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SoCalHoops High School News

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

"We're really fast this year. We're going to run, jump, press, and then run some more. I'm really looking forward to this season."  Jeff Klein, Head Coach, Upland High School

Jeff Klein has been the head coach for the last seven seasons at Upland, and in that time has compiled a 65-12 record.  When you talk with him, you get the feeling you've known him a long time. He's personable, intelligent, a great conversationalist, and a true New Yorker. "I grew up on Long Island. The area around where I grew up was surrounded by some very wealthy areas. Unfortunately, I wasn't in one of those wealthy areas. But I got a great street-education living in Inwood, which was really diverse ethnically. I think it's given me a great perspective on life, education and sports," Klein told us last night. He graduated from Lawrence High on Long Island, New York, and in 1985 graduated from S.U.N.Y. at Cortland, where he earned his B.S. in Physical Education. In 1989, he earned his MBA from the University of La Verne.  Klein and and his wife Randi, a second grade teacher, live in Upland with their children Daniel 8, and Amanda 6. "I love it here," he said.

Starting with their first Baseline League title in 1992, the team has had four straight 20 win seasons and three consecutive DI-AA Quarterfinal appearances; last season, the team beat Etiwanda in the first round of Southern Section playoffs, and then lost to Ayala 75-72 in the second round of the playoffs. Upland finished with a remarkable 23-4 record, the second best ever in school history, and they went 8-2 in the Baseline League. The Highlanders also won three pre-season tournaments (Upland, Rancho Cucamonga, and Midland Texas), and the team made great a great showing at the Nike Extravaganza (played at Cal State Fullerton last season) beating Tustin.   Klein has some great help too on the sidelines, and this season Upland has three assistant coaches, including Kelvin Moody, Lee McDougal, and Jerry Davis.  Upland also maintains its own team website (which hasn't really been updated yet from last year, but it's still a wealth of information), and they get some help from their statisticians Daniel Paley, Brian Hulet and Lance Jemison, who all do a great job.

We spoke with Klein over a period of several nights, first just talking about the team, life, basketball, and a wide variety of topics, and then later, a bit more focused on the players on this year's team.  Klein was excited about the season and the prospects for another run at a title, and with good reason. "We've lost a few guys, but this could be one of the quickest, best teams we've ever had.  Our style is going to be run, press, run, and then run some more, and we have the guys to do that," he said.

This team is really almost completely different than last season's squad from which 9 players graduated, including several starters or part-time starters (Colin Strand, Steven Hamilton, Desmond Penigar, and Matt Santos);  others graduating also included Danny Dinh, Nick Virani, Frank Musa, David Mellem, and Brad Busam.   But there are still 6 returning varsity players from last year's team: Sheldon Pace, Jesse Pruitt, Matt Christensen,  Prentice Harris, DeMarcus Williams, and Jason Johnson. Coach Klein has added 10 new faces, including 9 who are moving up from last year's JV team (Kevyn White, Eric Hoppe, Milan Irvin, Jason Hathaway, Kirk Snyder, Kyle Bechler, Tye Juan Hatter, Lionel Davis and Jason Harris). And then there's the addition of Brett Williams, a transfer from Chino.

Here's the roster for the 1999-2000 Upland team: 

Kevyn White 6'-0" Jr. PG
Sheldon Pace 5'-10" Jr. PG
Milan Irvin 6'-0" Sr. SG
Jesse Pruitt 6'-1" Jr. SG
Eric Hoppe 6'-0" Jr. SG
Matt Christensen 6'-0" Sr. SG
Jason Harris 6'-4" Jr. SG/SF
Kyle Bechler 6'-1" Jr. SG
Kirk Snyder 6'-5" Jr. F
Jason Hathaway 6'-2" Jr. SG
Prentice Harris 6'-1" Jr. SG
Brett Williams 6'-3" Jr. SG
Tye-Juan Hatter 6'-5" So. SG/SF
DeMarcus Williams 6'-8" Sr. PF/C
Jason Johnson 6'-7" Sr. C
Lionel Davis 6'-6" Jr. F/C

While Klein has previously said he believes that defense is the most important aspect of the game,  this is going to be a team which can really give him some great offensive production, and which will bother a lot of other teams in the Baseline League and D-IAA.  While one of the weaknesses this year will be the team's youth (there are only four seniors, and only 1 starter) that same youth will be one of their strengths and insure that this team will be excellent this season, and perhaps great next year.

In the backcourt, Upland has a number of potent guards.   Kevin White, is one two point guards ("It's like having an ace right hander and ace lefty" Klein told us)--Kevin is the lefty.  He's one of the better athletes on the team, extremely fast with a great handle, an excellent penetrator and a smooth and effective threat to shoot the three pointer. "He's got real speed and is a top defender," said Klein.  Sheldon Pace, the other top junior point guard on this team--the right-hander-- is also very quick, exceptionally good at going left or right, is now dunking,  and has great ability to change speed and direction. "His real strength is his ability to create good spacing off the hesitation dribble which allows him to take his man and beat him," said Klein.  We saw the same thing with Pace at the Long Beach Fall Hoops Classic, where he was impressive in a number of games.

