The New Southern California Basketball
SoCalHoops High School News

High School Team Preview:
City 3A Champions Sylmar High--(Oct. 15, 1998)

Last season we didn't really know Bort Escoto very well. In fact we didn't know him at all, and in fact some of our early articles on Sylmar we called him "Burt".  But in the ensuing year, we've actually gotten to know him a little better, and he's certainly not the terrible guy that most people make him out to be; he's actually a pretty nice guy, and a decent coach. He'd have to be to have taken his team to the 3A City Section finals and won a championship last season. Bort got his start coaching at Cleveland under Bobby Braswell, who is now the head coach at Cal State Northridge, and was an assistant coach for several years at Chatsworth under coach Fluker before coming to Sylmar.  He's been there for a while now, and has rebuilt the program from the ground up.  He's assisted by Charles White, who's been with him for 4 years. "I was coaching in youth leagues, and I kept seeing Bort's teams losing," White told us. "I figured he couldn't do any worse with my help than he'd been doing.  We've done ok in the last few years, right?"

Bort took a lot of heat this summer for allowing Gilbert Arenas to play on his summer league team, but then he probably didn't do anything that 99% of the coaches out there wouldn't have done if a player like Gilbert came knocking on the door wanting to play. "The summer league is not part of the City Section, so if a player wants to play, he can go wherever he wants,"  Bort told us earlier this summer.  And as things turned out, it was much ado about nothing: Gilbert re-enrolled at Grant, will play on the Lancer team, and Sylmar will go about it's business and try this time to win their league (they've moved up to 4A for league play) and hope to be one of the top 16 teams when the seeding committee decides which teams will be playing for the City Championship this year.

The team returns most of it's core players from the City Championship team.  Whether they've got enough to take on some of the traditional City powers like Crenshaw, Manual Arts, Westchester and Fairfax, remains to be seen.  Actually, the roster is pretty far from being set. "We had more than 100 kids show up to try out for the varsity and jv this year. We are about two weeks away from making any cuts, and so the rosters are not even close to being set yet.  I guess with all the success we've had, everyone now wants to be a part of it.  We had more kids come out for basketball than showed up for football," Bort told us the other evening. "I guess I'm doing something right."

Recognizing that there could be some significant changes to this roster, and some of the younger players might yet play either on varsity or jv, and there may be others who will be put on the varsity who aren't on this list, these are the most likely candidates for this year's team:

Jerry Calzada (6'-2" Sr. SG)
Jeremiah Turner (6'-7" Sr. SF/PF)
Joey Youmans (6'-8" Sr. C/F)
George Wrighster (6'-4" Sr. SG/PF)
Brandon Jacobs (5'-10" Sr. PG)
T.K. Reid (6'-0" Sr. PG)
Chris Slade (6'-0" So. SG)
Dallas Townsend (6'-4" Sr. C/F)
George O'Garra (6'-6" So. C)
Damien Derrico (6'-4" Jr. SG/SF)
John Valdez (6'-1" So. SG)

Again, there will probably be a few more additions to the team, but for now, gazing into the crystal ball, this is who we see on the roster.  And it's a pretty deep and talented team.

Returning from the City Championship team is virtually every starter.  Jeremiah Turner was the leader in the open court last season, and a summer at ABCD Camp, Double Pump West Coast All-Stars, and the Big-Time in Vegas hasn't hurt his game any.  Jeremiah is a great defender, a bit slender, and sort of looks like and runs like a taller version of Gilbert Arenas.  He's a great defender, cat-like quick, and has a good handle and can slash to the hole or step out and shoot it.  He's currently looking at UCSB, San Jose State and BYU, and we'd expect him to take visits at all three.  Joey Youmans is also a huge D-I prospect, and he's looking at some mid-majors and up-and-coming programs like Idaho State, UCSB, UC Riverside (which will go D-I this year) and Chico State.  Joey is a great outside player, who is really a four more than a center, but he's also got some good post moves; his real assets though are as a spot up shooter on the perimeter and as a shot blocker.  At the two and four spots (forget the three for him) will be George Wrighster, who Escoto describes as "the best player I've ever seen in the paint."  George was a transfer last season from Buckley, and he's really more of a football player than a basketball player, but he's telling everyone who is recruiting him that he also would like to continue to play basketball in college.  Right now he weighs probably 225 and it's all muscle. He's being recruited by just about everyone, UCLA, USC, Stanford, Colorado, Michigan State, Cal, Arizona State, and he would make a really great college player.   He's got great speed, good hands, a decent handle and the ability to just put a crushing pick on his opponents, and he's developed into one of the top rebounders in the area. 

Backing up the guys in the blocks will be Dallas Townsend, a senior who is a sort of "bread and butter" or "blue-collar" type of player.  "He's our Charles Oakley," said Bort.  This guy can rebound, chases loose balls, dives on the floor, and sets the screens and picks that most people only dream of getting. He gets everyone else open, and generally goes unnoticed, except by the guys he's running into or defending. Look for him at the 4 or 5 spot along with Youmans and Wrighster.  Also a possible backup at the 5 is George O'Garra, a transfer from Sherman Oaks CES, a good open court player, with good footwork, and a tremendous offensive rebounder who can run the floor.

Jeremiah, as we said will handle the duties at the three. Vying for playing time at the three position and backing up Turner will be Damien Derrico, a very good outside shooter, a good defender and a guy who can rebound like crazy. This is his first year of high school basketball, so just how good he is remains to be seen.

At the guard spots, Jerry Calzada, who is up from the JV, will handle some of the shooting guard responsibilities. He's a good outside shooter, with a nice touch out to three, a decent defender and a good finisher.  The point will be handled mostly by Brandon Jacobs, who will probably go the JC route next year, and Bort thinks he'll be the "surprise of the City Section this season."   Brandon is a quick and speedy defender, with good court vision, an excellent handle, the ability to penetrate and dish or go to the hole, and he's a decent jumper as well.  T.K. Reid will share the point, and he will be somewhat of a mystery until the season starts, as he was injured last year, and we didn't get to see him a lot this summer. But he's a great penetrator with an excellent handle who needs to work on his outside jumper; shooting is not his forte' but he is very strong, and can do things a lot of other guards can't, like break a press with the dribble.  Backing up at the shooting guard spot will be Chris Slade, a good outside shooter and a very hardworking defender and John Valdez, a capable scorer and ball handler who is probably better at catch-and-shoot than a lot of guys on this team.

This is a deep and strong team, and they will be tested early on in December at several tournaments.  From December 2-4 they'll be at the Fresno Buchanan Tournament, and then they'll be in Vegas for the Reebok Holiday Classic from December 19-23, and their first round game will be against Washington College Academy from Tennessee on Saturday at 12:30 at Cimmaron High School.  As usual, we'll have the schedules for that tournament shortly.  Then they'll return to Los Angeles, and from December 26-29 they'll be at the 16 team Hart Tournament along with league rival San Fernando.

Finally during the season they'll make an appearance at the adidas/Double Pump 1999 MLK Hoops Festival on January 16, 1999 at Cal State Dominguez Hills where they'll take on Simi Valley (Branduinn Fullove, Rafael Berumen, Brett Michel, Sean Michel) in the 1:30 p.m. game.

As we said, this is a very deep, very talented team, and they could very well do some significant damage in City Section and challenge some of the traditional City powers for the overall title or the runner-up spot, which would be enough to get them to the State Tournament. 

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