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SoCalHoops High School News

High School Team Preview:
Long Beach Poly--(Nov. 1, 1999)

"Last year I thought we'd have trouble replacing the guys who graduated two years ago (Ricky Anderson, Shelton Diggs and Mike McIntyre). But we had a great year, and this year I think we are even better." Ron Palmer, Long Beach Poly Head Coach. 

Last year Long Beach Poly finished as the Southern Section runner-up and ultimately finished its season in the quarterfinals of the Southern California Regionals in the State Championship tournament.  This year, they could very well be there again fighting for a D-I-AA title and the right to represent the Southern half of California at the Arco Arena for the finals, and most preseason pundits (including us at SoCalHoops) believe that there are three, maybe four or five truly "elite" teams at the D-IAA level this year (depending on who moves up);   Poly, Fontana, Aretsia and Mater Dei are teams that immediately come to mind;   others are Compton Dominguez (if they elect to finally move up from D-II), and perhaps Simi Valley.  But clearly, Poly ranks among the best this year.

A lot has been written about Ron Palmer in the years since 1964 when he first started coaching. Ron grew up in Monterey, California where he attended Seaside High and was a track star. Following graduation, he attended Oregon State where he continued his track career. Upon graduation from college, he returned to his hometown wher he started coaching track. He then moved to the Los Angeles area, and worked in recreation leagues, and then served as an assistant at Pasadena High.  In 1973-74 he began his first stint at Long Beach Poly, which lasted until 1984, when he became the head basketball coach at California State University Long Beach, where he coached for three years, taking a couple of years off before re-entering coaching again. Palmer explained it to us this way: "I actually got the Long Beach Poly job by accident, and it was not something I planned. In fact, when I first applied for the job, they turned me down. So I applied somewhere else, at Pasadena, and after Pasadena had offered me the head job there, the fellow who had gotten the job ahead of me at Poly came down with an illness which prevented him from taking the job. They actually begged me to take the job, and at first I turned them down, but they were persistent. I guess it's fair to say I got the job against my will and totally by accident."

He's been at Poly now since 1989, and has coached some great players. Ron is a point guard's coach, and he can recognize and effectively bring out the best in a player. He's a patient, kind teacher, and he's always willing to talk basketball and share his knowledge of the game with anyone
willing to show a genuine interest to learn. And this season he has several star pupils, including one of the most highly recruited point guards in the West, Wesley Stokes.   "There's a lot of speculation about where Wesley will be going to school next year.  He is considering several schools, including Missouri, Oregon State, Texas, and USC.  Those are the schools that he's talking about most seriously right now.   I expect that he'll make some sort of announcement in the next week, but he could decided to wait a bit longer,"  Palmer told us.  "But in addition to Wesley, we are probably as deep right now at the guard position as we've ever been, and we have several others who can take the focus of other teams off of him."    

Poly won last year's Moore League title, and figures prominently as the pre-season league favorite again.  They made it all the way to the Southern Section CIF finals, where they lost to Artesia in one of the weirdest games of the season last year. If you want to read about it, here's the link.).   The loss in the Southern Section Championship still allowed the Jackrabbits to advance to the State Southern Regional Tournament, where they met up with Manual Arts, losing 67-57 to the LA City Section Champions.  This year, the Jackrabbits return just about everyone from last year's team.  Here's the anticipated roster for 1999-2000:

Wesley Stokes 5'-11" Sr. PG
Ramaan Shotwell 6'-0" Sr. PG/SG
Carlos Rivers 5'-10" So. PG
Justin Marshall 5'-11" Sr. G
A.J. Diggs 5'-9" Sr. PG
Adrian Martin 5'-11" Sr. PG/SG
Tim Thomas 5'-11" Sr. G
Johnathan Harper 6'-4" Jr. SG/SF
Patrick Phillips 6'-2" Jr. SG
Lionel Penman 6'-3" Jr. SG/SF
Travis Wilder 6'-4" Sr. SG/SF
Marquee White 6'-7" Jr. F
Chuck Jones 6'-5" Sr. F
Joe Travis 6'-8" Sr. PF/C
Mike Roche 6'-5" So. F
Mercedes Lewis 6'-7" So. F
Ryan Love 6'-5" So. F
Reggie Butler 6'-5" So. F

This team is very balanced at both ends of the floor, in the frontcourt and the backcourt, even if the Jackrabbits are primarily thought of as a team of mostly guards.  Starting in the backcourt will be Wesley Stokes at point, and enough ink and paper has been written about Wesley between now and last year to start a small forest fire.  With his flowing afro, he's a seeming contradiction on the floor;   he seems to and looks like he plays with wild abandon, improvising at all times, when the reality is that he's very much under precise control; but it's that same control which allows him to create, whether crossing over or leading the break and finishing in a variety of ways, whether driving to the basket or pulling up for some of the longest long-distance three pointers you're likely to ever see a high school player hit.   Wesley has great speed, incredible quickness and amazing control of the ball. "He's about 1 point away right now from qualifying on the SAT, but there's no doubt in my mind that he'll be a huge college player.  Wesley is so smart on the court it's just scary," said Palmer.

