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SoCalHoops High School News

High School Team Preview:
Harvard-Westlake--(Nov. 4, 1999)

"I've been to the mountain before. The best thing about having been there is you get a great perspective, and learn not to get too exicited or too disappointed about anything." --Greg Hilliard, Head Coach, Harvard-Westlake

Greg Hilliard is the head basketball coach at Harvard-Westlake, a school located in Studio City (with a middle school campus in Brentwood) which plays in the Mission League, one of the most competitive leagues in the San Fernando Valley region. We've previewed Harvard-Westlake the past few season, and last year, Hilliard told us, "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."  This year, he told us, "Well in the 15 years I've been here, I'd say it's really anyone's race.  But until somebody beats Chaminade, they've got to be considered the top team; after that, it's pretty even in the league."

Harvard-Westlake is a pretty diverse school, with a high school student population of 1076.  The school fields teams in virtually every sport in which the CIF offers competition, and it's an academically enriched environment, offering lots of other things for students to do besides participate in sports; virtually all of the school's graduates 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 became known as a sort of athletic powerhouse in the mid-90's with Stanford's Collins twins, Jason and Jarron.  But the days of the Collins twins at Stanford are over, and as Hilliard says, when you've been to the mountain top, the view is great and you also get a perspective on what it will be like when you have to climb back down to begin the next climb up:  You can see where you need to get to and you also have some experience with the route to the top. Whether Harvard-Westlake can get back there in the next year or two is the really open question.  For now though, the boys' basketball team has some very talented players, including at least one of the top D-I recruits in Russell Lakey.

Hilliard's been coaching now for 25 years, and he's been at H-W since 1985.  He attended high school in Beaverton, Oregon where he also played high school basketball. After attending Occidental College, where he played basketball and tennis, he returned to Oregon to attend law school at Lewis & Clark.  But unlike some of us, he wised up and switched to coaching boys' basketball:  When the varsity basketball coaching job at Catlin-Gabel High School in Beaverton opened up he grabbed it. He stayed for 10 years, and then returned to LA, where he got the job coaching what was then the "Harvard Saracens" (before the merger with Westlake and the renaming of the athletic teams as the "Wolverines") in 1985.

It's been three seasons since H-W won the last of it's three straight CIF Southern Section Division III-A Championships, two State Tournament Southern Regional Division III  Titles, and two State Championships in Division III.   Since then they've made the playoffs each year, but the last two years, Chaminade has been the team to beat, taking outright or tying for the league title as they did last year with Alemany.

Even though they are without the services of some of the really big guys who helped them get to the playoffs last season, including Alex Holmes (6'-5" Sr. PF/C) who is a top football prospect and will graduate this December (he would have been ineligible to play basketball this season in any event, since this would have been his 5th year), or Dan Kinzer (6'-7" PF/C), and they also lost most of their senior guards from last season (Todd Kurihawa, Alex Minn Charles Gillig, Brian Berkette) and lost Anthony Naylor as well who was injured and then transferred to tiny Southwestern Academy in San Marino, the team still has some great athletes, including several young players worth looking at.  And they've got a great returning group of seniors, most of whom have been with the program for four years.

"We're going to run a lot, press, and generally try to give a lot of teams some real headaches," Hilliard told us. "This is a really excellent group, very cohesive, and they are also very unselfish. There are none of the jealousies which have existed with other teams I've coached. Everyone is really unselfish, and that's a great quality to have with a team. "

Here's the roster for 1999-2000

Austin Scott 5'-8" So. SG
Russell Lakey 6'-0" Sr. PG
John Karravas 5'-8" Sr. PG/SG
Craig Weinstein 5'-10 So. PG/SG
Jesse Gurman 5'-11" Sr. G
Rob Krauss 5'-10" Sr. G
Bryan Coffey 6'-0" Jr. SG/SF
Eric Geffner 6'-5" Sr. SG/SF
Chad Garson 6'-4" Sr. SG/SF
Chris Hooks 6'-2" Sr. SG/SF
Richard Nicholson 6'-0" Sr. G
Kelechi Ogbunarmir 6'-3" Sr. SG/SF
Spencer Torgan 6'-2" Sr. F/C

"We're looking for a really good 6'-4" and under league this year," Hilliard joked.  "We're saving that extra spot on the roster for that 6'-9" guy who may show up. . . Seriously though, we're going to be pretty good, with all the running and quickness we have. We'll generally go with three guards on the floor, maybe more at all times, and with our outside shooting and defensive pressure, we're going to win a few games," Hilliard said.

