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High School Team Preview:
Crespi Carmelite High School--(Dec. 17, 1998)

"I'm still a big proponent of defense. I think that defensive pressure will be the key for us this season."--Dick Dornan, head coach, Crespi High School

Crespi is a small, "boys only" college-preparatory school affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. The school has 461 students in grades 9-12, on a small 3-acre campus located in Encino, California.  They play in Southern Section's Mission League, against Harvard-Westlake, Chaminade, Loyola, Alemany, Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, St. Francis, and Loyola.  They haven't won a league title in more than 10 years.  But that could change this year.

We last profiled Crespi on November 14, 1977, more than a year ago, and while a lot of things have changed, a lot hasn't.  One thing that hasn't changed is Dick Dornan's philosophy of the game:  "I'm a disciple of Michael Cooper; I believe in the five "D's"--dedication, desire, determination, decisionmaking, and discipline." Sounds like a sincere slogan, something John Wooden would have said, and Dornan really means it.  Last year was his first year coaching the varsity at Crespi, and it was also the first year in a long time that Crespi made the playoffs in Division 4-AA.   The Celts lost in the first round, losing to No. 2 seed LaSalle, 54-52, but the important thing was that they made it at all, and it provided a good base from which to work for this year's team, and a point of reference for the team to do even better this year.    

A little background on Dornan: He played high school ball at Crespi, graduating in 1986. He attended the University of Notre Dame, graduating in 1990. He credits former Laker Michael Cooper with inspiring him to go into coaching; from 1990 through 1995, Dornan worked for the Lakers in public relations and had plenty of opportunity to observe Cooper and the Laker staff up close; of course these were the turbulent years, post Magic, post Riley, even post Pfund, and Dornan saw the best and the worst of professional coaching. He won't tell us which was "best" and which was "worst" and leaves that to our imagination. Dornan still works with and for the Lakers,  and that's probably the reason that he managed to get the Laker Girls out to Crespi's version of "Midnight Madness" this year.

In 1996-97, Dornan returned to Crespi when former Crespi coach and AD Paul Muff unexpectedly died;  the then-jv coach moved up to varsity, creating an opening at the jv level. Dornan grabbed it, and after one year of coaching jv, moved up to varsity last season. Dornan is still unmarried, and still scouting the stands when he's not busy watching the game. But with his affiliation with the Laker Girls, well. . . .:-)

This year, Crespi has four starters returning, and perhaps the best team in more than 10 years.  "I expect us to contend for a league title," Dornan told us a few weeks ago when we talked.   Of course, our converasation was about two weeks before Crespi managed to knock off league rival Harvard-Westlake by a score of 63-50 at the Thousand Oaks Rotary Tournament last week to take third place, so Crespi is well on it's way to showing others in the league that they've arrived.  Crespi is also starting to get some notice from the local media. Yesterday's Daily News had this from Vincent Bonsignore, the basketball beat writer:

Crespi coach Dick Dornan is pleased with the Celts' 3-1 record, especially considering their three top players are out.  "I think a lot of it has to do with the summer. We played 45 games and I think those games provided a lot of game experience for those guys," Dornan said. "Everybody knows that when (the injured players) come back we'll be that much stronger."

Crespi has four players averaging in double figures, and the team's defense has been tremendous, according to Dornan. "We've had two games that the defense did a tremendous job in," Dornan said. "They were two of the best (defensive) games I've seen in a long time."

Crespi is not nearly at full strength, and won't be for another two weeks:  Greg Guenther is still out with a stress fracture, Pat Casella still has a sprained ankle, and Michael Luderer also has a sprained ankle. But as Bonsignore noted in his article:  "The key so far has been the play of guards Pat Dornan, Tim McDonough, Andrew Moore, Blake Tibbetts and forward Marcin Jagoda (15 points, nine rebounds per game.) "Those five guys played the entire second half against Harvard-Westlake (a 63-50 Crespi win)," Dornan said. "I've never done that before." 

Looking at this team, we have a feeling that there are a lot of things they'll do that Dornan's never done before by the time the season is over. Here's the roster for 1998-99:

Allan Ellis (5'-9" Fr. PG)
Gregg Robinson (5'-11" Jr. SG)
Brandon Reidl (6'-6" Sr. C)
Matt Beirnat (6'-5" Jr. F)
Tim McDonough (6'-2" Sr. SG)
Patrick Cassella (5'-10" Jr. PG)
Blake Tibbitts (6'-1" Sr. SG)
Marcin Jagoda (6'-3" Sr. F)
Mike Grimes (6'-5" Jr. C)
Aaron Tunney (6'-0" Jr. F)
Robert Mueller (6'-3" Sr. F)
Gregg Guenther (6'-8" Jr. C)
Pat Dornan (6'-1" Sr. PG)
Andrew Moore (6'-0" So. SG)
Michael Luderer (6'-2" So. SG)

This roster is almost as large (ok, it's about three names short) of Mater Dei's, and we're pretty certain that Dornan gets by with a smaller coaching staff than Gary McKnight.  But Crespi, unlike Mater Dei, doesn't play in Division I-AA; they're a 4-AA team, but that doesn't mean they're not just as competitive.   It's still five players per side and one ball, and Crespi probably  has at least three or four potential mid D-I players on this roster. 

