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SoCalHoops High School News

High School Team Preview:
Manual Arts High School--(Nov. 23, 1999)

"God has plans for all of us. I guess he still wants me here. And we're not starting over from scratch either. We're going to be pretty good this year." --Randolph Simpson, Head Coach, Manual Arts High School 

Randolph Simpson is still the head coach of the Manual Arts Toilers. He's been the head coach for the Toilers since 1988. He's compiled 261 wins and only 63 losses. Last year, he led Manual Arts to a City Section Championship, beating just about everyone they played, compiling a 29-4 record. They beat this year's favorite, Fairfax,  in the finals, and then made it to the State Championship Southern Regional Semifinals, where they ultimately lost to eventual State runner-up and Southern Region Champion Mater Dei.  Manual Arts graduated almost everyone from that team, many good players, most of whom were set on continuing their careers at D-I schools, but who, for one reason or another have not been able to qualify as freshmen; in fact only one is currently attending and playing at a D-I school.  Most are at JC's and will be playing D-I ball in a year or two. 

Given the fact that the Toilers did win a City Title, it's only fitting that we do a "Where are they Now" installment:  From last year's team, perhaps the biggest standout was City Section Player of the Year James Wright (6'-0" PG). James originally signed a National Letter of Intent to play at Long Beach State, but failed to achieve a qualifying score on the SAT.  James is now attending Compton City College, where he's playing on one of the best JUCO teams in the country. Anyone who saw him last year will not soon forget the blinding speed and unbelievable ball control he exhibited. Likewise, his backcourt counterpart, Curtis Millage (6'-0" PG/SG) was just about as fast, and almost as good with the ball. He's attending LA Southwest College where he's the starting point guard, and we're certain that he'll also be a D-I player in two years. Brandon Moorer (6'-9" PF/C) is the only one now attending a D-I school and playing, and he's at Texas A&M Corpus Christi; Larry Dillingham (6'-2" PG) is playing at LA Valley College; Johnny Hardwick (6'-10" C) also signed to play at Texas A&M CC, but failed to qualify and he's now at Oklahoma City College and playing there.  Luis Rodriguez (6'-6" C) is attending a D-I school, and he's at Cal State Fullerton, but he is red-shirting and plans to try to walk on to the team next year. Otis Belisle (6'-2" SG/SF) is attending El Camino College; and finally our all-time favorite guy, Ronald Cass (6'-3" SG/SF/PF), who had the best footwork and speed for a guy his size of anyone we saw last year but who just didn't get the recruiting we thought he deserved, is attending LA Southwest College, where he's working on getting in shape, and   according to Randolph Simpson, "Ronald still has the dream of playing D-I ball, and he'll be playing next year, I have no doubt about that."

A lot of the coaches around the City Section we've talked to recently have discounted Manual Arts' as a factor this year, and most doubt they have any chance to repeat this year.  While another City Title might be a long shot, it's not totally out of the question either though based on what we now know about the team (see below).  Most observers, however, have assumed that Manual was completely decimated by graduation and transfers. What does Randolph Simpson have to say about that? 

"Well, I'll admit, we don't have many players in our junior class. We've got three seniors returning, two juniors, and a lot of sophomores this year.  We can still win, and we will contend," Simpson told us.  "But our transfer situation is really a shame.  If you look at our team last year, all of those guys started together at Manual. We didn't go out and recruit them, they were all enrolled here and they played together as a group since they were freshmen.  But I guess because those guys last year got most of the playing time, a lot of last year's juniors didn't have the patience to stick around and wait their turn, so they left," Simpson said.

"I have no doubt that if the guys who were enrolled here in last year's junior class had stayed, we'd be a serious contender to win it again this year," Simpson said.  Among the guys Simpson was referring to, not in any particular order, were Montel Duhon (6'-4" Sr. SG/SF) who transferred to Venice two years ago, Earl Felix  (6'-7" Jr. F) who was on the team last year but transferred to Inglewood this summer, and James Matthews (6'-7" So. F) who also transferred to former league rival Palisades.  And there are others.   "We've lost a ton of guys over the years," Simpson said.