Besides the two points, Upland has at least seven other guards who can all shoot out on the wings with varying degrees of effectiveness, among them Prentice Harris, one of this year's team captains.  Klein describes him as "an athlete, just a really pure athlete, who can and does play just about any position we ask him to play."  He's also one of the strongest players on the team and one of the most complete:  He can pull up for the jumper, shoot off the dribble, has an excellent handle, drives to the hole and also dunks. "He's very tough, and also one of our best defenders," said Klein. "He's just got a real nose for the ball.  He plays like the personality of this team:  Full-court, high energy, intense pressure all the time. He's a great young man." 

Among the other guards vying for a starting spot will be Jesse Pruitt  and Brett Williams, to of the best and most pure shooters on the team.   Jesse has improved his strength and size, adding about 15 lbs of muscle which has improved his overall athleticism, and his real value is that he can really play either the two or the three position.  He's equally effective spotting up from out in three-point range or slashing to the hole. Kyle Bechler, is another "pure" three point shooting threat, who could eventually be a starter. "He really understands the game, he's just got a great feel for where to be and how to score."  Bechler is also a 90% free-throw shooter, so he's not the guy opposing teams will want to foul in a close game. "He could be our real zone-buster this year," said Klein.   Another who could vie for a spot in the starting lineup is Brett Williams, a newcomer to the program who transferred from Chino. "He's very graceful, an excellent shooter, another one of our real athletes" Klein commented.  "He's still learning the system here, trying to understand what we're trying to accomplish, but we have great hopes for him."

Three more guards fill out the backcourt, and they include Jason Hathaway, a good perimeter defender and three-point shooter, Matt Christensen, a situational defender and shooting guard who will be primarily counted on for defense, and Eric Hoppe, whom Klein describes as "a really pleasant surprise."  Hoppe is a really tough, hustling defender, the kind of guy who dives for loose balls and does a lot of things other players don't like to do. "We'll definitely find some minutes for Eric this year,"  Klein said. "And aside from being tough, he's smart, with a 4.4 GPA."

At the true wing spot, Upland has three guys, Jason Harris, Tye-Juan Hatter, and Milan Irvin.  Harris has, according to Klein, "made the biggest improvement between last year and this year of anyone in our program.  He's gotten much stronger physically, and he's really matured mentally and emotionally," Klein said. "He's really worked hard on his game in the off-season and it shows."  We also saw Harris at the Fall Hoops Classic, and he's gotten big, with really long arms, big strong shoulders and he's got great mobility, is strong taking the ball to the hole, generally plays above the rim and can finish with a variety of dunks. And Like Bechler, he's also an excellent free throw shooter, which will come in handy in tight games.  The other pure wing combo player is Tye-Juan Hatter, and Klein says of him that "He may have the most upside of any player on the team. Not that he's arrived yet, but he's got incredible potential."  Hatter also played this past September at the Fall Hoops Classic and was impressive.  He's a true inside-outside player, looking for the mismatch and a pretty consistent three point shooter, who will pull up on the baseline for the long bomb. "The best thing about Hatter," Klein said, "is that he's just a sophomore, so we've got a lot of time to work with him and get him to where he can be.  But already he's got the body of a man.  I anticipate using him more initially at the two spot, and he'll initially come in off the bench, but he has a chance to be really special"  The third player at this position, Milan Irvin, a senior, is a very similar player in style and ability to Harris, but will probably come in off the bench. "On any other team he'd be a starter, but we are just so deep Milan will have to pick his spots. We'll definitely get him time on the floor though. " 

Down in the paint on the low blocks, Upland has a couple of very interesting options too.  One of Klein's favorites is Kirk Snyder, who he describes as "Just this ornery, nasty, tough kid, who comes out to play every night. He could wind up as our leading scorer, and he's the guy that the other teams are going to love to hate. He's just really tough,"  Klein said. "In practice he's the guy who fires up DeMarcus [Williams]. He's always trash-talking to him, banging him, trying to get him toughened up. He's a great kid."  Snyder is not only a tough player, but he's also an effective shot-blocker, really wiry now, and he'll get taller.   He's also got the ability to step out to the wing and hit a three or drive to the basket, can play the post and is "steadily improving skill-wise," according to Klein.  Jason Johnson is really the third big man on this roster in terms of the rotation, and a 6'-7" on many other teams he'd be a starter. He's very strong, a tremendous leaper who runs the court really well, but among all this talent, he'll probably come in off the bench.  Yet another option down low is Lionel Davis, a big 250 lb'er who was injured last season with broken ankle, and just coming off rehab, but who is a very talented player. "We'll just have to see how things work out with Lionel. The big question is whether we'll be able to find the kind of quality minutes that he deserves; he's another one of those guys who could be a starter on any other team, but on this team, we'll only be able to play five at a time," Klein joked. "Seriously, this is a young player with a ton of talent. He's been injured pretty badly, so what happens with him is something only time can tell."

