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SoCalHoops High School News

High School Team Preview:
Loyola High School (L.A.)--(Nov. 25, 1999)

"Our program is on the way up with a lot of young players; if we if we keep working hard, and continue the excitement around our program, we'll be on the right track." --Jim Williamson, Loyola HS Head Coach

Jim Williamson is the new head coach at Loyola High School, an all-boys, 4 year high school with an enrollment of 1187, located just west of downtown Los Angeles on Venice Boulevard in a multi-million dollar facility which is the envy of a lot of the surrounding public schools, and more than a few private and parochial schools.  Admission into the school is hard; it's highly selective by Catholic school standards, and offers an academically enriched curriculum. As an institution, Loyola is considered one of the crown jewels of Catholic high schools; it's run by the Jesuits, and not by the Archdiocese of LA.  From a basketball perspective, it also has a rich tradition, and it's more famous recent alumni include former UCLA player and current NBA player Toby Bailey, and his brother Ryan "Moose Bailey, who is on the current UCLA men's roster.   The team competes in the Mission League, against Harvard-Westlake, Alemany, St. Francis, Chaminade, Notre Dame and Crespi.  After the last Bailey left the school a few years ago,   Loyola hasn't exactly been a stellar performer in league play or in the playoffs. Last season they finished fifth in league, but still managed to qualify for a wildcard spot in the playoffs, making the Division I-A Southern Section tournament, and while they beat Simi Valley Royal High, 56-55 in that wildcard game, the Cubs were quickly disposed of in the first round of the playoffs when they ran into Mater Dei, which was on a mission to a Southern Section I-A title and a trip to the State Championship game in Sacramento. Never mind that Mater Dei lost to Oakland Fremont, the point is that Loyola didn't have much of a chance last year against the Monarchs, even with some pretty good players.

Since last year, Loyola has been through a couple of changes:   One of their better players, Ryan Mollins (6'-5" Sr. SG/SF) transferred out in the spring to Redondo, where he now plays alongside Andrew Zahn & Co..  Second, the Cubs also got a new coach, Jim Williamson,  who spent the previous two seasons at St. Monica's as an assistant.  SoCal fans may also recognize Williamson's name:   He spent four years playing for Loyola Marymount University as a point guard,  and he also attended South Torrance HS where he was pretty well known. He's been a native, and has been a SoCal resident his whole life, specifically a South Bay resident, and he still lives there.  If you ask him why he took the job at Loyola, he'll tell you:  "I heard they had an opening, I applied and they offered me the job; it was that simple."  Williamson is happy to be there too:  "I've always thought this was a tremendous opportunity. Loyola is a great school, with wonderful traditions and great academic and athletic programs. I'm really excited to be here and hopefully, in a short time, we'll put Loyola athletics and basketball back on the map where they belong."

Last year's Loyola team had some good athletes, but depended a lot on Mollins for most of the offense, and most observers figured that with his departure, a mostly new crew and a new coach, Loyola would not be a threat this season.  But a look at the roster and the players on the squad will give even the most casual  Mission League observer reason to pause and rethink Loyola's chances in a wide-open race for the league title.  "If you ask me what I think about our chances in the league, I can't really say," said Williamson. "I've seen a couple of the teams, and read alot about them, but I really don't know how we compare. The one thing I do know is that this is a very well-coached league.  I don't know, you tell me: How will we do?" Williamson asked us during the interview.  

Our information tell us that Loyola is going to be more than just a doormat for the rest of the league.  In fact they are probably the second tallest team in the Mission League next to Chaminade, and with a guy 6'-8" at center, they're the only other team in the league with anyone even approaching the stature of Chaminade's Scott Borchardt (6'-9" Jr. F/C).   There are also some excellent players, especially some of the younger players who are moving up to varsity from last season's jv's, but by and large, the one thing they'll lack is game experience.  Still, see for yourself. Here's a look at the Loyola HS roster for 1999-2000:

Billy Tannenbaum 6'-3" Sr. SF/PF
Jordan St. Marie 6'-3" Sr. PF
James Gaston 6'-2" Sr. SF
Chris Plato 5'-10" Sr. SG
Clyde Jones 6'-0" Jr. PG
JP Elliot 6'-8" Jr. C
Sean Crosner 6'-6" Jr. C
Tim Collins 6'-0" Jr. PF
Matt Llewellyn 6'-2" So. SG
Josh Flynn Brown 6'-3" Fr. PG
Omar Wilkes 6'-1" Fr. SG/SF

The probable starters, at least at this point,are Gaston, Jones, Crosner, Elliot and Llewellyn, but it's still fairly early, so there could be changes and adjustments as the games get going. 

Up front, at the small forward/wing spots, Gaston is an athletic, active small forward-type, who runs the floor well, and is an excellent defender.  Billy Tannenbaum is also capable of starting at the four spot, but will most likely see time at the three trading off with Gaston. Billy was on last year's varsity, and showed good passing skills from the high post, and he's also got a nice handle, which is good if the post needs to put the ball on the floor to avoid a double team. Next to Mollins last year, Tannenbaum was also pretty effective out on the wing and he can stroke it although that's really not his strong suit, at least from what we saw.   Billy and Gaston will get some back up on the wing from Omar Wilkes, who will probably also backup at the two. Wilkes, a young shooter who is the son of former UCLA great and Laker-star Jamaal Wilkes, and like his father, he's got a great, smooth shooting touch.  Omar is very athletic and killed but is, obviously young, and lacks game experience at the varsity level, so at least initially he'll probably be a backup for Gaston and Llewellyn. "He's a kid who definitely has the potential to be a college prospect, especially if he continues to develop and improves on his defense," said Williamson.

