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High School Team Preview:
Santa Barbara High School--(Oct. 26, 1998)

Jeff Lavender is the head varsity coach at Santa Barbara High School, a position he's had for the last two years. Prior to that, Jeff was at league rival San Marcos for 11 years, two as an assistant and 9 as the head coach.   Jeff graduated from Pilot Rock High School  (which he was quick to point out is located in Pilot Rock, Oregon) in 1979, a team which finished second in the state of Oregon that year, and Jeff was personally named to the First Team All-State of Oregon team.  He then went to Westmont College, the same small Division III/NAIA school attended by Tim Tucker, the coach at Pasadena. "I was the two guard for two years while Tim played the one.  He's a really great competitor and a great friend," Jeff said of Tucker. "Every year we play them during the summer, and his kids come up to Santa Barbara and stay with us for a week. They're very talented this year, and they're probably looking forward to seeing us again at the OceanView Tournament of Champions, because we beat them twice this summer." 

Jeff also played with Tim under Chet Kamerer (who is now an assistant coach at Miami) and Randy Pfund, who is the GM, and apparently he liked Santa Barbara so much from his playing days at Westmont, that other than a short stint playing European basketball in Germany for a year, he's never even given any thought to living elsewhere. He returned from Europe in 1984, and immediately became an assistant coach at Westmont during the 1984-85 season,  then moved over to San Marcos, where his best team, the 1991 team, finished second to Artesia and Ed O'Bannon in the Southern Section CIF Finals. "That was a great team, and we had some really talented players, but they couldn't get past Artesia."  The next two years, San Marcos made it to the Southern Section quarterfinals.  This is Jeff's third year at Santa Barbara. He's been married for 15 years, and has three kids, ages 5, 7, and 7 weeks.  Jeff is also the head boys' golf coach at Santa Barbara and just this year started a girls' golf team too.  He was on his way to the links when we caught up with him.

Jeff was somewhat philosophical about last year's team and some of the players who won't be returning. Santa Barbara is a team which was in transition over the spring and summer following the conclusion of last year's season.  Last year, the team had some talented players and they finished third in the Channel League, behind League Champion Goleta Dos Pueblos led by intended Cal-signee Shantay Legans (5'-10" Sr. PG), and behind San Marcos.  Santa Barbara then qualified for the Division I-A playoffs where they were seeded as the No. 2 team in their region and No. 6 overall. In the first round, SB beat Arroyo by 30 points, 74-44, and they advanced to the second round to play Valencia, and ended up losing 56-51.

But there were more than a few personality disputes and so a couple of players have transferred out, including Daniel Worzella (5'-8" Sr. PG) and Johnny Ortiz (5'-10" Sr. G), both of whom have reportedly transferred to Dos Pueblos.  In addition, very talented post man J.R. Allen (6'-7" Sr. C) graduated and is now attending prep school at Phillips Andover Academy (which has it's own website-- and J.R. also has his own diary page over at WCH too). Ryan Nagelmann (6'-2" F) also graduated.   In addition, Kenny Norwood (5'-6" Jr. PG) will not be playing this year due to eligibility problems, and Tyler Burke (6'-0" Sr. SG) simply "decided not to play."  Of the turnover on the team, Jeff said, "Sure we lost some guys. A couple of the guys who aren't returning will do better at their new environments and we'll also be better off if they're happy elsewhere. And a couple of the guys we'll really miss."  But he was quick to add, "We are returning a very solid and talented group of seniors, some new players and we'll be very competitive. I would think it's going to be between us and Dos Pueblos from what we saw in the summer."    Jeff was referring to the very competitive summer league games played at Santa Barbara, where the team went 33-11,  won two tournaments, and beat some very formidable teams, including arguably the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in Arizona, Brophy and Salpointe.  And for you Orange County fans, Lavender also said he was very impressed with the play of Troy and their quick point guard, Jerry Inzunza: "He was incredible, very good, and it was unfortunate that Tony Freeman was hurt in that game because we really weren't able to contain him."

Santa Barbara returns a good core group of senior players, and has some nice new juniors coming up. Here's the roster:

Craig Christ (6'-1" Sr. PF)
Sean Kelley (6'-8" Sr. C)
Tony Freeman (6'-4" Sr. SG/SF)
Brent Williams (6'-1" Jr. SG)
Ben Shelton (6'-0" Sr. PG/SG)
Bryce Maloney (6'-2" Sr. F)
Shawn Wilt (5'-6" Jr. PG)
Justin Thompson (6'-0" Sr. F)
Chris Williams (6'-0" Jr. G/F)
Filberto Curiel (5'-9" Jr. SG)
Nick Dominelli (6'-2" Jr. F)
Jason Peterson (6'-5" Jr. C) 

At the point we'd look for Ben Shelton to start. Ben is a strong, intelligent player, who just gets everyone in the right places on the floor. He's really a very unselfish player, with good court vision, who distributes the ball well to whoever is open. He's a good leader on the floor, not perhaps the best penetrator, but a real floor leader.  Jeff also tells us that Ben, who is the Student Body President this year, is the nephew of Ron Shelton, who was in "White Men Can't Jump."  Ben can jump, maybe not as high as Justin Thompson, who is up from the JV at the forward spot and who is a league champion high jumper at 6'-6", but Ben can jump nevertheless and is a decent rebounder as well.  Backing up at the point will be Shawn Wilt, the only returning varsity junior on the team, and he's perhaps the best penetrator and passer of the points on the team, but he will need to catch up on defense if he hopes to grab the starting spot. He's got a nice handle, and is a great competitor.

