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High School Team Preview:
Harvard-Westlake High School--(Nov. 4, 1998)

"This year is going to be really tough in the Mission League. I've been here for 14 years, and I don't remember a year where the talent has been as evenly distributed in the league." --Greg Hilliard, Harvard-Westlake

Greg Hilliard is the varsity coach at Harvard-Westlake, a school known for both its athletic programs and academic excellence, located in Studio City.  As we noted in our preview last year, virtually all of the school's students go on to attend major colleges and universities. It has a multi-million dollar science center that is the envy of many of those same colleges, and it's became somewhat of an athletic powerhouse in the mid-90's with the addition of the Collins twins, Jason and Jarron who are now playing at Stanford. Hilliard's been coaching for the last 24 years, since 1985 at Harvard-Westlake. He attended high school in Beaverton, Oregon where he also played high school basketball. After college at Occidental where he also played basketball and tennis, he returned to Oregon and attended law school at Lewis & Clark Law School. He decided to forego the practice of law and devote himself to coaching basketball, and when the varsity basketball coaching job at Catlin-Gabel High School in Beaverton opened up he grabbed it. He stayed for 10 years, ultimately deciding to return to Los Angeles, and got the job coaching what was then the Harvard Saracens in 1985.   Since the merger with the all-girls Westlake school in the early 1990's, H-W has been known as the Wolverines, and during the '90's they've also been known for their basketball successes, all led by Hilliard. 

Last year was a reality check for the Wolverines.  They had just come off of three straight CIF Southern Section Division III-A Championships, two State Tournament Southern Regional Division III  Titles, and two State Championships in Division III. But for the 1997-98 season, H-W would have to do without the Collins twins who had graduated (to Stanford), Ryan Smiley who had graduated (to Penn), and the only starting member of their last title team, point guard Victor Munoz (now at Columbia), had torn his ACL, and was out for the season.  But some of the young, untested seniors,  juniors, and a lot of very young but talented sophomores stepped up, and even though they didn't win the league they made the playoffs. While that success was tempered by their first round exit from Southern Section playoffs, the team this year returns most of the starters from last year, and there are several new and talented additions.

Here's the roster:

Russell Lakey (6'-0" Jr. PG)
Alex Minn (6'-2" Sr. SG)
Alex Holmes (6'-4" Jr. PF)
Eric Geffner (6'-5" Jr. SF)
Dan Kinzer (6'-7" Sr. C)
Todd Kurihawa (5'-10" Sr. PG)
Chad Garson (6'-4" Jr. SG/SF)
Anthony Naylor (6'-3" Jr. SG/SF/PF)
Spencer Torgan (6'-3" Jr. PF)
Charles Gillig (6'-6" Sr. PF/C)
Chris Hooks (6'-2" Jr. SG/SF)
Alex Kowell (6'-8" Sr. C)
Brian Berkette (6'-3" Sr. SF)
Kelechi Ogbunamiri (6'-3" Jr. SF/PF)

You may notice several names gone, players like Pat Biggerstaff (6'-8" C) who graduated, or John Karravas (5'-9" Jr. PG/SG) who has decided to focus on baseball and won't be playing this season. And there are several new names, and a couple of players coming up from the junior varsity. Like last season, Hilliard again intends to stay with his philosophy of playing up-tempo, aggressive basketball. And this is a quick team, which has a lot of guys who can make that happen.

The offense starts this year with Russell Lakey, who stepped up in a big way for H-W last season after Munoz was injured, and between now and then, he's become a more mature player. Russell is a quick, agile, true point guard, with great instincts for the game and the ability to drive and penetrate or find the open man.  He can push the break or take the ball on transition and go coast to coast, and is very dangerous in the open court, and while he can finish at the rim, he's just as likely to pull up for the j from 10' to 15' out. Russell is also an excellent defender who can pick another team's point guard clean if he's not careful, and he has very quick hands and great lateral quickness, almost a shorter version of Gilbert Arenas on defense, a great natural defender. Russell also plays for Rockfish, and this summer he spent a good deal of time with Shantay Legans and is the heir apparent to take over as the starting point on that team.  Much of the offense this year at H-W will go through him and he will be a capable floor general, as good if not better than Munoz at his best, and he is a definite high-major Division I college prospect. Russell will get some relief and backup from Todd Kurihawa, a senior who started about half the games last year. Todd is a quick, tough-nosed defender with a good handle and decent court vision, who can also capably run the floor, but he doesn't improvise nearly as much as Russell will. Todd is probably a better outside shooter though, and each brings something a bit different to the game. 