That three-guard rotation will probably see Lakey, Weinstein and Karravas all on the floor at the same time. "We'll always have two point guards on the floor, and with both Russell and Craig, whoever gets the outlet will be the one bringing the ball up.  Russell has improved tremendously with his passing, is very unselfish and has great point skills;  Craig is an excellent passer, who can thread the needle and he's got really good court vision, so we think with both of them, we'll be able to survive pretty well," Hillard said.  As far as their shooting is concerned, Russell has never been shy about shooting the ball, and was one of the leading scorers in the Mission League the last two years, and according to Hilliard, Weinstein has increased his range and should be effective from the perimeter as well.  While Russell's scoring production dropped off a bit last year as he shouldered more of the point responsibilities, which increased the pressure on him bringing the ball up all the time, he did average more than 22 ppg as a sophomore when he was really utilized as more of a two guard.  Since then though Russell has learned to balance the two, and has turned into one of the better point guards in the region, playing in a starring role with another Rockfish point guard, Jacoby Atako (6'-2 Sr. PG) from Santa Monica, who recently committed to UCSB.

About Russell's recruiting, Hilliard said, "It's probably more frustrating than anyone else's recruiting I've been involved in because of the wide range of schools who are interested in him, and the sheer variety of opportunities he's got,"  Hilliard said.  Right now, Russell has narrowed his choices to four of the Ivy League schools (Penn, Cornell, Yale, and Columbia), Holy Cross, LMU and Santa Clara. "He'll take all four Ivy visits, and then save one for one of the others," Hilliard said.  "He's already been offered by LMU and Santa Clara, and by Holy Cross, and the tough choice he'll have to make is over the academics of each of the schools."

The other probable starter among the three-guard lineup is likely to be John Karravas, who didn't play last year, deciding instead to devote his time to baseball.  But having decided that he can really do both sports this season, John has returned to the lineup. "He's really in the best shape he's ever been in," Hilliard said. "He's always been tough, but this year he's tougher and stronger than ever.  Believe it or not, he's lost about 15 pounds, and is even quicker than he was as a sophomore. He's improved his ball handling, and is really in the best shape of his life.  I think he just missed basketball and is looking forward to just having a lot of fun this year, and we're really glad he's back," said Hilliard.  Austin Scott will also figure into the rotation, probably off the bench to give some relief on defense, which is his strongest suit.  He's a good ballhandler, who can also hit the open three point shot, and he'll be called on to provide some offensive spark when needed. Others who may see some time this season  in the backcourt include Jesse Gurman and Rob Krauss, two seniors who Hilliard described as "guys who train like madmen.   They've been with the program all the way through, and they are our toughest practice plaeyrs, they dominate our runs and sprints, and we'll try to get them some time in the right situtations this season.  They're just great guys." Also in the backcourt is Richard Nicholson, a football receiver who didn't play until this summer or in prior years, "but he's a tremendous athlete who will help us with his quickness and strength on the court,"  Hilliard said.

In the frontcourt, there's no Jason or Jarron, no Dan Kinzer, no Alex Holmes, but there are a number of players who will attempt to fill their big shoes, out from the wings to down low on the blocks, including Bryan Coffey, the only junior on squad.  "Bryan is a banger on the boards, and while he's a little on the short side for the way he plays, he's really tough. We'll use him more like a four or five this year, but he can also step out and take a shot out to about 15', " said Hilliard.  And then there's Eric Geffner, who has been described by some as "the hardest working player on the court since James Brown." Eric is a player who gets every ounce out of his ability on the floor and has turned into one of the true leaders of this team. While he's worked on improving his finesse game, he's the kind of guy who depends on his all-out effort, excellent rebounding skills, and his ability to see the floor on the break.  He's currently getting a lot of attention from several D-III schools, and it's still possible that some D-I's will get more involved, including some Ivies who are looking.  "Eric's game is not really pretty, and sometimes college coaches take a quick look and are turned off.  But if a coach looks at several game tapes, over a period of time, they'll see what I've seen with Eric, which is just that he's a great player, with excellent skills and a real nose for the ball,"  said Hilliard. 

