the varsity head coach at Damien, but then he got the call from Mike Southworth at Fontana, and for the last 4 years, he's been in what he considers the ideal job. "I never really thought about being a coach, but I really love what I do. It's a great job."

Last season, Fontana tied with Eisenhower for the league championship and made it to the quarter-finals of Division IAA CIF Southern Section playoffs before losing to Etiwanda by two points, 79-77. Last year's team featured a very good cast of characters, including Glenn Summerall, Derrick Benjamin, and James Dowe. Last year's team also featured some of the same guys who are back again, and there are also some new faces.  While there may be a couple of changes in the roster by the time the season is underway, here's who John currently anticipates will be on the varsity this year:

Gary Holmes (6'-7" Sr. F)
Baron Baker (5'-10" Sr. PG)
Joseth Dawson (6'-2" Sr. SG)
Scott Anderson (6'-5" Sr. F)
Daniel Dukes (6'-2" Jr. SF)
Michael Stephenson (5'-9" Jr. PG)
Jordan Walker (6'-6" Jr. PG/C)
Ray Hopes (6'-3" Sr. F)
Eli Machado (6'-1" Sr. SF)
Corey McJimson (6'-2" Fr. SG/SF)
Aaron Gipson (5'-8" Fr. PG)
Mark Mancha (6'-1" So. SG)

While last year's team was focused around Summerall, who originally signed with USF, this year's team is really focused around several senior players of Division I caliber: Gary Holmes, Baron Baker, Joseth Dawson and Scott Anderson.   Gary has verbally committed to Eastern Washington University, and by November will have signed.  Baron is also looking at Big West, Big Sky and WCC schools, has the grades and will qualify.  Joseth is looking at and considering schools like Holy Cross, Wyoming, and several others, and Anderson will wait until the spring to sign.   This is not an exceptionally tall team, but they can out-muscle and out-hustle most teams with taller players.

Gary is a quick, athletic, intelligent player, who is frequently called upon to either be the scorer or the inside banger, and he really can do it all. He's both an inside player and an outside perimeter scorer, with a good handle, great vision, and nice shot out to three-point range.  He also has a reasonably quick first step which allows him to break down a defense and go to the rack. He's got a consistently good  mid-range j, is a strong rebounder, and can play inside or outside defense.  Joining Gary in the paint will be Scott Anderson, a big banger type, who has developed a good inside game with some decent post moves, and a promising 15' jumper. Anderson is turning into a good all-around player, who will shoot, play defense and rebound hard.  Jordan Walker is the other "big" man and he's sort of an inside-outside guy, with good post moves and a nice 3-point shot.  He's grown 3 inches in the last year so he still thinks like a smaller guard, but with size 15 shoes, he's not done growing yet.

In the backcourt, we wouldn't be surprised to see Baron as the starter at point, Michael Stephenson as the backup, and freshman Aaron Gipson also seeing some time at the point, and in fact we wouldn't be shocked to see them all in at the same time in some games. Baron is a speedy, high-energy player with great passing ability, fantastic court vision, and he always sees one or two passes ahead on the floor. Baron is not just a passing point, but can also throw it down, and he's got very nice penetration skills.  He can create either for himself or others on the team, and he will be complemented by Michael, who is a very smart player, perhaps not as speedy or improvisational, but certainly a capable player, and perhaps a better outside shooter.   And if you thought Baron was fast, wait until you see little Aaron Gipson, who is an extremely quick player, who is one of the most knowledgeable freshmen we've seen. He passes well, shoots and is very smart for such a young player.

In the off-guard spot, Joseth will be the man.  He's a good athlete with a strong drive, and good penetration skills, and he can shoot the ball well from close in or out to three, all day. He's got a nice handle, good vision, and on club teams also plays the one occasionally, but here, with the boatload of good points, he'll really be called upon at the two spot.  Joseth had a sort of up and down summer, but at the Long Beach Fall Hoops Classic he played consistently well. He's real effective pushing the ball, and runs the court as well as anyone on the team. Backing Joseth up will be Eli Machado, a 4.0 student who is smart, steady and very coachable, and he can shoot the lights out, and Mark Mancha, a left-handed hard-working, hustler who goes out and makes things happen.   

Daniel Dukes, at 6'-2" would probably be a shooting guard on any other team, but he plays a lot bigger than his listed size, and he'll cover the three spot here, and he can run, has great jumping ability, rebounds well and is a capable defender. . . in short, he's a well-rounded, hard-working, tough-nosed kid.   At the other forward spot is Ray Hopes, a football player who plays wide receiver.   Ray's a great athlete, is a tremendous inside banger who will set screens and picks, and just go out and get the job done.  He'll be joined by Corey McJimson, a strong and knowledgeable freshman who can create a shot off the dribble, shoots well coming off the screens and who will benefit from four years of varsity play.  By the time he and Gipson are seniors, they'll be two of the best in the Inland Empire.

This winter, Fontana will play at the Ocean View Tournament of Champions, will then jet off to Vegas for the Reebok Holiday Classic in mid-December, and will then appear in the Anaheim Canyon Christmas tourney.  And during mid-season on January 16, 1999 at Cal State Dominguez Hills, Fontana will match up against Fairfax in the 1999 MLK Adidas Double Pump Hoop Festival in the 1:30 p.m. game.

We'd expect Fontana to again challenge Eisenhower and Miller for the league title and go deep into the CIF Southern Section playoffs again.  Just how far they go depend upon how well they play and who plays up to their division. Perhaps they'll take it all.  That's the great thing about this game. You never know what's going to happen.


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