Finally, there is DeMarcus Williams, the senior currently with the biggest reputation among college recruiters. DeMarcus has grown about two inches in the last year to about 6'-8" right now, weighs at least 250, possibly bigger. He's a huge presence, who runs the court very well for a big man, and he's also really improved his game since last year, in some games dramatically, playing all summer with IEBP. "He seems to have figured out just how big and strong he really is," said Klein. "If he can become a scorer, DeMarcus may be one of those late-bloomers who winds up having a very productive college career."  Our observations of DeMarcus over the last several years are the same:  He's the kind of young man who could go to a D-I school, and have a very nice career, possibly star, or go to a D-II or D-III school and be an instant All-American for four straight years; it all depends on what DeMarcus wants.    From the recruiting information we've gotten from him, DeMarcus will undoubtedly go the D-I route, and as we write this he'll be taking a visit to the University of Washington this weekend (November 5-7), making the trip with his mother, who has been actively involved in all of his recruiting.

Earlier this fall, we talked a lot with DeMarcus at the Long Beach Fall Hoops Classic, which was just about the same time a lot rumors and internet reports were being published to the effect that UCLA had suddenly fallen in love with him, and had hastily set up a home visit with the family after seeing DeMarcus have a spectacular game at the IEBP Fall Shootout earlier in September. The home visit ultimately didn't take place, but DeMarcus was philosophical about it: "There are a lot of schools recruiting me. UCLA would be nice, but I've got a lot of choices," he told us at the time.  Coach Klein confirmed last night that DeMarcus still has lots of options, including what looks to be an offer from Washington, and contrary to some other published reports, Pepperdine, which is still very much in it.  He's also still looking at several others, all west coast schools, and will probably make a decision soon. DeMarcus is also a very smart player, who wants to major in business, so one of the key criteria he looks for in a school is what kind of business program the school has. Both Washington and Pepperdine (with its Graziadio School of Business and Management) are still prime candidates.

About the league prospects for the team this year, Klein is also optimistic. "We could do very well this year," he said. "Very well." Upland competes in the Baseline League against Chino, Claremont, Don Lugo, Walnut, and perennial league favorite, Glendora. But with the graduation this past June of Glendora's Casey Jacobsen, the all-time leading scorer in the Southern Section (who is at Stanford and might very well wind up competing with Jason Kapono for Freshman of the Year in the Pac-10), this could be the year that Upland breaks through. "If you've never been to an Upland-Glendora game, you've got to see it to believe it," Klein told us. "They've been turning them away at the doors for years; it's a great rivalry."

That rivalry will heat up again this year when the two teams meet twice in league. But before that happens, Upland will participate in some preseason games, including several tournaments. Upland opens the season with a scrimmage against Rialto and Moreno Valley at Upland on November 26 at 9:00 a.m. On November 30, Upland will play Diamond Bar in a home game at 6:30 p.m. at Upland.  On December 3, they'll play an away game at A.B. Miller, and then from December 7-11, Upland will host it's own "Upland Classic" Tournament featuring some excellent teams, including Pasadena, Rancho Cucamonga, Valley View, LA Locke, Palm Springs, Montclair, and Temple City.

The team takes a break until the 16th of December, when they'll open play up in Yuba City at the Yuba City Invitational Tournament. "It's going to be a great tournament. They invited us up and since we've been traveling out of state a lot, last year to Texas, we thought this would be a nice change. And they'll have some good teams too," Klein told us. Teams like host Yuba City, San Jose's Bellarmine Prep, Wood from Vacaville, Berkeley, St. Mary's, Carson City (Nev.), Elk Grove, and a couple of others. "It should be a lot of fun, and it's always nice to take a trip with the team."

The team returns on the 19th, and they'll take a break until December 27, when they'll begin play in the Best in the West, hosted by Artesia, a 32 team tournament featuring some of the best teams in the region and on the West Coast.   Upland will play LA Washington in the first round matchup, which should be a great game. That tournament runs through December 30, and they'll still have one game left before Baseline League play opens, a game against another team from the Inland Empire, Canyon Springs, on January 4, 2000 at 6:30 p.m. at home.

The Baseline season schedule for Upland looks like this:

Day Date Opponent Venue Time
Fri. 1/7 Claremont Home 7:30 p.m
Tues 1/11 Don Lugo Home 6:30 p.m
Fri 1/14 Walnut Away 7:30 p.m
Mon 1/17 MLK Classic v. Crenshaw LB Pyramid TBA
Wed 1/19 Glendora Home 6:30 p.m
Fri 1/21 Chino Away 7:30 p.m.
Fri 1/28 Claremont Away 7:30 p.m.
Wed 2/2 Don Lugo Away 6:30 p.m.
Fri 2.4 Walnut Home 7:30 p.m.
Tues 2/8 Glendora Away 6:30 p.m.
Thurs 2/10 Chino Home 6:30 p.m.

Whether Upland will have the horses to take them to the D-IAA finals is anyone's guess right now. But they are a talented team and could still be around in March.  Just how far they'll go is something only time will tell.  But we'll all be watching.

 The Swish Award
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