Out on the wing, Chad Garson may see some time if he is healthy. Last season was difficult for the excellent left-hander, who is also a top pitcher, due to some back injuries which kept him sidelined for most of the season.   But if he's healthy and ready to go, his shooting is something the Wolverines will need to keep them in the title hunt. "Chad is a smooth, finesse player, who is an excellent shooter, and we're really hoping that he'll be able to help us this year," Hilliard said.  Also at the wing and inside will be Chris Hooks, whom Hilliard described as the  most improved player on the team. "He's a very athletic guy, who has become really focused on the game this year.  He's really very multi-talented, interested in a lot of the other activities that Harvard-Westlake offers, but he seems to be really interested this year in basketball, which is great," Hilliard told us. "I think he's going to surprise a lot of people with his ability to slash, shoot, rebound and play tough defense, and he could be our most valuable player next to Russell."

Finally down low in the blocks and on the boards, look for Kelechi Ogbunamiri, whom Hilliard described as "Our strongest player, a real monster. He's 6'-3", weighs about 205, and doesn't have an ounce of fat. He's the most aggressive guy we've got, not the most polished skill-wise, but he's exactly what we'll need on the boards and we'll count on him to be a stopper on defense."  Finally, Spencer Torgan  will undoubtedly try to fill Holmes' big shoes, and Hilliard described him as our "one and only back to the basket post player."  He's been effective during the summer, has a big, wide body,  and will give some additional presence to the team in the paint.  Spencer is a football player though and so he won't join the team right away which might hurt a bit in some of the early games.

Three players who played with the varsity on and off this summer will stay down with the JV's this year, and depending on how things work out they might come up for the playoffs:  Rob Wizenberg (6'-0" So. G), Jon Venick (5'-10" Jr. SG), and Drew Firestone (5'-9" So. G), all very talented guards.

So what does a small, quick but close-knit and tenacious team do during the season?  In the preseason they'll kick off with a scrimmage on November 23 agaisnt Bell-Jeff at Bell-Jeff at 7:00 p.m.  Then on Monday, November 29, they'll play Campbell Hall at Harvard-Westlake at 7:00 p.m.. 

From December 6-10, they'll participate in the 27th Annual Thousand Oaks Rotary Invitational Tournament at Thousand Oaks High. We don't have all the seedings and teams in that one, but we'll post it up soon. From there, Harvard-Weslake will play Crossroads at H-W on December 14, and then it's off to Vegas for the Reebok Holiday Classic from the 18th through 22nd.  The team will then participate in the Best in the West from the 27-30 of December, and on January 5, they'll open the Mission League season at home against Crespi. Here's the schedule:

Day Date Opponent Venue Time
Tue 11/23 Bell Jeff (scrimmage) Away 7:00 p.m.
Mon 11/29 Campbell Hall Home 7:00 p.m.
Mon 12/6-12/10 Thousand Oaks Tournament T.O. HS TBA
Tue 12/14 Crossroads Home 7:00 p.m.
Sat 12/18-12/22 Reebok Holiday Classic Las Vegas TBA
Mon 12/27-12/30 Best in the West Tournament LB State TBA
Wed 1/5 Crespi Home 7:00 p.m.
Fri 1/7 Alemany LAB 8:00 p.m.
Mon 1/10 Chaminade Home 7:00 p.m.
Wed 1/12 St. Francis Home  
Fri 1/14 Notre Dame Away  
Sat 1/22 Loyola Away  
Wed 1/26 Crespi Away  
Fri 1.28 Alemany Home  
Mon 1/31 Chaminade Away  
Fri 2/7 St. Francis Away  
Wed 2/9 Loyola Home  

Like last year, Hilliard said again that "We may have over-scheduled a bit this December, but then by the time the league season gets underway, we should be more than ready."

Coach Hilliard is undoubtedly correct about the leveling of talent in the Mission League.  And he's also correct that until someone beats Chaminade and takes the title away from them it's their's to lose. "Once you get past them, the league has almost reached parity. Notre Dame, Crespi, and H-W are all pretty much in the same group right now, and just about anything can happen." From what we've seen of the talent in the league, we're inclined to agree with him, and we also think that like last season, H-W is going to surprise more than a few people with their quickness, tough defense and excellent outside shooting. We'll be watching.

 The Swish Award
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