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SoCalHoops High School News

Sylmar Hangs In To Win Big
Game With Cleveland--(Dec. 16, 1998)

First things first.  Or last things first.  Whatever. The score in this one was 74-68. But it was a lot closer than that for all but the last 30 seconds of the game.

No Valley team has yet to make it to the finals of the City Section Championship game in the 4"A" Division. While there is no "4A" or "3A" for purposes of playoffs, the point is still the same:   No Valley team has made it to the finals of the "big" dance in any time we can remember.  This year, there are several favorites from the City to take the title, and teams from the Valley will have to contend with the likes of Crenshaw (which has struggled early), Fremont (which has been plagued by eligibility problems), Westchester (which got hammered by Crenshaw last Friday, losing by 42 points), and Fairfax (which lost the high-scoring Tommie Johnson to Crenshaw but still has Joe Shipp and Jason Morrisette).  And then there's Manual Arts, which has just been steamrolling everyone in sight, and seems to have no real weaknesses.   But that's about it from the City, what the Valley teams call "over the hill" or "the inner-city." Ok, maybe Hollywood is another team to contend with and they are vastly improved and continue to win against tough competition, but you'd be hard-pressed to come up with any more names of real overall challengers for the title.

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Cleveland huddles in the fourth quarter

And in the Valley, it's also, as we see it,   down to about three, maybe four teams too:  Grant (which may or may not be a one or two man show with Gilbert Arenas and Daniel Tarr);  Chatsworth (with Richard Harrison, Mark Cannon at point, and Adam Drell coming on strong).  And then there are the two "best" Valley teams:  Sylmar and Cleveland.   And the latter was the big matchup last night at Sylmar High at 7:30 p.m.  

Sylmar was last year's 3A City Champions, and this year, they "moved up" to 4A Division for City Section league play. As far as we can discern, there's not much difference in City Section league competition as a result of the that move, and there's absolutely no difference this year between 4A and 3A for City playoffs--all teams are seeded by a committee with the top 32 teams overall making the playoffs and the top 16 competing for a "City" title and the bottom 16 competing for a "Division" title.  As far as we also know, it won't make any real difference whether a team has played 4A or 3A on it's schedule for purposes of being seeded, at least that's what the City Section office is saying.  From a practical standpoint, the seeding committee will also look at strength of schedule, and on that score, presumably Sylmar would make it into the top 16 just by having a winning record. 

By way of some additional background, the Valley area hasn't had a real contender for the City finals since Cleveland made it there in 1987, when they were coached by Bobby Braswell, who left for Oregon State and then returned to the Valley region  to become the head coach at CSUN.  Last summer, Braswell hired Cleveland's head coach, Andre Chevalier to be his assistant at CSUN.   Both of them were in attendance yesterday, taking in all of the action.  And there was plenty of it. 

Sylmar features a bunch of pretty well known players,  and we've already profiled the team, including Jerry Calzada (6'-2" Sr. SG), Jeremiah Turner (6'-7" Sr. SF/PF) who played very well at ABCD camp last summer, Joey Youmans (6'-8" Sr. C/F), an exceptional outside shooter, George Wrighster (6'-4" Sr. SG/PF) a Division I football prospect who's being pursued by just about everyone in the Pac-10, Brandon Jacobs (5'-10" Sr. PG) one of the quickest point guards in the City, and that includes just about any Southern Section team we can think of,  T.K. Reid (6'-0" Sr. PG) an excellent shooter and quick defender, Dallas Townsend (6'-4" Sr. C/F) a big rebounder, and some really good young bench players in Chris Slade (6'-0" So. SG), George O'Garra (6'-6" So. C) Damien Derrico (6'-4" Jr. SG/SF),  and John Valdez (6'-1" So. SG).    Cleveland feature Kent Dennis (6'-2" Sr. SG) a true three-point specialist, Kenny Mason (5'-11" Sr. PG/SG), Eric Bush and a bunch of other guys we've really only had a chance to see once before last week at the Beverly Hills Tournament when Cleveland lost to Palisades in the semifinals but then beat Campbell Hall convincingly for third place.

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We managed to make it to Sylmar High School last night from downtown L.A. just in time for the tip-off.  The gym was packed and we were sandwiched in between Alemany head coach Darryl McDonald and George Wrighster's dad on one side, and CSUN coaches Bobby Braswell, Andre Chevalier, Double Pump's David Pump and several other area players and coaches,  on the other side.    McDonald, who coached last year at San Fernando as an assistant, and who has been involved in the San Fernando Cavs youth basketball organization for years looked out on the floor at one point in the second half and said to us,  "I've coached just about every player out there on the floor right now.  Brandon Jacobs, Kent Dennis, George Wrighster, Jeremiah Turner, T.K. Reid, Joey Youman, Kenny Mason, you name it, I've had a lot of these players in our Cavs program. Those are all great athletes, and any one of them should be playing in college next year."  And we had to agree with him.   Looking around at the talent in the game, virtually everyone was a top college prospect, maybe not all D-I guys (probably just Kent Dennis, Jeremiah Turner, Wrighster, Reid and Mason), but everyone can play at some level, whether it's D-II, D-III, NAIA or at a  JC.

