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High School Team Preview:
LA Manual Arts High School--(Nov. 3, 1998)

"God has plans for all of us. Right now he wants me to be here." --Randolph Simpson

If this quote sounds similar to the one that Randolph gave to Mike Miller last year when he did his preview of the Toilers at WestCoastHoops, that's because it is.  Randolph Simpson is a straightforward, direct man, who says exactly what he believes, and he truly believes that he belongs at Manual Arts. He's been the head coach for the Toilers since 1988, and is going into his 11th season. He's compiled 223 wins and only 59 losses.   He's another coach who has returned to coach at his alma mater (there's a theme running through all of these previews), and he graduated in 1977 from Manual after playing both baseball and track.  He attended Cal State LA, where he graduated in 1983. He then earned his teaching credential a few years later from Cal State Dominguez Hills. He's also the Dean of Students at Manual, and he's constantly in touch with the kids, meting out discipline and giving advice. "I just love what I'm doing here at Manual. This is a special place, and I've been blessed that I've been able to help so many fine young people," Randolph told us yesterday. Randolph has three children, a son 8,  a daughter 4, and one in college, who you might recognize from last year's roster, Ricky Duff, who was adopted by Randolph and his wife, and who is now playing at Midland College in Texas.

Last year, Manual finished second in the City, losing to Westchester in the finals, and then lost in the first round to Clovis West in the State Southern Regionals. Overall, Manual had an impressive record of 26-5, and beat some really tough opponents last year, losing only to Westchester (twice, once in preseason and once at the City Finals), Los Angeles and Hamilton during league play (the latter by only a single point) and then to Clovis West in the State Tournament. The team this year returns 11 players from last year. Only Ricky Duff (Midland, Texas), Tomas Spain (Irvine Valley JC), and Quentin Witherspoon (UC Irvine) left. This will be a team which will contend with Crenshaw, Westchester and maybe LA, Fairfax or Fremont for another City title.  

The team:

Mario Roberts (6'-1" Jr. PG/SG)
James Wright (6'-0" Sr. PG)
Curtis Millage (5'-11" Sr. PG/SG)
Otis Belisle (6'-2" Sr. SG/SF)
Brandon Moorer (6'-8" Sr. PF/C)
Johnny Hardwick  (6'-10" Sr. C)
Larry Dillingham (6'-2" Sr. PG)
Ronald Cass (6'-3" Sr. SG/SF/PF)
Earl Felix (6'-5" So. PF)
Luis Rodriguez (6'-6" Sr. C)
Deandre Morris (6'-4" Jr. F)
Jason Crow (6'-4" Jr. F)

"This is a group which mostly came in here together as freshmen, and they're going to go out together as seniors. We've been building toward this year for the last three years," Simpson told us.  And they've built well, and generally managed to keep everyone together and on the same page. This is a team which is as talented as any in the City Section, and there are at least 5 D-I mid to high major prospects.

James Wright will undoubtedly be starting at the point, and he's certainly one of the best on the west coast this year. He was selected to Frank Burlison's "Fab 15" Third Team All-West Coast, and is one of our top selections among SoCal points as well. James is very quick, a real penetrating, driving scorer.   James has committed to Long Beach State, so you'll get to see him around for the next four years after graduation. "He wanted to stay home near his mom and family, so they could continue to see him play," Randolph told us. "It's pretty refreshing, because most guys just want to go as far away as possible." James will have plenty of help in the backcourt this year from Curtis, who is a great instinctive player, probably the best defender on the team who can fill the lanes on the press better than anyone. He's got great court vision and awareness, shoots left handed but can finish on either side. Curtis averaged about 10 ppg last year, and 4 assists per game, and he's got those great thin, long arms to defend and block shots with. He's currently looking at Fresno State, Texas A&M and a couple of others. 