Until everyone is healthy, the backcourt is really where this team's strength lies. Blake Tibbetts will handle the starting duties at the shooting guard spot. Blake was the team MVP last year, averaged 10.3 ppg, and was honorable mention All-League.  Dornan describes Tibbetts as the "heart and soul" of the team; he guards the other team's best players, is aggressive, finds ways to score and is the best defender on the team.   Also at the shooting guard spot will be Tim McDonough, one of 5 senior co-captains on the team.  Dornan thinks he might just be the best shooter, and he's certainly one of the top three-point shooters in the region.   More of a spot-up shooter than someone who creates, he's also a potential All-League player. Vying for time at the two spot will be Gregg Robinson, who is in his first year on varsity, up fromt he jv. He's an aggressive, tenacious three point shooter, a good defender and possibly one of the best one-on-one players defensively on the team.   Others looking for time at the two will be Andrew Moore, last year's jv MVP who averaged 14 ppg, who's also a great three point shooter and who will get significant minutes, and Michael Luderer, another sophomore, who Dornan believes may have the most potential of any player on the team.  Luderer is very explosive, a good defender, and very good at creating shots off the dribble and using his body to get inside and control things. Luderer is also a football player, and is slated to be the starting QB next season.

At point look for Pat Casella (at least when he gets over the sprained ankle).  He's a returning starter from last year, and was All-League second team last season, averaging 10 ppg.  He's one of the most explosive players in the region this year, with a quick first step and he also might just be one of the fastest players in the league this year, baseline to baseline, with true sprinter's speed.   Pat's got a good handle, the ability to penetrate, and has good court vision.   He can score from just about anywhere on the floor, and has a good three point shot or can drive and finish.  Also getting signficant time, at least until Casella heals completely, will be Pat Dornan (yes, he's the younger brother of the coach), a guy who would start on almost any other team, but who plays backup at the point and the two.   Pat is a smooth player, not at all flashy, just a kid who goes out and gets the job done.  He led the team in assists last season and he's also a great three-point shooter. He's got good vision, and will usually find the open man and of the games we've seen, he usually doesn't make very many mistakes.  Currently playing backup at the point is Allan Ellis, who Dornan believes could be one of the best freshmen prospects in the Valley this year.  The plan was (two weeks ago) for him to shuttle between the varsity and the jv at least until league play and then depending upon how things went, Dornan would make a decision about whether to keep him up or play him for a year in jv.   He's got a good handle and is very good offensively. Ellis played with Darryl McDonald in the Cavs program so at least we know that he's had good coaching. 

At the forward spots, Marcin Jagoda has come a long way from last year:  He was good last year, but this year he's really turned into an excellent wing/forward player. This summer he averaged about 17ppg. Marcin is more of a slasher than a low post player, and he uses his speed and agility to  rebound well, and he can move to the hole with an incredibly fast first step. Marcin also has a very big vertical. He'll definitely be one of the starters throughout the season, barring injury.  Three others will also vie for time at the forward spots:  Aaron Tunney, a junior and Robert Mueller, a senior, and Matt Biernat, another junior.  Robert is probably the   most athletic player on the team, an instinctive rebounder with great timing, he averaged 5 rebounds per game and could end up by the middle of the season starting some either at the four or the five spot.  Aaron is a real tough kid, a banger who takes charges and does the down & dirty work on the team, setting picks and screens and in general using his body to make others look good.  He can run the court, and moves very well without the ball. Matt Biernat, another young player,  is a lefty with a good jump shot who's also an excellent rebounder with good leaping ability, and he'll also see time down at the low block.

Finally, at the center spot, Brandon Reidl played varsity last season and has steadily improved over the summer and in fall conditioning.  He's probably the teams best shot-blocker right now, and has good low post moves, and decent footwork, and we'd expect him to be a backup center when Guenther returns.  When he's healthy, look for Gregg Guenther to make a huge impact and be a starter.  He was on the JV last season, and had a very good summer and fall, and will be one fo the top players, possibly one of the dominant players in the Valley for the next two seasons.   He's got great big soft hands and a good touch He's pretty raw right now, but has a lot of potential to work with, and he's agile and runs well for a big man.  Mike Grimes will be the backup center, and he's only playing his second year of organized basketball, his first on varsity.  He's really more of a "face-the-basket" type of player, who is just learning some good post moves. He's got a good shot out to about 10'-12', and is an effective rebounder.

Crespi has already impressed a lot of people this season. As we've already noted, they finished third at the Thousand Oaks Rotary Tournament, defeating Harvard-Westlake, and this weekend they'll be at the Westlake Tournament, which will also feature Lynwood, Oakland Head-Royce, Saugus, Calabasas, LA Marshall,  Hueneme, LA Poly and Westlake.  Then from the 26th through the 30th, they'll be at the Chaminade Tournament, where they'll matchup against Campbell Hall in their first pool play game.

Crespi is definitely going to be a contender in the Mission League this year, and given the fact that Chaminade lost last night to Chatsworth in the Valencia Tournament, we'd have to say that the league race is just about wide open, and we see Crespi and Alemany, St. Francis, Loyola, H-W,  or Notre Dame all capable of threatening Chaminade, and it looks like anyone could win it this year.  We'll be watching.

The Swish Award
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