At the two spot, Brent Williams will be the starter, and he could be the leading scorer this season. He has excellent shot mechanics, and while last year he was pretty much only a spot up, catch-and-shoot type of player, after this summer he's a lot stronger, and has a pretty decent ability to create his own shot off the dribble with a very nice pull up j. He's a skinny kid who will need to hit the weights a bit, but his lack of bulk hasn't really affected his defensive ability out on the perimeter. Also look for Chris Williams at the two, who is actually more combo guard-forward to back up at either spot. He's a very strong kid, quick off the dribble and very tough to defend.  He's a transfer from Simi Valley and new to the program, but he looks to fit right in.  It's likely that Filberto will also see some time as the "zone-buster" and he could just be one of the best three point shooters on the team. Jeff expects to see him in special situations when they need to bring a team out of the zone.

At the three spot, we'd look for Tony Freeman to start. He's one of the most seriously under-recruited players around right now, and while Tony is getting some attention from Cal Poly SLO, UCSB and St. Louis was also interested early on,  not a lot of people saw him playing this summer because he was hurt and didn't play. But he's one of the better shooters, and can take it to the basket and finish with his great quick first step.  He's a good rebounder, and a definite D-I prospect, probably at the two spot in college, but unless he gets some more serious attention in the next month, we'd look for Tony to wait until spring to pick a college.   Again, we'd also look for Chris Williams to provide backup along with Nick Dominelli, who's really more of a three/four type of player. Nick is very athletic and is also the quarterback of the football team.

Starting at the four position, look for Craig Christ, a very strong, athletic player with decent post moves. Craig's real forte is just about whatever he decides to do.  While he played the four last year and in summer, he exhibited good point guard skills also and led the team in steals, led in assists and was third in rebounding. . . while playing the four. He's also a pretty good student too, with a 4.5 GPA, and he's looking to enroll at the Air Force Academy and then walk on to the basketball team.  Bryce is also a returning varsity player at the forward position, and he's really bulked up a bit over the summer with a good lifting program. Bryce is one of the most aggressive players on the team, and will be a tough guy to move off the block.

Finally at the center position, we look for   Sean Kelly to get most of the playing time, backed up by Jason Peterson. Sean is a capable post player, runs the floor reasonably well, but not great; his biggest asset, at only 185 pounds, is that he can step out and hit the shot all the way out to three. "Admittedly, if we were to play a team with a big, strong center, we'd have to rethink how we use him, and it would probably be out from the key to the three range, but against many teams, he can block shots, rebound and shoot, which is a pretty good combination," said Lavender.  Sean is looking at a couple of good D-III and D-II schools right now, like the Colorado School of Mines. He's carrying a 4.4 GPA and scored over 1400 on the SAT, and at 6'-8" (he grew an inch over the summer), he's certainly worth a look from some mid to low D-I programs who can use a big guy right away, or for some other program who can afford to red-shirt him while he bulks up.  Backing up Sean will be Peterson, a strong player with good defensive skills who rebounds very effectively, and who will be getting valuable experience this season.

And those schools who might be interested in seeing a couple of these talented, under-recruited players, will get ample opportunity to see these guys both before and during the season.  In December, Santa Barbara starts off with the Santa Barbara County Tournament from December 1 through 4, a county-wide event which will feature just about every school in the county, including Dos Pueblos, San Marcos, Lompoc, Cabrillo, Santa Maria St. Joe's, Santa Ynez, and others. It's an "at home" tourney, which means that each of the matchups is played at the home team's venue, so there is lots of action throughout Santa Barbara.

Next up for Santa Barbara is the OceanView Tournament of Champions from December 7-12, where they'll face teams like Crenshaw, Compton, Fontana, Ayala, Long Beach Poly and Jordan, Mater Dei, Pasadena, and more, and this one could prove the biggest challenge prior to the start of the season.

The team takes a break over the holidays, and then Santa Barbara hosts its own tournament, the Santa Barbara Holiday Classic, from December 26-31 at Santa Barbara. This one will feature the same three-some from the area (Dos Pueblos, San Marcos and Santa Barbara), as well as Lompoc, Thousand Oaks, Oxnard, San Clemente, and some out of state and NorCal teams too, like Auburn High from Washington, Desert Mountain from Scottsdale, Arizona, Lehigh from San Jose, and San Jose Academy, and Loma Linda High, from Moraga up in NorCal.

As for this year's league, there've been some realignments, and the Channel League now consists of Santa Barbara, Dos Pueblos, San Marcos, Ventura and Buena, as Oxnard, Hueneme and Rio Mesa have been reassigned to the new Pacific View league along with Camarillo.  And in a five team league, the race could go to anyone, but right now, we'd have to say that it's probably going to be between DP and SB.

Santa Barbara has lots of senior leadership. The only question is whether they'll have the talent and depth to challenge at the I-A level some of the other teams they'd be likely to see, teams like Mater Dei, J.W. North, San Clemente, Pasadena, or Corona Centennial.  Only time will tell, but we'll be watching.  


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