Likely to start at the shooting guard spot will be sophomore Matt Llewellyn, who will get some competition and support from senior Chris Plato, a good shooter out to 17' and a solid defender.  Llewellyn is also a solid shooter, who has one of the quickest releases we've seen in someone so young, and he also has good accuracy, whether spotting up or coming off a screen. "I'm trying to get him to raise his release up a bit higher, but the mechanics will come eventually," said Williamson.  "Matt is a tremendously talented shooter, and we're expecting big things from him this year; he'll need to step his defense up, but we're counting on him to score." 

At the point, look for two guys throughout most of the season, Clyde Jones and Josh Flynn-Brown.  Jones will initially start, and he's a good defender, has a decent handle but will need to work on the intricacies of the position. "He's really great to coach," said Williamson. "Clyde will do just about anything we want him to do, and he really works hard." How well he'll do against some of the other top point guards in the league like Casella of Crespi, Lakey of Harvard-Westlake, Sanchez at Notre Dame, and others, will be interesting to see. Flynn-Brown has excellent skills, is really strong on the offensive end, an excellent passer, but he also doesn't have that big-game experience and will need to work on his defensive skills. "Josh is an excellent point guard, and he could challenge for a starting spot later in the season," said Williamson.

At the power forward spot, look for Jordan St. Marie and Tim Collins, both of whom are fairly experienced.  Jordan will more likely be the starter, although he and Tannenbaum will vie for time at the same spot on occasion. Jordan is a very physical player, tough, does the things that most guys don't like to do, i.e., set picks, blocks, box out, and rebound. "He's a very good rebounder for his size, and understands positioning under the boards," Williamson told us. "He plays very physical and strong, like a guy much bigger than his 6'-3" size."   When Jordan or Tannenbaum need a rest, Tim Collins, a solid role player with a great attitude may also see some minutes.

At center, look for JP Elliot, a big, wide-body guy, who will weigh in about about 225 lbs right now. "He's only been playing for about 4 years, but he's progressing nicely," Williamson observed.   "He's an excellent rebounder, and loves to go inside. He has decent footwork and is improving daily as an offensive threat. He does need to get more polished, but he's not going to get pushed around, and he'll definitely help us underneath and blocking shots," Williams said.   Elliot will share the post with Sean Crosner, who will likely start, at least initially, but they may both play in a double high or low post offense.  At 6'-6", Crosner is definitely the more polished offensive player, and he's got a nice jump shot from the short corner out to about 15'. "He runs the floor well, posts up and has a little bit more experience than JP, but we'll probably play them together a lot," said Williamson.  Right now Crosner is getting some attention from USC, Cincinnati, Stanford, and several other Pac-10, Big West and Big Sky schools.  "His name is definitely out there," Williamson observed.

How does this team stack up against some of the others in the league?  The definitely have the advantage, along with Chaminade, and perhaps Crespi at the forward and post. Their shooters are young and will need experience and right now no one knows how consistent they'll be when the league games start.  At point, they are not as accomplished as some schools in the league, and Crespi and Harvard-Westlake would seem to have the better backcourts, at least from an experience point of view.  But then that's what the season is for, otherwise they'd just mail in the results. . .  It's also important to note that the roster is probably not complete yet, "We'll probably be adding a couple of football players, but since we're still in it, I don't know who or when they'll join us," said Williamson.

Loyola kicked off it's season with a scrimmage game against Hoover two days ago (Tuesday) and last night played an Alumni Game.   The real season starts on December 1, when the Loyola Tournament will get underway.    That tournament will run from December 1-4, and will feature Jesuit Regis from Denver, Colorado; Buena from Ventura; Daniel Murphy; Thousand Oaks, St. Monica's, Peninsula, and Trabuco Hills.

From December 9-11, Loyola will travel up to the Sacramento Area for the Father Berry Christmas Classic, which will feature teams like Brophy, Sacramento Jesuit, St. Ignatius, USDHS, and more Catholic schools from the NorCal area.

After their return from up north, they'll play at Servite (which has Roger Hogan (6'-0" Sr. PG) and Martin Iti (6'-11" So. C/F)), and then they'll play in the La Canada tournament from December 15-23.  The team takes a break until Jan 4, when league play starts.  Here's the league schedule for 1999-2000:

Jan 4 @*St. Francis
Jan 7 *Notre Dame
Jan 12 @*Crespi
Jan 14 @*Alemany
Jan 20 *Chaminade
Jan 22 *Harvard-Westlake
Jan 24 *St. Francis
Jan 29 @*Notre Dame
Feb 2 *Crespi
Feb 4 *Alemany
Feb 7 @*Chaminade
Feb 9 @*Harvard-Westlake

Asked to assess the strengths and weaknesses, Williamson paused, thought about the question and said, "I think our strengths will be that we work hard, play real hard, and we have smart kids who pick things up quickly.  We have great team chemistry which is getting better all the time, and our players are improving.  Obviously, our weaknesses will be that we are a young team, we've got a new coach, and it will take everyone some time to learn to adjust to a new system and a new way of doing things.  I also think that we'll be tested very early because we have a really tough preseason schedule.  But we'll be ok, and it will only make us tougher," Williamson said.

"We're in Division I-A, which is Mater Dei's division, and there are a lot of other really tough teams there. I don't yet know them all, but for now our goal is just to do well in league, and anything that comes in the playoffs will be gravy." Williamson said.  "But  I think people will be surprised.  I think we'll get better and better, and hopefully Loyola basketball will get a little recognition again."

Just a little.

 The Swish Award
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