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SoCalHoops High School News

High School Team Preview:
Redondo Union HS--(Nov. 18, 1999)

"We're definitely a lot better than we were last year.  We've got a very quick, very tall and talented team. Everyone on our roster could be a starter." ---Jim Neilsen, Head Coach, Redondo Union HS

We considered using last year's quote from Jim Neilsen again this year, instead of the one above, but then thought better of it. After all, we really do intend the focus to be on the team in these previews and not necessarily the coaches.  But last year's quote was fun, so here it is again: Jim told us: "I'm not the guy some people think I am. I'm that other Jim Nielsen, who played four years at Washington State under Marv Harshman, Judd Heathcote, and Dale Brown."  Of course it was also a nice segue to use to shift into a discussion about Neilsen's background and how he ended up at Redondo Union High School, a public, 4 year coed high school with an enrollment of 1900 students located only blocks from the Pacific Ocean.  

So who is the other Jim Nielsen? Well, there's the guy who played for three years under John Wooden at UCLA with Lew Alcindor on the 1967 and 1968 NCAA championship teams. And then there's Redondo's Jim Nielsen. He's the one who played at Washington State, where he was the captain of the team, and voted "Most Inspirational Player" in his senior year. The two Jims just missed playing against each other by two years (freshmen weren't eligible back in those days, and UCLA's Nielsen graduated when Redondo's Nielsen left high school). Redondo's Jim Nielsen has been the head guy at Redondo for the last 8 years. Prior to that he had Glenn Marx' job at Mira Costa, and prior to that he coached "around at other places." Jim attended North Torrance High and graduated in 1968. He was a two time All-CIF Player and two time All-Bay League MVP while at North Torrance when it was a D-I recruiting goldmine. Jim then attended Washington State on a four year basketball scholarship, where he played for Harshman, Heathcote and Dale Brown, followed up by a one year graduate assistant's job under George Raveling who had taken over there as head coach. He's had some tremendous successes in coaching, and Redondo has had five twenty win seasons in seven years. He still enjoys what he's doing.  Jim is married, and plans on staying at Redondo for the foreseeable future.

Redondo plays in the revamped Bay League, with teams like Morningside, Compton Centennial, North Torrance, Inglewood, Santa Monica and Peninsula. Redondo last year played at the Division II-AA level in Southern Section playoffs, and this year, they'll probably be there too. Last season, Redondo took a big hit when Marcus Moore (6'-4" PG), a senior last season,  transferred to Dominguez. "He left a big void," Neilsen said.  Redondo protested the transfer, contending that it was the result of undue influence.  The CIF disallowed it, and ruled that Marcus was eligible. Without Marcus, the most Neilsen would say about the Seahawks personnel at the point was that they were "Young. . . very young."  But even with that young squad, Redondo still managed to make the playoffs, and in the first round of D-II-AA they beat Agoura 82-69, then beat Paso Robles 56-51 in the second round, and finally lost to Pasadena 60-50 in a quarterfinal game.

This year, they return just about everyone with the exception of Joe Buck, Titus Hunt, and Randy Evans, who were all good players, but they'll be fine with the guys who return. In fact they'll be more than fine.  "I think truly, we are deeper, and more versatile than I can remember us being in a long, long time. We've got size, speed, and quickness, and there are just so many looks we can give to other teams," said Nielsen. 

Here's the roster; 

Jameel Bell 6'-2" Sr. F
Brendan Behan 5'-7" So. PG
Sam Chance 6'-0" Sr. SG/SF
Keith Ellison 5'-11" So. PG/SG
Martel Graggs 5'-11" Sr. G
Dylan Mathis 6'-4" Sr. SG/SF
Paul Meynen 6'-11" So. F
Ryan Mollins 6'-5" Sr. SG/SF
Andrew Morris 5'-10" Sr. SG
Tyronne Pryor 5'-7" Sr. G
Dijon Thompson 6'-6" Jr. G
Trent Turner 6'-2" Jr. F
Walter White 6'-5" Sr. F
Andrew Zahn 6'-10" Sr. C
Adam Zahn 6'-7" So. F
Wendell White* 6'-4" Fr. G

