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High School Team Preview:
Sherman Oaks Buckley--(Nov. 23, 1998)

"I'm really excited about this team this year. I think we're going to surprise some people."  Dan Haasch, varsity coach.

Dan Haasch has been the varsity coach at Buckley for the last three years, and it seems that each year the team has been getting better and better. He started coaching more than 10 years ago, first as an assistant at Glendora, where he coached  Tracy Murray, then at Providence High for a couple of years. He's married with three children, each of whom also attends the lower school at Buckley. Dan's wife is also on the faculty there, and they really enjoy it. "With our new headmaster, and a resurgence of interest from parents and students in athletics, I think we are rebuilding what was once a great athletic program," Dan told us.

Buckley is a small but academically enriched school, with a total student population of  750 in all grades (about 300 in the upper school) located in the foothills of Sherman Oaks, just east of Beverly Glen. The campus sits on 32 acres located in a secluded canyon, and it's situated just to the west of Harvard-Westlake's Valley campus on Coldwater.  It's just a few miles from Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, less than three miles from Campbell Hall, and in the same student pool as Milken and Montclair Prep.  But unlike these others, the school is a fairly well-kept secret, and it's a favorite of the entertainment industry, known for their reclusiveness.    And like Harvard-Westlake,  Buckley is also known for sending its graduates to some of the most prominent universities and colleges in the country, who's who of Pac-10 and Ivy League schools: Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington, Arizona, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and on and on.  The school has been in existence since 1933, and is the oldest co-educational private college prep schools in Los Angeles.  The facilities, including the gym, are first rate. Like the rest of the student population at Buckley, this year's team is probably one of the smartest teams in all of Southern Section, with an average GPA close to 4.0, and exceedingly high SAT scores.  It's a school with an emphasis on academics first above all other considerations.  

For the past 10 years, Buckley's once proud athletics department has endured what many would consider a long, slow downturn; on the other hand, the anonymity factor is about to change.   "We have begun rebuilding our basketball program from the ground up," said Haasch.  Prior to the 1980's Buckley was very successful in basketball (and in tennis, swimming, baseball, and other sports) and regularly won the Prep League.  One look at the numerous league title banners hanging from the walls of the gym speaks of that proud tradition.  But the dates on those banners shows that most of the late 80's and 90's was a trip to the twilight zone for the Griffins.  In the early 80's following their success in the Prep League, the school moved to the tough Delphic League, where it competed with schools like Campbell Hall, Brentwood, Montclair, and Crossroads; they won their share of games and even league titles, but ultimately in the early 90's, were unable to compete with schools who were rumored then to have been recruiting athletes heavily.  As a result, the Buckley  administrators elected to move to freelance status, and to downplay athletics.  Ultimately, the school found it's way to Liberty League at about the same time that it's neighbor, Harvard-Westlake (before their merger with the Westlake girls school)  was beginning to place itself on the map by moving from 8-man football to 11 man.  The result of the downturn was a virtual exodus of athletes from the school, culminating last year with the transfer of one of Buckley's most promising players, power forward George Wrighster (6'-5" Sr. PF), also a star football player, who left for Sylmar, a traditional City Section power in football.   With the move,  George is now being recruited by virtually every top football school, includign most of the Pac-10, and his transfer really wasn't a surprise, because Buckley's football team just couldn't give him the kind of exposure he needed to get a D-I scholarship.  But Buckley is determined not to let that happen with it's current crop of basketball players, and the coaches and administrators are supporting the program again. 

Now competing in the Liberty League with other small Division V-AA schools such as Oakwood (Mitchell Butler's alma mater), Providence, Yeshiva, Avalon, Holy Martyrs and Viewpoint, Buckley could be poised for the best year in basketball in recent memory.  Haasch is pleased with the level of support the team is receiving from the rest of the faculty and the administration: "We have a new headmaster at the school, and he's very supportive of our program.  Hopefully we'll attract some attention this year, get some things accomplished, and move into at least one more high profile tournament in the preseason," Haasch told us.   "Most people at larger schools don't realize how much support is needed from a small school administration in order have a successful program," Haasch said.   "For example, last year, the Times ran a feature on  "Small School" athletics programs, featuring most of the local schools, like Bell-Jeff, LA Baptist, Oakwood, Montclair Prep, and so on.  But we weren't mentioned.  When one of our boosters spoke with Eric Sondheimer at the Times, the reporter's attitude was 'Why should we cover Buckley;  they haven't done anything in the last 10 years,' " Haasch related. "Of course, that's not quite true.  And we intend to change that attitude this year."