Which is a fact that's really surprising and hard to reconcile for a guy like Randolph Simpson.  In large part he lays the blame at the feet of the "summer circuit" or "AAU", rightly or wrongly.   "I don't know why it's happened, but most of the guys who have transferred have also played club or travel team ball during the summer together, and it seems that most of the transfers have occurred because they want to keep playing with their summer teammates during the year.  Maybe it's a coincidence, but I don't think so. Maybe I should have kept them all together more in the summer. . . who knows?" Simpson said.  

"But I do know this:  I'm not going to beg anyone to play for us.  If guys want to leave, for whatever reason, that's their choice, and we'll be just fine without them. We've got plenty of other players who want to play, and we'll find a way to make it happen with the ones who want to be a part of our program at Manual."

Simpson is a passionate man when it comes to Manual Arts and his team, and "loyalty" is a word that has a special meaning to him.  He's another of those coaches who have returned to coach at their Alma Mater, and he's intensely proud of the fact that he attended Manual Arts and now teaches there. "I've spent almost my whole life here. I love this place," Simpson told us last year.    He graduated in 1977 from Manual, where he played baseball and track. He attended Cal State LA, graduating in 1983. Simpson 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 last year.  And he still feels the same way about it. "I wouldn't think of not coaching. I love it." Randolph has three children, a son 9, a daughter 5 and one in college, who you might recognize from the roster two years ago, Ricky Duff, who was adopted by Randolph and his wife, and who is now attending and playing at Midland College in Texas. 

Manual Arts, like the rest of the City Section teams, competes in Division I, but only when it comes time for the State Regional Tournament.   There's a rule which allows any City Section team to "declare" for Division II in the State Tournament, provided they do so before the end of December (at least that was the CIF rule last year), but to our knowledge, no one has ever availed themselves of the opportunity to 'play down' out of the City.   Only the top two teams in the "City Championship Tournament" will move on to the State Regional Tournament, and play for the right to represent the southern half of California in the State Championship game against the NorCal finalist in Division I.  Last year Manual came close, but they lost two games too soon.

This year, the City Section will again be divided at the time of the playoffs into two almost completely independent playoff tournaments.  One will be the "City Championship" which is the biggie, the top 16 teams in the City;  the other will be what was called last year the "Division" Championship, and it's the next-best 16 teams (Nos. 17-32), and unfortunately, since at least the early 1990's, the winner of that tournament doesn't move on to the State tournament, but simply goes home.  Whether Manual will be strong enough to make it into the upper echelon to contend for a true City title is something that only time will tell, and their new league configuration will play a big role in whether they move on.  

Manual will now be competing in the completely new and revamped "Coliseum League" against Crenshaw, Dorsey, Fremont, Jefferson,   and Locke.  Together with the Western League (Fairfax, Los Angeles, Hamilton, Palisades, University, Venice, and Westchester) these two leagues make up most of the traditional power structure in the City Section, and they account, collectively for at least the last 10 years' worth (and probably more) of City Titles. Will Manual be able to compete? Have they been so depleted from graduation that they'll just have to run and hide?  See for yourself. Here's the roster for 1999-2000:

Mario Roberts 6'-2" Sr. PG/SG
George Gillette 6'-3" Sr. SG
Jason Crow 6'-4" Sr. F
Deandre Morris 6'-4" Sr. F
Noel Requena 5'-9" Sr. PG
Onye Ibekwe 6'-6" So. PF
James Finley 6'-3" So. SG/SF
Arthur Giddons 6'-2" So. SG/PG
Tyrone Young 6'-3" So. SG/SF
Joshua Rodriguez 5'-10" Jr. SG/SF
Chris Johnson 5'-8" So. PG
Simon Christian 6'-3" Jr. PF
Leon Jacobs 5'-11" So. SG/SF
Solomon Gebremskal 6'-4" Sr. F