This is a team which is talented, big, fast and strong, and they've got some excellent ballhandlers, shot-blockers, and one of the top prospects in the senior class, Andrew Zahn.  "Andrew had a tough summer," Neilsen told us. "He had such a huge reputation going into the summer, and I think it was an eye-opener for him.   Andrew is so talented, so strong, but I think he just needs to keep his feet on the ground and a very clear head about him," Neilsen said. "I truly believe he's still among the best players in America.  He took a bad rap this summer, not all of it undeserved, but he's had a wake-up call, and it's starting to have an effect.   He's gotten serious, really serious about his game, and he's been dominating in practice and on the court in team scrimmages like I've never seen him do before.  The best thing about Andrew is that he's really a team leader and he's just finding out how much of a leader he is capable of being," Neilsen said.  "I think he'll make a great college player.  He's incredibly strong, has a big, wide body, and can run the floor, dunk, rebound and block shots. He's a very talented young man."   Apparently Zahn's college choices right now are USC, OSU, and possibly even UCLA (depending on whom you listen to. . . )Nielsen did acknowledge that the UCLA coaches had talked to Zahn about waiting until spring to see what happens, but also said that Andrew was going to wait anyway.  "Andrew is fully qualified, and has a good SAT score and a great GPA so that will not be an issue anywhere he wants to go to school."  

Perhaps the next highest profile player, at least from a past-results point of view is Walter White, a returning all-CIF player.  Walter is and can be a dominant scorer in and around the basket, or slashing to the hole.  He's a monster on the boards rebounding,  and has gotten much better, faster and stronger during this fall training season than he was even in September. "He's really just a huge player, and I'd be surprised if he doesn't attract some college attention by the spring.

Redondo also features one of the best kept secrets in the State of California: Dijon Thompson.  Dijon may have been a well-guarded secret, but like Robert Turner at Western HS in Orange County, whom no one had heard of before September, who suddenly came out of nowhere to capture a full-ride at Pepperdine for next year, Dijon has the capability of becoming one of the best guards in the entire State.  At the Fall Hoops Classic in Long Beach, Dijon just dominated, scoring with ease, rebounding like a maniac and in general playing well above the level of play that anyone had seen from him prior to that. "All I can say is that a lot of college are on him right now, and more will be by the end of the season.  Not a lot of people saw him this summer, because he was in classes taking Chemistry, so he didn't attend the camps or play in the tournaments.   But he will be a big-time player," Nielsen told us.

Redondo was also lucky last spring to pick up by way of a transfer, LA Loyola's best player in Ryan Mollins and who will provided added shooting and scoring depth in addition to athletic rebounding and another slasher. Ryan played most of the spring and summer with Dinos Trigonis' Belmont Shore team, and in Vegas, he was the most consistent player down the stretch in tight situations, able to stroke the ball from well outside the three point line, acting as a solid zone-buster and defensive stopper. "Ryan played very well this summer, and he's the most pleasant surprise we've had this year," said Nielsen. "He's an outstanding shooter, a complete hustler, dives for loose balls, runs, and just plays hard. Ryan is a great competitor, who has a chance to be a college player at some division I school, and I think he'd be a perfect fit for a Big West, Big Sky or comparable type of school. In my mind, he's pretty similar to Tyler Hoffman, but just more aggressive, and a lot closer to being a pure shooter."