At the two, look for Alex Minn, a three point specialist, who is also a very good defender. He's also got a decent enough handle that if anything were to happen to either Russell or Todd, Alex could also play the point too, but he's better suited, in our view as an off-guard where he can bomb in threes all day from above the key where he was the most accurate last season.  Alex can also push the break and run the press well, and has good court vision and a great sense for the game. Sharing time at the two will be several players, a few of whom will also be at the three spot covering for starter Eric Geffner.  Chad Garson is a smooth shooting wing type of player, who can slash to the hole, but who is most comfortable spotting up on the wing at the baseline for the three, although over the summer he worked on creating off the dribble and pulling up for the j, and he performed well for the LA Maccabi team which competed in Detroit. He's also vastly improved his defense from last year, and this season if he remains healthy should see some significant time at the 2 or 3. Likewise, Chris Hooks, a player up from the jv's will also see some time at the two or three spot. Chris is a very athletic player who is sometimes a bit flamboyant and goes for the home-run rather than the simple play, but he definitely brings some excitement to the team, and provided he can develop his fundamentals, will be a major asset for the Wolverines for the next two years.

Starting at the three, look for Eric Geffner a tall, lanky sort of guy who runs the floor very well, and who feels most comfortable out on the wing guarding other guards and bombing in high arched three point shots. Eric is truly an inside-outside player, who can rebound capably and still is one of the best "tip" artists we've seen. He rarely plays above the rim, but for a 6'-5" guy who can run and slash to the hole, he has great timing which allows him to get a lot of garbage off the glass that others just seem to miss. He's also very quick and agile and an excellent shot-blocker who runs the court well. Eric was also a member of the LA Maccabi team in Detroit this past summer, and he regularly plays for the 4-D All-Stars traveling team that competed at the Double Pump Best of Summer and Fall Discovery Shootout.  He'll get some relief at the three from some or all of the guys mentioned above (Garson and Hooks) and from Kelechi and Brian Berkette too, but principally by Anthony Naylor, a really tough, hard-nosed guy who also plays on the 4-D Stars team, and who was injured earlier this summer with a shoulder separation in a game at the Best of Summer Tournament, but who is healing up nicely and will be ready for the season opener.   Anthony has a great capacity to play under pain, something we're certain he hopes to avoid, but that same capacity also allows him to go out and do a lot of the dirty work that needs to get done, and between him and Alex Holmes, the two of them will do a lot of banging and setting of picks and screens.  Anthony has good lateral quickness and a good vertical which lends itself to him being a good rebounder. How well he'll do after the layoff is something only time will tell.

Berkette and Kelechi are new to the team. Brian is up from the jv last season, and he's a quick, athletic three, who at times plays right out on the edge of just being under control, at least at times it looks that way, but he's really a very fundamentally sound, athletic player. He's a good defender and provided he plays within himself, he'll see some significant minutes this season. Kelechi is a player we haven't seen yet;  he's a transfer from Pilgrim, where he started for the varsity in his freshman and sophomore seasons. He's playing football now, so when he'll join the team is really anyone's guess, but when he does, we're told he's a sort of Dennis Rodman-type of player, an excellent rebounder, not much of a scoring threat, but someone who will slash to the basket for the rebound from the wing and won't be afraid to bang inside or play post defense.

At the starting four spot, look for Alex Holmes, who will evidently be playing in his last year of eligibility even though he's only a junior.  Apparently he's already in his fourth year of play at the high school level and may attend a prep school in order to keep his football prospects where they should be. Alex is already a major Division I college football prospect, who, at 300 lbs., is the starting outside linebacker and a tight end on the Wolverine football team, which is off to its' best start ever this season (at least since 1971 in the days of Bill Beck when Harvard played 8-man football), and he's being recruited by just about every major college football power. If he were a senior, he'd be dealing with signing an LOI, but as a junior academically, he's still got another year to go, and it's been reported by the Times that CIF "probably won't" grant him a 5th year of eligibility. On the basketball court, Alex is very quick, surprisingly so for a big 300 lb. guy, and even more surprising is his ability to hit outside shots: In the War on the Floor Tournament this summer at Chatsworth High, we saw Alex hit for 7 three-pointers in one game. He's got great post skills, huge soft hands with a great touch around the basket, and if he wasn't going to be earning a living someday every Sunday in the NFL, he might also be a reasonably sound prospect beyond college basketball.

