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High School Team Preview: SD Section
University of San Diego High--(Oct.21, 1998)

"This year we're young, but it's going to be a really good year. Next year we could be even better." --Jim Tomey

Last year when we wrote about University of San Diego High School (USDHS) and Jim Tomey's Dons, we knew the team was good; we just didn't know how good.  Last season Tomey was guardedly optimistic about his team's chances to advance beyond San Diego Section and to the state tournament.  San Diego was just coming off back-to-back defeats in '95-'96 and '96-'97 in the State Regional Tournament to two-time State Champions Harvard-Westlake.  So when several of Tomey's key players told him before the start of the season that they had decided either not to play basketball (Mark Prior, who opted for baseball) or were going to transfer (Blake Jensen (6'-10" Jr. C--to Horizon) it gave Jim some cause for concern that his team wouldn't be deep enough to take the state title, and maybe not even get to the Southern Regional.

But as things turned out, he didn't need to be too concerned.  "I was a bit worried, but then when we found our 7 or 8 guys who could really do it, everything fell into place," Tomey told us.  The Dons turned out to be very good, maybe not as deep as they might have been, but they had their best year ever, and this year they are the defending State Champions in Division III.  They defeated some of SoCal's best D-III teams, including Fresno Washington Union, Chaminade, and others, and then went on to win an exciting and close game against the NorCal D-III champions, Enterprise of Redding by a score of  51-48.  Last year's team featured some great players who have since graduated, including Luke Walton (now at Arizona), David Abramowitz (now at SDSU), Carlos Cong, and Ron McMillan, but more than a few have returned from last year's team, and while they are young, they are also very deep and very talented.  "This might not be the most talented group we've had, but it could be the deepest team we've ever had," Tomey told us today.

Jim Tomey is from Detroit, Michigan, and played college basketball at Eastern Michigan University. He's direct and to the point when he speaks, very straightforward and matter of fact. Yet when he describes his current group of players, you can still sense the same excitement and anticipation that he had for his team last season. Coach Tomey is now 42 and in his 10th year at USDHS. Last season we asked Jim if he might one day like to coach at the college level, and he responded by telling us "I might one day like to accept a different challenge. I've worked real hard to become a competent coach, and if another challenge should present itself, I might consider it." But he also told us that he was happy at USDHS and not looking for a change any time soon.   So how does he feel now?  "I'm pretty well rooted in here at San Diego. If I were to move it would have to be the right situation. You know, I'm 42 years old now, and the kind of job I'd consider doesn't come along every day. I know I can coach, but for me to move it would have to be a very attractive offer."  Tomey is coming off, admittedly,  the best season ever. But he's not about to relax now. How do you top a State Championship?  Well, you don't really. But if Harvard-Westlake's back to back titles in '95-'96 and '96-'97 are any example, he'll try to repeat too.  "We had a great team last year, but we've also got a great team this year. And if things go the way we expect, in two seasons we will have a truly phenomenal team. I think we're deep enough to repeat, and we're sure going to try." 

And they are talented, they are deep, and they might repeat as D-III champions. "Last year, we had the anticipation of not knowing whether we were good enough. This year, we've got kids who have been there, and who have a mind-set that they believe they belong at that level, they actually expect to get back to the State Finals. Whether they do or not is beside the point for now, because these guys feel like they belong there, and that's a really great way to feel going into a season," Tomey said. "Sure there's a lot of pressure, but it's a healthy pressure, one which a lot of other teams would like to have. I wouldn't count us out from taking the whole deal."

But before they can take "the whole deal", they'll have to play a few games and win a few more against some very tough league and SD Section opponents, teams like St. Augustine, Lincoln, Scripps Ranch and others.  Then they'll have to get through teams like Chaminade, Fresno Washington Union, Ocean View, Bishop Montgomery, and other Southern Section and Central Section powers in Division III.   But this year's team does look like it's got the firepower and the talent to be able to repeat. Last year, Jim told us that he was proud of the program and his record: "In the last 6 years, we've built a pretty great program, and we think that even if no one new came along, that it would still be great for at least the next two years." And of course all that hard work paid off well with a State Title, and a seventh   Conference title (5 straight) and a San Diego Section CIF title.  And this year Jim doesn't have to worry about seeing new faces, because they've re-loaded and there's plenty of new talent.

Here's the roster for 1998-99:

Kam Walton (6'-9" Jr. C)
Chris Walton (6'-8" Jr. PF)
Jeff Day (6'-9" So. C/PF)
Mike Malloy (6'-3" Sr. SG/SF))
Connor Hulburt (6'-3" Sr. SG/SF)
Josh Kipper (6'-3" Sr. PG)
Chris Cannon (5'-10" Jr. PG)
Justin Greene (6'-0" Jr. SG/SF)
Adam Olson (6'-7" Jr. PF/C)
Mike Stockhalper (6'-0" Jr. SG)
Nate Staggs (6'-5" Jr. SF)
Pavli Novakovic (6'-5" Jr. SF)