While there are only a couple of familiar names here, this roster doesn't have the look of a team that's "depleted" or one which won't contend for a league title and the playoffs. Indeed, the team has an average height of about 6'-3", certainly not small by anyone's standards, and about the only thing they really lack, as you'll see, is a true center.  "We've got good quickness, outstanding shooting, and a lot of young guys who really, really want to play," said Simpson.  "We've got some guys who were around last year and others up from the jv who saw what we did when we won the City Title and made it to the State Tournament, and they want to be a part of something like that. We'll be in a rebuilding year, no question about it, but we didn't just dry up and blow away either."

Part of the senior leadership will come from Mario Roberts, who last year averaged 12 ppg and 4 assist per game. He's a hard working point, who will have a great year. "He's the most explosive and complete player on the floor for us this year, and he'll put in some good work and put us in the right direction especially with all these young kids," said Simpson.  Last year, here's how we described Mario: "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."  He didn't score 25 ppg last season, but he just might do it this year.

Backing up Mario will likely be Noel Requena, who has a solid build, and is very quick.  "He's a lot like James Wright in terms of his overall quickness, but he's even stronger a bit stockier, but he doesn't yet have James' offensive skills," said Simpson. "He's not as much of a scorer, but more of a playmaker who will get the ball and move it around to the other guys.  He's also a great defender, and probably one of the quickest, baseline to baseline on this team."   Chris Johnson, another young sophomore point guard could also wind up starting in a three guard offense. "He's got excellent skills, but just lacks big-game experience right now," Simpson said. "He's a very good jumper, can shoot the three with regularity, and has an excellent Good skills only lacks game experience, very good jumper, can shot the three, handles well, needs to work on man defense skills, but needs to play the way James and Curtis played.

At the two and shooting wing spot, look for several players, including George Gillette, Arthur Giddons, Joshua Rodriguez and James Finley.   Gillette is another of those Manual athletes, quick, strong, and he's also a football player, a starting wide receiver who can not only shot the ball from the perimeter, but also slash his way to the hole and find the basket. "He's very quick, runs the 100 in 10.7, and is pretty aggressive on both ends of the floor," Simpson told us. "He just finds a way to put the ball into the basket."  Gillette is getting some looks in football right now from Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Washington, and some other Pac-10 schools.  He'll be joined by Arthur Giddons, who is more of a pure shooter and scorer with some point skills. "Arthur has a good handle, and also has a great feel for the game.  He's not scared of anything, which is great for a guard. He's also the starting QB on the football team, and has good skills with the ball as a playmaker," said Simpson.  Joshua Rodriquez, one of the two juniors on the team, is a heady player, who has a nice, smooth jump shot. "He's one of our zone busters," said Simpson. James Finley will also play the two/three position, and he's really much more of a slashing, penetrating guard than he is a shooter.  "He's extremely aggressive, a great defender who always wants to guard the toughest guy on the other team. And he's another of our two-sport guys, a starting wide receiver on the football team," said Simpson. Finally at that position, look for Leon Jacobs to get his share of minutes. "He's the guy we bring in to shoot off screens and half-court sets, and he's pretty effective. Young, but effective." 

At the forward spots, it's really hard to distinguish between the power forwards and small forwards, particularly since the team has no true center. So the bottom line is that a lot of different guys will be called on to play a lot of different roles.  Jason Crow, one of the returning seniors will play both the post and out on the short baseline. "He's a sort of tweener," Simpson told us. "He's got a very good medium range jumper and plays above the rim; he's a good finisher on the break and an excellent rebounder, and will definitely start for us this year."  Crow is getting some recruiting attention, including a lot of interest from some D-II's and low to mid majors, including LMU, Pepperdine, and other Big West and WCC schools. Deandre Morris, another returning player will also probably start. "He's another 'tweener', very similar to Crow, except that he's more of an inside guy. He's got great feel and touch around the basket and has greatly improved his post game this summer," Simpson said. "He's a tough offensive player and an effective rebounder who we will count on heavily this year." 

