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High School Team Preview:
Simi Valley High--(Oct. 16, 1998)

Last year we wrote: "Simi isn't content to try to win the Marmonte League."  We have a feeling that winning the league would be just fine with them this year, thank you very much. Of course, making it to the Southern Section title game and winning that would also be desirable, but like last year, Simi won't have it easy: They'll have to go through teams like Long Beach Poly, Artesia, and several other big-time programs in Division I-AA just to get there.  Can they do it? Only time will tell.  

There have been few changes to Simi Valley's starting lineup from last year. In fact there've been so few, that we thought about simply reposting last year's team preview of Simi.   But there are more than a few new faces, and some old ones gone, and after talking with Coach Dean Bradshaw last night, a new preview is actually in order.  

And from the looks of things, Simi is still one of the best teams in the area, and they will once again challenge for the Division I-AA Southern Section title.  Simi plays in the Marmonte League, against Agoura, Camarillo, Channel Islands, Newbury Park, Royal, Thousand Oaks and Westlake.  Last year, Simi had the singular misfortune of running into Dan Bobik (who will attend BYU in a couple of years after taking his Mormon mission) and the Newbury Park Panthers, who upset the Pioneers not once but twice.  They were the only games Simi lost in league play, but it was enough to put them in second place in the league, and give the title to Newbury Park.  But Simi still made the Southern Section Division I-AA playoffs, and rolled through until the semi-finals, where they ran into into Artesia, who beat them about as badly as they were beaten all season, 70-45. Artesia eventually went on to take the Southern Section CIF I-AA title, but they too were eventually beaten (by a single point) by Westchester, who, as we all know, went on to win the State title last year.

Dean Bradshaw has been the head coach at Simi Valley since 1988 when he took over for Bob Hawking, who is now the head coach at Cal State Fullerton, and for whom he had been an assistant coach for seven years.  Dean played his high school basketball at San Diego High, graduating in 1971. He then played college ball at Cal Lutheran before an knee injury ended his playing days.  After graduating, he became a teacher and basketball coach at St. Pascal's in Thousand Oaks for a year and then became the assistant coach at Thousand Oaks High for 4 years, and in 1981 he came to Simi. Dean has seen a lot of teams come and go at Simi, and he still thinks this could be one of the best ever.

Dean coached Don MacLean, who played for the Pioneers before attending UCLA, and while we'd like to say "Simi hasn't a team this strong since MacClean was there,"  that wouldn't be right.  Actually Simi hasn't had this strong a group, well, since last year. If we keep coming back to last year, it's   because last year's team was incredibly talented, but young, and they just didn't live up to their potential (in our opinion anyway).  This year, the players are a bit older, and certainly a bit wiser.  And there's less pressure on them, at least from the local media it seems, but then it's still pretty early.   But we haven't heard any of the hype like we heard last year about this team.  If anything, the word is a bit understated, and it's perhaps because no one really knows how they'll fare. Last year, expectations were so high that even they seemed to freeze up at times under the weight of all the media hype. And there was a ton of hype,  thinks like Eric Sondheimer's little piece on them in which he quote Chaminade Coach Jeff Young as saying: "They say there are CIF rules against playing a college team, and Simi Valley is as close as you get."  Things like that.  But this year, after some of the hits they took on the floor, they're just going to go out and get it done. No hype. No rep. Just play the game and win.

Simi is still a team which likes to keep its guys together during the summer, and this year Rafael Berumen, Brett Michel and Branduinn Fullove all attended adidas ABCD camp together. Shaun Michel, Brett, Branduinn and occasionally Rafael, made appearances at the second session of West Coast All-Stars,  the Best of the Summer Tournament, Vegas Big Time, and Shaun also was seen playing in the Long Beach Fall Hoops Classic and at the Rim Rattler Fall Showcase in the sophomore game.  The rest of the guys all played summer league together, as a team, and they appeared at the War on the Floor in June.

And this year, Dean Bradshaw returns almost everyone from last year, at least all of the starters, with the exception of Branden Foster, who by the end of the season wasn't starting anyway.  Gone are Angelo Mosesso (6'-0" SG) to graduation, Branden Foster (5'-7" Sr. PG) who transferred to Royal, Ian Boys (6'-7" PF/C) to graduation and who is now attending Santa Rosa JC (one of the few Juco's that pays athlete's expenses and room and board), and Mike Collado (6'-1" SG/SF) who also graduated. There are more than a few new faces. Here's the team:

Rafael Berumen (6'-9" Sr. C/F)
Ben Williams (6'-0" Sr. SG)
Shaun Michel (6'-2" So. PG)
Calvin Bell (6'-1" Jr. SG)
Kareem Lacey (6'-4" Jr. SF)
Anish Sharda (6'-1" Jr. SG)
Tony Ward (6'-1" Sr. SG/SF)
Dustin Villepigue (6'-8" So. PF/C)
Kurt Mjoen (6'-4" Sr. PF)
Brett Michel (6'-6" Jr. SF/SG)
Branduinn (6'-5" Jr. SG)

Just like last year, there's little doubt who will control the frontcourt for Simi, and it will be Rafael. He recently committed to New Mexico, spurning offers  from Cal, UNLV and others. No matter what anyone says, Rafael is still one of the most dominant big guys in the class:  He took a really bad rap this last summer and many said his "stock" took a dip because of somewhat less than stellar showings at ABCD.  But if the truth be told, Rafael had injured his Achilles tendon about three weeks before the camp, and if you've ever had that kind of injury, then you know it doesn't heal overnight, and it sure doesn't heal if you're a 240 lb. guy playing basketball on it.  But there's no questioning Rafael's basic skills:   He's got great footwork, nice post moves and is very agile. He rebounds well, and can step out and use his good touch to hit a turnaround jumper or the outside shot. He runs the court well, and played very well with his Rockfish team this summer.   Bradshaw told us, "His verbal to New Mexico was like taking a piano off his back. Now he can just go out and have fun and not have to worry about things so much.   There's an incredible amount of pressure with this recruiting business, and Rafael is glad to have it behind him now."