Last season, the team finished 13-5, 6-5 in league, tied for third, but didn't make the playoffs.  This year's team however, is almost completely new, but not quite, and will build on last years resurgence with two returning seniors, one returning junior, a couple of returning sophomores; there are several new players up from jv,  and one talented freshman.  They are young, but they are playing together like no Buckley team has for the past 10 years.  The team entered a summer league for the first time in anyone's memory, playing Bell-Jeff, Providence, Milken, New Roads, and others;  the team entered the ARC fall league, playing against bigger and better competition, teams like Division III Harvard-Westlake, Notre Dame, LA City Section's North Hollywood, Moorpark, traditional rival Milken, and others, making it to the quarterfinals of the playoffs.  This is a young team which is loaded with good talent, and they will only get better. "I'm really pleased with our young players, and the fact that we've managed to do some things that we've never really done, like play in summer and fall leagues. Today, we're months ahead of where we've ever been before at this time of year, and I hope this is just the beginning."

Dan is also excited about the talent level this year. "We have lots of players who are really committed to improving their games and making an impact, guys who play year-round, a couple on high profile club teams.   I've told everyone that with the young, new players we have coming up, no one's guaranteed a starting position.  Everyone will have to work, because if they don't there's someone else who will take their spot."

Here's the roster:

Colin Ward-Henninger (6'-3" So. SF/PF)
David Gale (5'-10" Fr. PG/SG)
Adam Pastor (6'-0" Jr. PG/SG)
Alex Clancy (5'-10" So. SG/PG)
Jeremy Howard (6'-4" Sr. F/C)
Sasha Raban (6'-0" Sr. SG)
Michael Lalazerian (5'-10" Jr. SG)
Jake Scannell (6'-3" So. F)
Simon Leonov (6'-2" Jr. F/C)
Michael Pakravan (6'-0"  Jr. F)
Steven Broukhim (6'-1" So. SG/SF)
Royal Weaver (5'-7" So. G)
Josh Ahktarzad (6'-1" Sr. G/F)

This is a team which is loaded with guards, and they are quick, strong and fast.  At the point, we'd expect to see at least three players, and possibly four trading responsibilities bringing the ball up: Adam Pastor, Alex Clancy, David Gale and Royal Weaver.  Adam is fast, has a decent handle and good court vision,  is good at pushing the break on transition and has a good pull up j out to about 15', with his favorite shot being a jump-stop shot from the right or left baseline area, and he's been deadly accurate. Pastor is a decent defender, who moves well with and without the ball.  Clancy was the MVP of the jv team last season, and he's really more of a shooting guard than a point;  he can bring the ball up, pushing on transition, but is just now getting comfortable with a fairly complicated offensive scheme which utilizes a complex flex and motion offense, with several zone-busting plays.   Clancy is probably a better shooter than a point, and he's got very good catch-and-shoot skills, and can hit three's all day long when he's hot; in one game last year, he hit for 7 straight. He and Pastor are both pretty good creating their own shot, as is Gale, and Clancy can penetrate well and finish.

The youngest member of the team is David Gale, who is also one of the most experienced players on the team at tournament level basketball. He's played for several traveling teams, been on two Maccabi teams which have competed at the national level and won two gold medals (Seattle 97, Detroit 98), played for the Pump-N-Run II All-Stars, was selected to the West Coast All-Stars Freshman-Sophomore All-Star team (along with players like Skyler Wilson, Torin Beeler and Baker Dunleavy), and was named as one of the top "22 Freshmen on the West Coast to Watch" by Dinos Trigonis' Fullcourt Press in their Fall 1998 Underclassmen report.  Gale is a heady player, who can run the floor and direct a team, and he's got a smooth shot out to three, a good handle and makes good decisions; he can either pull up for the j or penetrate and finish. Like Clancy, when he's hot, he can bomb in threes all day, and last year, on Buckley's 8th grade team, he hit for 32 points in one game, including 7 threes, 10 assists and 8 steals.  He's a very capable defender,  with quick hands, adept at ball-side help defense and he'll be a real asset for this young team.  The real "x-factor" this year among the guards could be Royal Weaver, probably the fastest player on the team, who is just learning what his potential can be; he didn't play summer league with the team, and also elected not to join the ARC fall league team, instead running cross-country, so he's got some catching up to do on the offense and defense run by the team.  Not blessed with especially great shooting skills, he does have a good handle, can penetrate gaps and will finish.  He is a returning varsity player, and even though he didn't see a lot of game time last year, if he maintains his intensity, he'll definitely see his share of time this season.