Backing up Alex, and perhaps starting   at least until he returns from football, will be Charles Gillig, Naylor and Spencer Torgan, who is sort of a mini-version of Alex. Gillig will also see time at  the 5, and he's an excellent perimeter shooter, who has worked really hard this summer and fall playing for the ARC team coached by Rob Ichart that appeared at the Long Beach Fall Hoops Classic which also featured Todd Tomlinson (6'-0" Jr. SG) and Sean Corkery (6'-0" Sr. PG) from Moorpark High. Charles can run the floor, and is a decent post defender but he really seems to prefer the perimeter, where he can bomb them in from out beyond the arc. Torgan is another player up from the jv, and he's another big, wide-bodied player, very methodical and fundamentally skilled, and he'll complement the others on the floor well.

At the starting five spot, look for Dan Kinzer, a big, strong center who can post up and block shots, but who often likes to play out on the wing. Kinzer is also a volleyballer, and he's got tremendous strength inside with good rebounding ability. He's developed some decent drop-step moves, and has the ability to back a player out of the paint, but really needs to develop that part of his game. He can shoot out to three, but often that desire to step out and take the outside shot has led to frustration during fall league play at ARC.  Dan did a credible job for the 4-D Stars during the Best of Summer Tournament at Cal State Dominguez Hills, and in the more structured environment of H-W varsity ball, he'll do even better.  Dan will probably be backed up mostly by Alex Holmes but also by Alex Kowell and Gillig. Kowell is another volleyballer, a sort of methodical player who we haven't seen play much, and he's up from the jv this year.

Hilliard is convinced that the team looks good, perhaps better than last season, but he's still guardedly optimistic. "We may have over-scheduled a bit this December, but then by the time the season gets underway, we should be more than ready," he told us.  And until football season is over, he also told us there will be a few jv players who will do double duty and play with both squads. "I'm really excited about our 9th grade class, because we've got some great players coming up who will really help us for the next four years," Hilliard said. Among the players who will play up during the preseason, we'd expect to see Craig Weinstein (5'-10" Fr. PG),  at least until the guys from football return. It's fairly unusual at H-W for a freshman to play with the varsity,  and the last time we recall it happened was with Jarron and Jason Collins, so you know that a player like Weinstein will be an impact player for the next four years. During the fall ARC league, he played with both jv and the varsity and he performed very well, exhibiting a good handle and solid defensive skills. He also played this fall at the Double Pump Fall Discovery Shootout on the Valley Slam Team, which featured David Gale (5'-10" Fr. PG) from Buckley and Pump-N-Run, Jason Morrisette (6'-4" Jr. SG) from Fairfax, TPI & Pump-N-Run, Chris Williams (6'-9" Sr. PF/C) from Notre Dame, Chris Bennett (6'-9" Sr. PF/C) from Pasadena Marshall, Cody Pearson (6'-2" So. PG/SG) from Notre Dame, and Darren Tarlow (6'-4" Sr. PF) from Chaminade. Weinstein was also a member of the Orange County Maccabi Gold Medal-winning team this past summer in Detroit with David Gale, Harrison Schaen (6'-7" 8th grade F/C), Charlie Kranzdorf (6'-1" Fr. SF) and Will Sheslow (6'-0" Fr. PG), so you know this kid can flat-out play.

Harvard-Westlake will open up its season with a scrimmage against Bell-Jeff on November 24 at home, and then on November 30, they'll play Moorpark in a non-league contest.  From December 7-11, they'll   appear in the Thousand Oaks Rotary Tournament, which H-W has won the last 5 years in a row. This year, the tournament will feature Oxnard, T.O, Oak Park, Crespi, Highland Hall, Calabasas, and Newbury Park in addition to H-W.

Following the T.O tourney, the team will host Crossroads for a non-league contest on December 14. After that they'll be in Las Vegas from December 19-23, for the Reebok Las Vegas Holiday Classic, a tournament they've been at for the last several years. Finally, following the holiday, they'll be at the Best in the West from December 26-31.

If Hilliard is right about the leveling of talent in the Mission League, this could actually be a more difficult year for H-W than even last year, notwithstanding the fact that most of the players have gained valuable skills, maturity and improved their games over the summer and fall.  And the reasons why it will be a tougher year for them are not solely within the control of Harvard-Westlake.  "Chaminade, as the defending league champs, and Southern Section Division III-AA champs, have got to be the favorites," Hilliard told us. "And once you get past them, the league has almost reached parity. I've seen Notre Dame amassing some pretty good talent and they will be very good;  Alemany has gotten some great transfers and should be much stronger than ever; Crespi is a team that's been coming on; St Francis has got some really good shooters, and Loyola is always tough. This is a year where almost anyone can take the league."  From what we've seen of the talent in the league, we're inclined to agree with Hilliard.  But we also think that H-W is going to surprise more than a few people this year.  Just how much they'll surprise is something only time will tell.


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