Instead of one high profile point guard in the backcourt this year, Redondo will have at least two, and later in the season possibly three.   There should be four guards available at the point, but one, Keith Ellison injured his ACL this summer and just had surgery two weeks ago and will be out for the entire season. Likewise, Sam Chance would have been among the top 8 players on the team, but he recently fractured his wrist and will be out 4-6 weeks, so we'll have to see what he'll be capable of when he finally returns.  So the two guys who will fight for a starting spot will be Brendan Behan and Andrew Morris.  Brendan is a good ball-handler, with good quickness, and he's an excellent shooter, capable of playing the two also. He will need to get a bit stronger physically to really become a truly great point guard, but he is capable of running the offense and pushing the ball up against pressure, and with Mollins, Dijon and Andrew Zahn on the wings and in the frontcourt, the real job of a point on this team will be not so much to be a scoring threat, but to find the open man and insure good court balance. Andrew  Morris is up from last year's jv and is also a tremendously talented shooter and scoring point, and he will challenge for a spot in the starting rotation, and will certainly see time in a three or four guard rotation among the one's and the twos on this team.

At the off guard spot, Dylan Mathis a junior who started as a freshman, could have been a starter last year too, but he blew out his knee and had to sit to rehabilitate. "He's back to 100% physically, but how much the year off hurt his development is something we're just not sure about," Nielsen said. "Dylan is smart, and is also a straight A student; He's the kind of young man that any D-II or D-III school would be drooling over," Nielsen told us. "He'd be a perfect player at that level, and if he has a good year, might even be good enough to become a Division I player at some of the smaller programs out there."  Mathis is a good rebounder, a hustler on defense who can score a little but this year, with all the other options, won't really be looked to for that.  Instead he'll be the designated rebounder and defensive stopper.   Redondo has one other potential varsity player, and we say potential, because Coach Nielsen hasn't decided whether he'll play on varsity (which will mean not a lot of playing time) or the jv's (where he'd get a ton of time:  Wendell White, Walter's brother, might be as good as any player, but jv might give him a better to get more time.  If he does play varsity, he'll be a contributor, but it will most likely be as a role player.

In the rebounding department and out on the wings, Redondo also has a couple of other weapons, including Adam Zahn, Andrew's "little" brother. Actually Adam is only about two inches smaller, and he's just as, if not more, talented than Andrew was at the same age. Adam could be a starter if he'll rebound and do the work inside necessary, but Neilsen also thinks that he has "unlimited potential."  He's not necessarily more athletic than his brother right now, but he could turn out to be far more athletically gifted overall; he's a little leaner than Andrew, and is incredibly tough, but he will need to keep up the intensity level in order to do well against older and better competition this year.  He's going to get a lot bigger and he could be great. Really, his potential is unlimited," Nielsen said.  "He could be a very high D-I player by the time he graduates in three years."

Finally, Redondo will get some additional help inside and on the boards from big Paul Meynen, a young but very promising player.  Paul is already 6'-10" and he's only 15, and according to Nielsen, "He's still developing and the doctors have told his parents that he'll get to be at least 7'-0"."   Paul played with Adam in the Fullcourt Press Fall Showcase sophomore game, and he impressed a lot of people with his good footwork and developing skills, and as they say, it's hard to teach height, which is something Paul has. How fast he develops will be the only question as to how far he can go in the sport. "He's got a long way to grow, and he'll probably be a late bloomer," Neilsen said. "He'll be like one of those great centers from 25 years ago, a real solid player, but needs to continue to work to improve his overall athleticism.  When he does that he'll be phenomenal," Nielsen said.

Overall, he's very pleased with the makeup of the team, even with the early season injuries and the fact that the Seahawks still haven't developed a truly great top D-I quality point guard yet in the mold of a Marcus Moore. "I think everyone on this team could potentially be a starter. We do need to develop one of our points into a true point guard, but we have enough offensive weapons this year, that there shouldn't be any real pressure on those guys we have. They are solid, but will need to work hard to become great," said Nielsen.  "I certainly think they can do it, and we have one of the strongest leagues around, but we'll be very successful."