Two more guys are also likely to get some minutes at the small forward spot.  Solomon Gebremskal, another senior who is up from the JV's is a very smooth face-up player, with a deliberate and rhythmic shot. "He's sort of a James Worthy-type of player," said Simpson. "He's an excellent offensive rebounder, very active, but generally always in control and smooth."  Tyrone Young, is, as his name implies, "young."  He's an above the rim, slasher type of wing player who will see some time this year as well. Two other players probably come as close to qualifying as "power forwards" and possibly "centers" as you'll see on this team.  Onye Ibekwe, one of the committed, hardworking sophomores, is strong, but needs to improve on his skills as a basketball player. He's a starting tight end on the football team, has good muscle and a great body (he weighs in at about 218 lbs), and is eager to learn the art of shotblocking and rebounding. "He's only 16 years old, so he'll get a little bigger," Simpson said. "He's also a very smart young man, carrying a 3.75 gpa. He'll eventually be more of a power player, a shot blocker and rebounder, and we hope he develops the way we think he is capable of developing."  Finally, Simon Christian, one of the two juniors, is a fairly accomplished post player, a guy with excellent offensive rebounding. Simon played jv last year and did well, and will be counted on inside and down on the blocks."

Is this team as good as last year?  No. Are they as good as some of the other top City Section teams?  Probably not on a par with Fairfax, but they might be able to compete with the rest of the Section, including anyone from their league. They'll get the chance to test themselves early in the year. From December 16-19, they'll travel up north to the Amador Basketball Classic, where they'll compete against teams like Alameda St. Joe's, Amador and Merced.  Then they'll play in the Pacific Open, the tournament hosted by LA Washington High which features teams from only the LA City Section.  This year the tournament will run from  December 20-23 at Washington High, and will feature Manual, Washington, Hollywood, Gardena, Roosevelt, LA Jordan, Garfield and Lincoln.

Manual Arts will not be hosting nor even participating this year in the "We Care Classic."  Instead that tournament will be played at LA High. "It's time for me to move on, I've hosted that for the last five years, and I just don't have the time to do it this year.  The younger guys need to take that one over now," Simpson said. 

Asked to name his Top 10 teams in the City Section, Randolph Simpson came up with a few, not quite 10:  "Crenshaw will be good, and of course,  Fairfax is one of the best; Westchester has a lot of young guys coming up even if they lost some people; Cleveland was strong last year and I've heard good things about them.  Washington has two big men, Dorsey is tough, and Jordan and Fremont will be strong too," Simpson said.

"Oh yeah," he said, after a long pause. "I think Manual Arts will be ok too."

1999-2000 Schedule (excluding tournaments)

Tuesday, November 30 Manual Arts @ Narbonne 2:30/4:00
Tuesday, December 7 Washington @ Manual Arts 2:30/4:00
Thursday, December 9 Manual Arts @LB Poly 2:30/4:00
Wednesday, January 12 Dorsey @ Manual Arts  2:30/4:00
Friday, January 14 Jefferson @ Manual Arts 2:30/4:00
Wednesday, January 19 Manual Arts @ Locke  2:30/4:00
Friday, January 21 Manual Arts @ Fremont 2:30/4:00
Wednesday, January 26 Crenshaw @ Manual Arts 2:30/4:00
Friday, January 28 Manual Arts @ Dorsey 2:30/4:00
Wednesday, February 2 Manual Arts @ Jefferson 2:30/4:00
Friday, February 4 Locke @ Manual Arts 2:30/4:00
Wednesday, February 9 Fremont @ Manual Arts 2:30/4:00
Friday, February 11 Manual Arts @ Crenshaw 2:30/4:00

 The Swish Award
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