Joining Wesley in the backcourt is a sextet of other talented guards, including A.J. Diggs, who will likely be the other starter, and will also share responsibility at the point with Wesley.  "The great thing about A.J. for us is that he had two years leading the offense at St. Anthony's and he's also very tough, smart and can do things that we need," said coach Palmer.  "He gives us another weapon, because if the opposing teams think that the only thing they need to do is stop Wesley, they're going to be badly mistaken."   Also joining Diggs and Stokes at the point position will be Carlos Rivers, a very talented young sophomore who has played extremely well for Poly this past summer and during the fall, making quite a name for himself.  Dinos Trigonis' Fullcourt Press' sophomore rankings have him as the No. 4 point guard in the Sophomore class, and he's also listed by Hoop Scoop and included in SoCalHoops own listings of the top sophomores in SoCal.  "Carlos is the heir apparent to Wesley," said coach Palmer.  "He's learning the position, and has a lot of potential to be a really special player.  We'll try to get him as much playing time as possible this season, but it's going to be tough; still, he'll see plenty of action."  And Poly is actually grooming another great point guard to play alongside Carlos next season in Isaiah Freeman (5'-8" Fr. PG) who will play JV this season in order to get valuable playing time. "He's really impressive and has played well with us all summer, so I'd expect to see big things from him next year," said coach Palmer.

Adrian Martin will also play, and probably also start in the three-guard set, and according to Palmer, "Adrian is probably the most underrated guard in Southern California right now.  He's probably our most athletic player, other than Wesley, at the position, and we're looking for big things from Adrian."   Others in the backcourt include Raamann Shotwell, who is likely to be a swing-type player, alternating at both guard positions, often in a three-guard rotation, moostly likely as a utility player. "The great thing about Raamann is that he's got an excellent handle, he's scrappy, rebounds very well for someone his size and he's just a great outside shooter, so I see him playing a very valuable role with this team," said coach Palmer.  Two other guards are questionable right now, Tim Thomas who played last year, but has not played with the team nor practiced, and Justin Marshall, who is currently playing football and may not play basketball this year either. Patrick Phillips is likely to be a role player, and he's just now getting feel and understanding of what Coach Palmer is trying to do with the team, but he'll still be a significant player. "He's another of our underclassmen who could be a really big player for us this year."

At the wing, Poly is deep, that is if everyone shows up and stays healthy.  "The way I look at it, we won't be at full strength until late December," coach Palmer told us. "We've got a lot of guys playing football right now, and there have been some players who have been injured, but we hope to be at full strength by the start of league play."  One of those key players injured right now is Johnathan Harper, a smooth shooting and slashing wing player who injured his back, with a possible disk injury during the EBO Fresno touranament while playing for one of the Pump N Run teams.  He's currently being treated at Kerlan-Jobe, and undergoing physical rehab in order to avoid surgery.  When he's healthy, Jono is one of the best pure shooters in the class, and he'll be sorely missed if he doesn't return to the lineup. "Right now we expect to see him back for league play, but his condition is really day-to-day," said coach Palmer.  If Marquee White stays healthy too, he'll likely play and start at the wing. Marquee is one of the most talented ball handlers and shooters on the team, a very athletic slasher who can dunk, rebound and play excellent defense.  But again, he's the backup quarterback on the football team, so he probably won't join the team until late in December, especially considering that most polls right now have the Jackrabbits as the No. 1 ranked team in SoCal.