This team will start up front with the Waltons. Kam is, according to Tomey, "the heart and soul of this team."  He'll be the captain, a leader on the floor, and with his experience, a leveling and driving force. Kam is the cousin of Luke and Chris, who are Bill Walton's kids, and between Chris and Kam, the latter is probably the tougher, more hard-nosed of the two, maybe just a step quicker than Chris now at this point, and he's very good in the post. He's got nice footwork, has developed a few decent post moves, and is a tremendous shot blocker.  Chris, on the other hand will be somewhat of an "X-Factor" going into the season: It seems he inherited the Walton feet, and hasn't been cleared medically to play since last spring. Chris had foot surgery at the end of last season, and was just cleared by his doctors in September to begin light exercise and running, so where he will be this year, is really anyone's guess.  If he stays healthy though, he should handle the four/five spot and will impress a lot of people. He's a really skilled player, who can score from inside or out to about  15' and he's an excellent rebounder and shot-blocker, a very athletic kid who can run the floor on the break. In the event Chris isn't healthy or either of them needs a break, we'd look for either Adam Olson or Washington State transfer Jeff Day to step in and get some significant minutes.

Although Day is tall, he's very young and fairly inexperienced, and this will be his first season of varsity basketball. He's already 6'-9" and has grown two inches since the beginning of the summer. Jim believes that he is a decent player right now, but with a little work, that he has huge upside potential, and he's one of the reasons Tomey believes this team will be truly remarkable in two years, if not this season. Day wears size 16 shoes, and is just learning how to use his size, but he'll be a top prospect in about a year or two. With Adam Olson, it's   old saying "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em":  While Adam wasn't on the Redding Enterprise High team that USDHS beat for the State Championship, he is a transfer from Redding, California, and evidently he like what he saw last year.  He's got very good post skills, nice footwork and great rebounding ability, with a good body with some overall size, and his only downside right now is that he needs some experience at the varsity level too. And like Day, he's also grown another two inches since enrolling at USDHS this summer.  Hey Jim, we want to know what you feed those guys. 

At the forward spots off the bench we'd expect to see a lot of Nate and Pavle, two kids with very similar games who both played JV last season but were brought up for the playoffs and were on the roster of the State Championship team. Both can play the three or the four equally well. Nate is a two sport player, very athletic, solid and quick and Pavle plays a sort of "European" type of game, focusing more on offense than defense, a very skilled player with a nice shot out on the perimeter.

At the wing positions, look for Mike Malloy and Connor Hulburt, both returning varsity players from last season. They also have very similar games, and are both great slashing, driving players, who can get to the basket from a wing and finish. Mike is probably the better jumper of the two, and he's certainly gotten more exposure this summer. We rated Mike among our Top Three Wings in SoCal, and we probably would have also included Connor had we been reminded of him or seen him play this summer. Both of them have very good handles, are quick and play very good defense. Backing up at the three spot will be Justin Greene, a football star at USDHS and the county's leading running back. He's a tough left-handed stopper, who can play the combo guard spot as well as anyone.

And while we wrote in our profile of Mike that he might see a little time at the point given the absence of David Abramowitz, we obviously weren't thinking about Josh Kipper, and we should have remembered him from the Best in the West Summer version where we saw him play.  Josh will handle the duties at the point, sharing them with Chris Gannon. Jim describes Josh as a very solid, well-balanced player, a good passer, who does the things that need to be done to get the ball up court.   Josh is a transfer from Riverside, and is very quick, has a nice handle and can create his own shot.  Chris is more of a "true point", a very tough-nosed kid who can push the ball up the floor or pull up and stick the j.  Both of them are great defenders, real ball-hawks who always play hard and fast.

Unfortunately, Carlos Quentin, who played last season will not return; he's chosen to focus on baseball, and is also playing football this season. "He tore up his shoulder a bit in football, and decided he needed a break between football and baseball in order to heal up," Jim told us. "We'll really miss him and we would have liked to see him play, but we're still very deep and talented even without him."

USDHS will once again travel up to Sacramento Jesuit for the All-Catholic tournament which they've now won 2 out of the last 3 years. "They decided to invite us back anyway," Jim said.  The Jesuit tournament will run from December 10-12 and will feature 8 of the top All-Catholic teams around, including Bishop O'Dowd (Tony Champion), St. Ignatius (Luke Whitehead), Oakland Sacred Heart, Jesuit, Carmichael Jesuit, Brophy from Arizona, and several more.

Then from December 17-22, USDHS will travel to Hawaii for the Nike Iolani Classic, and then they'll return to San Diego to play in the Nike National Holiday Classic (the Torrey Pines deal) from December 26-31st. 

Finally, during the season this year, on Monday,   January 19, 1999 at Cox Arena, they will appear in the headliner game of the first San Diego MLK Classic where they will play Torrey Pines at 8:00 p.m.  We'll have more details of this tournament shortly.

Most people familiar with our site also recall that last season Pat McKinney ran the great USDHS website. This year, however, Pat has moved to San Francisco and is attending the University of California's Hastings College of the Law, where he's studying to become (gasp) a lawyer. So the big question is whether USDHS will find someone to take over the great job that Pat did last year running the website. "You know, I'm glad you reminded me about that," coach Tomey said. "I've got to get someone to do that now that Pat is gone."  But then he paused and, perhaps thinking about his own internet skills,  said, "Well, if you need anything, you know my number and can always call."  

The way USDHS looks this year we have a feeling we'll be calling often.

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