Helping out in the frontcourt this season will be Kurt Mjoen, a three year starter. Kurt is a great defender, with a very strong  body.   Kurt is the kind of guy every coach wants: He just goes out and does the work that others don't want to do, setting picks, putting his body on another player, and rebounding very well, and he plays with energy and leaves it all out on the floor.  On this team, he's somewhat of a role guy, and his job will be to play his usually intense defense, set screens and make contact with opponents.  The new kid on the block in the frontcourt will be Dustin, who has grown about 3 inches this last year, and now wears a size 16 shoe. At 6'-8, and 195 lbs., he could stand to bulk up a bit, but he's another kid in the mold of Simi's inside-outside big men: He has some good moves in and around the basket, and he can also step out and hit the outside shot. He played on the frosh-soph team last year and averaged 20+ points per game. Bradshaw is expecting big things from him in the next few years.

At the three, look for Branduinn Fullove (who will also play the two), Tony Ward, Kareem Lacey, and Brett Michel. Brett is a real shooter, and is probably the best three point shooter on the team, and he holds the record for the most 3's in a season with 109. He's bulked up a bit over the summer, and will be expected to play some defense as well. Last season he averaged 16 ppg, and with his fine touch and great accuracy, that should improve his average this season.  Kareem was on the JV last year, and he's really a very athletic player, who can jump, runs the floor well and will be expected to be the shot-blocker.  Tony, who will also see a little time at the two as well, is a real banger with some decent post moves, but who can really clean up the garbage and make the put back. Dean describes him as one of the hardest working kids, with great quickness, leaping ability and good defensive skills.

The lead two guard will be Branduinn Fullove, who at 6'-6" and 210 lbs. has a game that most closely resembles Joe Shipp's.   Branduinn is an outstanding player, who could play anywhere from the point to the four, but who's best skill is shooting off the screen and setting screens and picks himself. He doesn't have blazing speed, but he's got a decent first step, quick enough to beat most defenders and cross them up, and he's very effective handling the ball in traffic. He got a little heavy at the beginning of the summer and we thought looked a bit slow, but once he was back in running condition again by the middle of summer he was playing well and moving great. At the Pump Fall Discovery Shootout he looked really impressive, shooting from the perimeter and slashing to the hole, and playing very intense defense. Branduinn, who was named to the All-State Freshman team two years ago, and last year was All-CIF, will do the things he has to do this year to win. Also vying for time in the off-guard spot will be Calvin Bell, Ben Williams, and Anish Sharda. Ben is up from the JV, and he's also a very accurate shooter from the perimeter and will be successful this season; Calvin is a football player, and could be the best pure athlete on the team. He can jump well, is extremely quick and while shooting is not his forte', he can defend very well and penetrate a bit too. Anish was a JV starter and he's got a nice touch, works hard and runs the floor very well.

Finally at the point, look for Shaun Michel, who finally takes on the bulk of the responsibility now that Foster has transferred out to Royal. Shaun has gotten a little bigger, a lot better, and is a whole lot more mature, and his decision-making has improved.  He has great court vision, a good handle and can drive or pull up for the j. He moves well with and without the ball, and is making much better entry passes to his big men. There's really no backup point yet, at least no one has emerged, but assuming Shaun gets to take a rest during a game now and then, we'd look for either Anish or possibly Calvin, or maybe even Branduinn to take the point for a little while.

Like last year, we feel pretty good about saying Simi is going to be one of the best in the area. And you'll get plenty of chances to see just how good they are before the season starts.  Like last year, they'll host the Simi Valley Tip-Off Classic, from December 1-5.  The early rounds will be played at both Camarillo and Simi Valley, with the final rounds played at Simi.  This year's lineup includes LA Grant (Gilbert Arenas--Arizona), Santa Clara (BJ Ward and Nick Jones--UCSB), Compton Centennial (Marqui Poole--Wash. St), Camarillo, El Camino, Granada Hills, Sherman Oaks Notre Dame (Cody Pearson, Chris Williams), South Gate, Roosevelt, Vergugo Hills, San Fernando, Santa Paula, and North Hollywood.

Then from December 17 through the 24th, Simi will be in Kissimee, Florida (near Orlando) for the Great Florida Shootout, where they may get the pleasure of playing Pleasure Ridge, the team that knocked off Washington Union last year at the Reebok Holiday Classic in Vegas. 

They return to LA only for Christmas day, and then on the 26th they'll be in San Diego for the Nike National Classic at Torrey Pines High (with the finals at San Diego State's Cox Arena on December 31).  Finally, after the season is underway, Simi will be playing at the 1999 adidas/Double Pump MLK Hoops Festival at Cal State Dominguez Hills, where they'll face Sylmar High (Jeremiah Turner, Brandon Jacobs, George Wrighster), the defending City Section 3A Champions.

Should be quite a year for Simi. What they're really hoping for this season is consistency. We're sure they'll find it. And maybe a CIF title too.

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