Another wing player who will return late is Lionel Penman, a football player and part-time starter for the Jackrabbits last season. "He's got great athletic ability, and provides tremendous strength for us coming in off the bench.   Right now with football season, he hasn't been playing with us a lot, so I'm not sure how he'll fit in when he comes back, but if he does, he's definitely got a spot," said coach Palmer.  Finally, another player who will be significant, provided he's healthy, is Mike Roche. "Right now Mike is questionable for the season," said coach Palmer. He fractured a bone in his foot during the summer, and hasn't been cleared by his doctor yet, and so he hasn't played or practiced with us."   But assuming he's healthy, Roche will provide valuable rebounding and blocking skills, and a decent shot out to 15'.  In the absence of Harper and Roche (and assuming Penman is healthy and returns), two newcomers will provide some assistance at the wing/small forward spots:  Reggie Butler and Ryan Love.  Ryan will actually play more at the 4-5 than Harper.  Ryan is another player who could have big time potential provided he's willing to put in the time and work required. He's played well for the team during summer and fall, as has Reggie Butler, a tremendous leaper with excellent rebounding and slashing ability.  Finally at the wing look for Travis Wilder, a player who has "grown up in the program," according to Palmer. "He's been with us since the beginning, working his way up through the soph team, jv, and now the varsity, where he's started all summer."  Palmer believes he could play a significant role on the team. "He's a good blocker, with a decent handle and a good shot, and he just does a lot of things that every team needs a guy to do."

At the power forward/post spots, Poly has several options, including starter Joe Travis. Joe was recently selected as the MVP of the Warehouse Shoe Sale Fall Tournament (which took place this past weekend, October 30-31), and he's a huge inside presence; a great rebounder with the ability to put the ball in the basket in close, he didn't play much this past summer due to a fracture, but in the fall has come back with a vengeance, playing great in the Double Pump Fall Premier tournament where Poly played in the finals beating BWBA and Dominguez in the semifinals.  Joe isn't getting as much recruiting attention as he probably will in the spring, but for now schools that are interested include Fullerton, Washington, Washington State, Fresno and UNLV.  Joe is a full qualifier and we would expect him to sign late.  Backing up Travis will be Chuck Jones, a 240lb banger who can really clog up the middle and rebound.  Mercedes Lewis is really more of a three-four, but he might be asked to play some inside as well. "His game is probably most similar to Marquee White's right now, and we also don't think he'll be back until sometime in December, since he's a starting tight end in football."   And you might notice that Poly will also be without the services of Jim Kresl (6'-8" Sr. F/C) who has decided to focus on volleyball instead of basketball.  "Jim is a talented player and an excellent athlete, and he just decided that he had a better chance of getting a college scholarship by focusing on volleyball rather than basketball."

There are a lot of football players on this squad, and Palmer knows that how well the basketball team will fare may have something to do with the football team's fortunes. "Every time I go to a football game, I just hold my breath and hope that everyone stays healthy," Palmer told us.

Poly will start off with a scrimage game against Inglewood on November 22 at Poly at 3:00 p.m. and then they'll play in several preseason tournaments, including the Clovis West/Buchannan touranemnt in Fresno, also known as the BCW Tip Off Hoop Invitational, which will run from December 1-4, 1999 at Clovis West High Schoo and Buchannan.  The teams participating include Compton Dominguez, Fresno Washington Union, Clovis West, Oakland Fremont (last year's D-I state champs), Inglewood, Sacramento Oakridge, Ayala, Oakland Skyline, Crossroads, Bakersfield, Santa Monica, Chatsworth, LA Fremont and several others.

From there, Poly will play in Las Vegas in the Reebok Holiday Classic from December 18-22, and then they return for the Best in the West at Long Beach State from December 27-30.  League play will start immediately thereafter, and in January they'll play in the "Poly adidas Pump Hoop Challenge", which this year will be hosted by Long Beach Poly, on January 15 at Cal State Dominguez Hills.   The tentative lineup for that one includes Los Al v. Centenial (Compton)--although that game may have to be switched because Compton Centennial may not have the game available to play.  Other contests include Simi v. Serra,  Bellflower v. Artesia, Mater Dei v. Irvine Uni, Jurupa v. Centennial Corona, Fairfax v. Westchester, Bishop Montgomery  v. Washington Union (Fresno),  Poly v. LB Jordan, and Inglewood v. Redondo.  "We're trying to get all the games set, and this looks like a pretty good schedule," said coach Palmer.  

Poly and Artesia will also host the "Artesia Poly SoCal Classic" again on January 29,  at LA Southwest College. Right now the actual matchups are not set, but games will feature Poly, Artesia, Pasadena, Dominguez, Mater Dei, and at least one highly ranked team from Philadelphia. Coach Palmer didn't have all the details, but we should have them posted up soon.

Coach Palmer could be right:  This might be one of the best Poly teams ever.  There are a few teams in Division I-AA considered among the elite, and certainly Poly is one of them, a perennial contender and champion.  We have no doubt that they are capable of again advancing to the Southern Section finals and beyond. We'll be watching.

 The Swish Award
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