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High School Team Preview:
Van Nuys Grant High--(Oct. 5, 1998)

Grant High is coached by Howard Levine, who has been coaching at Grant for about 23 years. While he's had many successful years, some more so than others, it's probably safe to say that he's never had a year like this past year with so many ups and downs. Last year marked the emergence of the Grant Lancer's star guard Gilbert Arenas (6'-4" Sr. SG), who was a virtual unknown until just about this time last year.   Sure,  Gil had turned a few heads among those who kept tabs on Valley basketball, but he was still a virtual unknown to most of the college coaches and the rest of SoCal.  As word leaked out about this great player at Grant, some kid named "Gil" more heads were turned.  Then, last year in the City Section 4A playoffs, Grant was matched up against defending City 4A 1997 City, CIF, and state champs, the Crenshaw Cougars, and Gilbert went out and personally scored 42 points against some of the best defenders in the City.  Grant lost that game, but from then on, Gilbert was a well known commodity.  His fame, some would say notoriety given all of the controversy this past summer, finally culminated this past Saturday when Gilbert verbally committed to play for Lute Olson at the University of Arizona.  Gilbert is certain to get more famous as time goes on. He is only the second player ever to sign with a D-I college basketball program on a full-ride scholarship from Grant. In the past, Grant has been known for its baseball teams (Rod Beck pitched for Grant, as did Jim Umbarger of the Oakland A's), its swim teams (mostly in the 60's and early 70's), its tennis teams (again mostly in the 70's), but rarely is it ever thought of as a basketball school.    Sure Grant did win the City 3A title about 12 years ago with Danny Enowitz   & Co., but then Grant moved up to Division 4A from 3A, and ever since, they've struggled to make it out of the first round of playoffs.

This past summer, Grant's seemingly low profile almost put Gilbert in a different team uniform, a Sylmar Spartan uniform,  for good.  Sylmar was fresh off the City 3A title, and was playing in some higher profile events during the summer.   Gil had some friends playing at Sylmar who invited him to play on their summer league team, just as they had done the summer before with George Wrighster (6'-5" Sr. F) who had been at Buckley but wound up transferring to Sylmar after playing summer league.  Gilbert defied his coach's wishes and ended up quitting the Grant summer league team and playing for Sylmar in a few summer league games, and then played in one game at the "War on the Floor" tournament at Chatsworth High, which started the "War of Words" in the local papers between Gil and Coach Levine.  The local papers were merciless in reporting that Gilbert had quit the team, would "never" play for Coach Levine again, quoting Levine as saying that he had  issued an order that Gilbert would "never" be welcome back at Grant. The stories reported that Gil had applied to transfer to Sylmar and would attend the magnet program there rather than Grant.

Well, "never" is a long time, and as we now know, it was probably a word hastily inscribed.  Gil is back, and will be with the team.   Coach Levine told us today, "Gil has talked with the team, and they've welcomed him back.  He knows what he has to do to stay, and he's willing to do it. He's got to work hard and go hard all the time, and there's no place for arguing or dissension among or between  any of our players, either among themselves or with the coaching staff." 

"Gil is probably one of the most, if not the most talented players we've had at Grant. He's a special player, and can do things some of these other players just can't do. He's begun to realize just how special his talents are, and how much he needs to lead the team, and he needs to do that by example. Gil's willing to do that," said Levine.  "He and I have worked out what needed to be worked out.  Now Gil will have to get it done on the floor."

Grant is not all about Gilbert Arenas though.  The team had some fine players last season, and more than a few were lost to graduation, and some to personality differences with Coach Levine.  Grant lost Adir Levy (6'-2" SG) to graduation, and Mike Yildiz (6'-0" So. G) to a difference in styles, and now Yildiz will play for Eli Essa over at Bell Jeff, attempting to replace Ruben Douglas, who, ironically will be at the University of Arizona this season as a freshman, and who was instrumental in Gilbert's decision to verbal to the Wildcats.

Levine knows that 4A is a tough road, and that anything can happen, especially in the East Valley League, now that Sylmar has moved up to 4A.  North Hollywood is always tough, Monroe has not had great success lately, but won a couple of upsets last season, and Canoga Park could be dangerous. While tryouts are still going on, and the ultimate composition of the team might change by November, there are several returning players worthy of mention, and more than a couple of young JV guys who will be coming up.  Barring any unforseen catastrophes or late additions, here's who will be playing:

Gilbert Arenas (6'-3" Fr. PG)
Krishna Evans (6'-4" So. Fwd)
Justin Buttikofer (6'-1" Jr. G)
Hans Hoehn (6'-6" Jr. C/PF)
Daniel Tarr (5'-11" Sr. SG)
Rashawd Winston (5'-11" Sr. PG)
Ryan Logan (5'-7" Jr. PG)
Shrone Hakman (6'-4" Sr. SF/C)
Brand Edison (6'-2" Jr. F)
Ray Lipscomb (5'-8" Jr. G)

This is a pretty talented group of guys, but they have no illusions about who they are or how hard they'll have to work for success this season.  Gilbert you already know about,  so we won't say much more except that he's still one of the best players in all of SoCal, and can personally take over a game when he needs to with slashing drives to the basket, a great handle, excellent shooting way out beyond the arc, and cat-like defense (yeah, that's why he decided to play for Lute!). The trick for Gil will be to get the most from the guys who are with him.  Krishna Evans returns as one of the best shooters and rebounders on the team,  and he was all-league last year and will certainly repeat that performance if not better it. He's a quick, strong offensive player who moves reasonably well with the ball, needs to improve his defense and develop a better set of hands (or Gil needs to take a little off those passes to him), but he will add some additional leadership to this squad.  Buttikofer is still the "working guy" on this team, and we expect him to bring a pair of overalls and a lunch-bucket to the games, maybe even a hammer or saw; there's no one who works harder on this team that Justin, and he's often rewarded for his hard work with good results--shots that others can't take he makes, rebounds and loose balls are grabbed, and picks and screens are set so that Gil and Krishna can look so good.  Really, this kid we understand is not being recruited at all, and there are more than a few D-I or D-II programs who should check him out because he'll get the job done. Rashawd  and Hans are the two unknowns, and while they are returning players, neither got a lot of playing time last year.   We saw Hans at the North Hollywood game towards the end of the season, and he played well, but whether he can step up and take over the post will be anyone's guess.  

With Adir Levy, Grant's 3-point weapon gone to graduation, the shooting duties will really fall to Daniel Tarr, a quick three-point artist who can knock them down all day from way beyond the arc.  Tarr is a good defender, with quick hands, good lateral quickness and a deadly accurate shot out to three. He can also pull up for the j off the drive, and penetrates reasonably well.  Add a couple of guys up from the JV's in Ryan Logan, Edison and Hakman who add both depth in the frontcourt and good shooting in the backcourt, and Grant looks like it will have a credible supporting cast for it's bona fide star Gilbert.

We would look for Grant to do very well, certainly giving NoHo, Monroe, Canoga, and even Sylmar a tough time this season.  Grant will also be playing in several pre-season tournaments in December, including the Simi Valley tourney in early December, the Bell-Jeff Tournament and the Chaminade Holiday tournament. Sounds pretty high profile to us, and it will be fun watching Gilbert matchup against some of his Pump-N-Run buddies over at Chaminade (Cayce Cook, J.J. Todd) and Simi (Branduinn Fullove, the Michel brothers) and at least one Rockfishy (Rafael Berumen).  We'll post the details of those tournaments shortly.

But if there's one thing you need to remember when it comes to Grant, Arenas, and Coach Levine, it's never, never, ever, say "never."


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