Also in the backcourt complementing James and Curtis will be Larry, another player with great long arms and good quickness. Larry is probably a bit more versatile, and he can run either the 1, 2 or 3. He's got good point skills, and can shoot out to three or slash to the hole from the wing. He's really a better 15-18' shooter than he is from the three, and can get up and down the court very quickly. Randolph expects that he'll be guarding the other team's best players.  Larry is looking at UC Davis, Cal State LA, Cal Poly Pomona, Howard University and he's carrying at 3.0+ average and is awaiting SAT results.  Mario Roberts is up from the JV and will also see some time backing up at the 2 or 1 spot this season. Last year he averaged 25 ppg on the JV and he had a great summer, and actually came up last year for the playoffs, but saw limited action. He's a quick, strong player with an excellent handle who will be groomed to be the starter at point next year. He's also a great student (3.4 gpa & he's fully qualified on the SAT already). He's been around the game for a long time, plays smart, and also works as a Clipper ball boy, so he gets to shoot around with some of the pros now and then. Also in the backcourt at the shooting guard spot, and out to the wing, you'll find Otis Beslisle. Otis plays mostly "above the rim" and he's capable of guarding and outrebounding players two or three inches taller than he is with his great vertical.   Randolph thinks he could be another Ricky Duff--a strong, slashing kid of player.   He's getting some attention from mid to minor D-I's and some D-II and III's. Simpson says "He's going to surprise a lot of people this year, and he'll be a mid to major D-I by the time the season is over."

Ronald Cass will also see some significant time at the shooting guard, wing and forward spots. He's only 6'-3" (only. . . ) but weighs 260 lbs., and is according to Randolph a "phenomenal player. He can do it all, run, pass, shoot, defend, plays left handed, he's got good post moves, and can get up and under with his shot, turn and shoot, or back his man in and out of the paint. He sort of reminds us of a better version of Anthony Garrison from Crenshaw last year, except that Ronald has better post moves and can also shoot out to three point range.  He's carrying a 3.0 GPA, and is looking right now at Howard and UC Davis.

Ronald will get some great help in the high post and paint from Brandon Moorer, a thin but very strong player who can also shoot either left or right handed, with a nice hook j or turn around jumper. Brandon's only drawback is that he needs to bulk up a bit, but he's got great hands and good footwork, and he's already committed to Texas A&M for next year.  He'll also be joined at A&M by Johnny Hardwick, who could, if he decided to be as intense as he can be, the next Dennis Rodman. Johnny is really puzzling to us. He's tall, can block shots all day long, but during the summer he just seemed to disappear sometimes. He's clearly got the talent, and can run the court, rebounds well and has the body for the game, but only time will tell if he can keep his consistency level up. We're betting that he will this season, and he has got to be pumped, because he was just named to the Third Team "Fab 15" by the Orange County Register.  Johnny will get some additional help in the post from Luis Rodriguez, who reminds us a lot of Tony Kukoc, a sort of deliberate and almost slow-motion type of player, kind of methodical, but a real workman, a guy with the tools who just opens up the box and goes to work.  He's deceptively strong down low and runs the floor well.

There are also some newcomers including one who's name will be familiar to Inglewood fans: Earl Felix. Yes, it's the younger brother of Noel, and he's every bit as good if not better at this age than either Noel or Duff was.  He runs the floor extremely well, has great speed, and a completely different body type than Noel- he's sort of a wide, strong kid, who weighs about 200 lbs, built more like Ricky. He can play way above the rim, and moves well with and without the ball, and best of all, Simpson should have him for another three years.  He'll also be joined by two up and coming players from the JV, Deandre Morris and Jason Crow.  Deandre is a solid player and finisher, sort of a defensive placement player who can come in and get things done at the small forward spot. Likewise, Jason is strong, athletic and is a great defensive player, and we'd expect to see both of them get some playing time for grooming for the playoffs and for the next year.

Manual will see some good action this November and December, and actually, they will lead off with one of the best preseason tournaments, the "We Care Classic" at Manual from November 23, 24, 25 & 27 (they skip Thanksgiving).   The tournament this year will feature some great City Section teams, including LA, Fremont, Gardena, Monroe, San Pedro, LA Jordan, and Hollywood in addition to Manual.   The Championship game will be Friday the 27th at 6:00 p.m., and the best part of this tournament is that all the proceeds go toward feeding the homeless.

From December 18-22, Manual will be at the Pacific Open, a tournament held annually at LA Washington, and then from December 26-31, they'll be at the San Diego Nike Holiday Classic.  Finally, during the season, they'll be appearing at the MLK "Dream Classic" at Pauley Pavilion, where they'll matchup with Long Beach Poly in a non-league game on Monday, January 18, 1999.

This year, outside shooting shouldn't be a problem for Manual Arts, and their inside play will also be among the best. Once again, they have size, depth, and quickness. Whether it will be enough to take on Westchester or Crenshaw is something only time will tell.

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