At the two will be Sasha  Rhaban,   Mike Lalazerian, and Steven Broukhim.  Sasha is a very tough, hard-nosed player, with great lateral quickness and a decent shot out to 17', a better finisher off the fast break than he is a pull up shooter. He can spot on the wing and if he gets squared up and can work the press and half-court trap, and he's got the most experience working with coach Haasch given his three year varsity status.  Lalazerian is one of the smartest defenders on the team, very controlled, also very tough, and he will body up with bigger and taller players whenever he gets a chance. A great pick and screen setter, he also has a good shot, with a nice release out to three point range, and when he gets hot, like Clancy and Gale, can hit from just about anywhere.  Likewise, Broukhim, up from the jv, is also a three-point specialist, and this summer he perplexed many teams, including Bell-Jeff and Milken with his excellent shooting.

At forward/center will be Colin Ward-Henninger and Jeremy Howard. Colin is probably the most talented 'big man' on this team, and a lot of the offense will go to him with a fair amount of plays designed to have him be a shooter off a screen from in around 12' to 14'; he's not yet really developed many post moves, but can play reasonably well down on the block and is just learning how to drop-step and turn to the basket. He's very active, and is really more of a slashing type of player who will start at a wing and go to the basket. Colin is really a guard in a forward's body and he's just learning how much versatility he's going to have.  Colin is also a star baseball player, a pitcher with a solid arm, and that will probably be his scholarship sport. This summer he attended the AAU Baseball Nationals and his team made it to the round of eight before being eliminated.  Jeremy Howard is really an enigma, an experienced player who has played with the San Fernando Cavs for the last few years, he's pretty well skilled, can shoot well from about 15' with a high arcing jumper, but he still thinks he's a guard, and will definitely need to bulk up a bit this season in order to fulfill his designated down-low and inside role. He's got the capability to be an excellent rebounder, but tends to like the perimeter to the contact inside.

Making up contact inside will be Jake Scannell, Simon Leonov, Mike Pakravan and Josh Ahktarzad.  Jake is a strong, tough kid, who tends to be a streaky shooter, but when he's hot, he's a scoring machine. He's got a very nice little floating shot from right around the free throw line, and is a very capable rebounder, with good leaping ability.  Simon is a real banger, not much of a shooter, but a wide-body who can fill the lane, a space-eater with excellent rebounding ability.  Pakravan is another wide-body, not a real banger,  he likes to float on the perimeter, and if he gets a clear look, he'll hit.  Pak is a smart player, perhaps almost as smart as Josh Ahktarzad, (we hear Josh got a 1560 on the SAT and could probably teach his advanced calculus class better than the teacher), and he understands the offense, and will lend some leadership when he's on the floor.  Josh will be a situational player, getting strategic minutes where his offensive and defensive skills dictate opportunities, and he's a pretty good rebounder, who will push the ball to the handlers off the defensive boards.

Haasch is also pleased with the latest addition to the Buckley team, assistant coach John Jackson. John was an assistant last year at Malibu and coached the Malibu jv team to a league title. He played at Gardena High, then played for three years at LaVerne University and was drafted by the Sacramento Kings.   Cut during camp, he made his way through Europe for 9 years as a professional player, starring on several Italian teams before returning to the U.S.  Jackson is a player's coach, a true student of the game, a defensive specialist, and the results of his efforts are already starting to pay off. "I'm pretty happy with this group of athletes. Most of them don't know what they are really capable of doing, and I want to help them get there." 

Buckley opens up its season with a scrimmage game against Glendale Adventist on November 23, then on December 1 they'll play AGBU, followed by a game against Pilgrim on December 4.   The following week, Buckley will play in the Milken Hilltop Classic Tournament, where they will face Flintridge Prep in the first round.  The tournament will take place from December 7-9, and will feature teams from Milken, Malibu, Faith Baptist, Southwestern, Oakwood, and Pilgrim.   Unlike many other schools in Southern Section, Buckley schedules it's winter finals before January, so the team will take a game break until the Santa Maria Valley Christian Tournament, from December 27-30, which will feature several local teams as well as a few league opponents like Holy Martyrs. League play opens on January 6 and Buckley should, along with traditional league rivals Yeshiva and Providence be one of the favorites this season. 

This year, the team is looking to make an impact and to go deep into the Division V Southern Section playoffs. Whether they can, is something only time will tell.

The Swish Award
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