Redondo will get plenty of opportunity to show whether they will be successful with this group. In the preseason they will open with a scrimmage on Wednesday, November 24 against Torrance, then they'll begin hosting the Pacific Shores Tournament, which is in it's 48th year and which will be co-hosted by Mira Costa. The tournament runs from November 29-December 4, and will feature some of the top teams in the area, including this year's front-runner in the LA City Section, Fairfax, as well as several other top teams in the Southern Section.  Then the Seahawks will travel to Oregon for the Nike Oregon Holiday Classic in Portland where they'll play some of the top teams in the country and some of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest's best. The tournament will feature Rice from NY, some top teams from New Orleans, and 13 of Oregon's best teams. Upon their return, they'll host the Seahawk Classic at Redondo from December 27-30, which will feature some teams from up north, including Eastside Catholic, Wash, Puyallup (WA) Leuzinger ("Now that's a team you should check out," Nielsen reminded us), LA High, Hollywood, MarVista (San Diego), and several others. "Our goal with that tournament is to make it a major 32 team tournament in the next few years. We're slowly building it, and next year we'll go to 16 teams," Nielsen said.  

After the tournaments, the regular Bay League season will start on Jan. 5. Here's the league schedule (all games are at 7:30 p.m.):

Jan 5 @Peninsula
Jan 7 Morningside
Jan 10 @ South Torrance
Jan 12 Centennial Compton
Jan 14 @ North Torrance
Jan 19 Inglewood
Jan 21 @Santa Monica
Jan 26 Peninsula
Jan 28 @ Morningside
Jan 31 South Torrance
Feb 2 @ Centennial Compton
Feb 4 North Torrance
Feb 8 @Inglewood
Feb 10 Santa Monica

It's also possible that they'll be playing Centennial on Jan 8 this year at Compton College in an event which will be sponsored by Spot Up Sports. And as for the MLK weekend events, while both promoters last year featured Redondo in their events, Jim has not yet decided about whether they'll participate.  "I haven't signed any contracts yet, but we're looking at it. I should know in a week or so."   As for league competition Jim believes that the Bay league is one of the toughest in the SoCal region. "If you can find a league where there is a more concentrated level of talent among so many schools, I'd be surprised," he said. "Really, I believe this is the toughest league, from top to bottom, in the Southern Section. There are other leagues with truly spectacular teams, like the Moore league, or maybe even the Citrus Belt, Suburban, or a couple of others. But I don't think there's another league which has as many consistently strong teams in it," he said. For those not familiar with its structure, the Bay League is part of the South Bay Athletic Conference along with the Ocean League, and it's a 16 league association that has it's roots about 30 or more years ago. "We originally divided the conference up into two leagues, one a very strong league and the other for those teams who felt that they needed a slightly less tough level of competition," Nielsen said. "And the result is that about every two years, we re-league by strength and results, so teams are constantly moving up and down. I think this is not really a good thing, but it's what the league has decided to do."

Redondo will also have some additional coaching help on the sidelines this year from two veteran and very successful coaches.  Jim has persuaded Tom Maier, formerly the longtime coach at Chadwick to join him, and has also brought in Gary Post, who coached the State Champions last year in Mississippi. "Tom is a great guy, and he's got so much good knowledge of the game. It's unfortunate what happened to him [at Chadwick] but he doesn't talk about it, and neither do I.  And Gary Post is such a great guy and works well with the kids.  You know, you can never have enough good coaching talent on the sidelines," Nielsen said.

As for his overall Top 10 in the SoCal region this year, he picked, in no particular order, Artesia, Dominguez, Mater Dei, Fairfax, Fontana, Centennial (Compton), Bishop Montgomery. "But beyond that, I haven't seen too many others. I've heard a lot about some other schools but didn't see them," Nielsen said.

"Oh yeah, I think Redondo should be in there too somewhere," he said. 

Jim also has some plans for the team this year which should please a lot of people who can't actually get to all the games to see them. "We're working with a group that will be doing some exciting things. I can't really talk about it now, but it will make it possible for everyone to see our games.  Everyone."   Er, um, ok coach.  I guess we'll be watching too.

Redondo could challenge again for a D-IIAA title and this year may have the talent necessary to be able to put it all together for a run at a State Title.  They're likely to see teams like Dominguez though trying to block the way.   Whether they can make it is something only time and the season will tell. We'll be watching.

 The Swish Award
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