There was a lot of advance hype about this game,  and the game pretty much lived up to the billing.  Quick, up-tempo basketball, fast-paced offense, and extremely athletic players doing really athletic things. Not an overwhelming amount of dunking, but Turner and Dennis managed to get in a couple each. Notwithstanding a ton of turnovers and lots of sloppy play in the first and second quarters, which is pretty normal for this time of year, there was one major difference between the two teams this year.:    When things got tough, Sylmar kept its composure and won, while Cleveland didn't. 

In the first half, Kent Dennis just hammered Sylmar, making it his personal mission to outscore everyone.  He had 16 points in the first half, mostly on outside shots; the next highest scorers were Eric Bush with 8 for Cleveland, Pledger with 6, Smith with 4, Knox 4, and Palmer with 2.  For Sylmar in the first half, Brandon Jacobs scored 6, Reid had 4, Turner had 8, Youmans had 8, and Massey had 3.

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Brandon Jacobs shoots for two in the fourth quarter

At the half, the score was 40-37, with Cleveland hanging on to a three-point lead.  Coach Escoto told us at the break, "We should be ok, if we can just keep our composure."  And that they did.  

In the fourth quarter the Spartans' showed not only their depth, but also the level of composure they're able to maintain under pressure.   The team has been together all summer, and most recently took third in the Buchannan Tournament in Fresno, losing only to Fresno Washington Union, so they've been tested this year already.  Sylmar finally gained the lead after trailing by no more than three throughout the third quarter, when Youman tipped in a rebound with about 4:00 left to play, to give Sylmar the 62-61 lead.  A few minutes later, Youman, who's not really known as an outside shooter, hit a three from the right side baseline.  You could almost hear everyone holding their breath when he took the shot, and we looked over to Escoto, who never changed his expression even when the shot went in.  "No one thought he was going to shoot it," said Cleveland's Kent Dennis.  The basket put Sylmar up by 5 points and they never relinquished the lead again.

Youman came out of the game shortly after hitting the three, with about three minutes left to play, and frankly we were puzzled why coach Escoto would have taken him out, but then that's why he's the coach and we're not.   Escoto went with a slightly smaller, faster team in the last three minutes, and extended the lead with 50 second to play to 71

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The biggest trouble for Cleveland and what eventually stopped their offense (i.e., it's what stopped Dennis, Mason and Eric Bush, a transfer from Monroe) was Sylmar's 2-3 zone defense. "We really need to work on a zone offense," Dennis said. "Hey, I was knocking them down in the first half, but unless we get other guys involved, especially against the zone, it's not going to work."   This is the same zone that Palisades threw at Cleveland which knocked them out of the Beverly Hills Tournament Championship, and Dennis is right:   The Cleveland coaches need to go back to the drawing board on this one.

For the first three quarters of this game, Kent Dennis managed to pretty much carry his team, scoring 26 points, 16 in the first half, and he kept Cleveland consistently out in front of Sylmar, which trailed throughout most of the game until Youman made "the shot" with about 3:00 to play. From there, Jeremiah Turner and George Wrighster took over, aided by T.K. Reid. Reid and Jacobs switched off at the point, and in the fourth quarter, it was mostly Reid, who finished with 10 points, who ran the offense. "I just think he's one of the best points right now in Los Angeles," Escoto said after the game.

Sylmar's Turner is also one of the top players in the City, and was a standout this summer at ABCD, but will need to improve his consistency overall on finishing shots. Were not sure who's recruiting him right now, but he's a pretty similar player to Gilbert Arenas in a lot of ways, except he's just not as good a shooter from the outside.  Turner is a better rebounder though, but at his size, he's really a "tweener", built more like a two for college, but more adept at playing down low, but just not big enough to do that in college.  We're pretty sure though that Braswell and Chevalier have their eyes on him as well as on Cleveland's Kent Dennis.  After the game Kent, who also has a 3.3 gpa and scored 1,060 on the SAT told us that he's been getting some serious interest s from Missouri, as well as continued interest from Santa Clara, Cal State Northridge and Oregon State, and personally we think he'd make a great WAC player, but it's also possible that some eastern schools, like Boston College will also start to get involved.

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Jeremiah Turner goes to the basket in the second half

The final minutes of the game came down to Cleveland not really knowing what hit them.  They had never trailed, and seemed to rush all of their shots.  They had several opportunities to bring the game close, but in the final minute were forced to foul, which sent George Wrighster to the line, and he hit two, and then Reed went to the line and hit two more.  In the end, the game finished with coach Escoto telling the Sylmar players not to move, and to let Cleveland take the last shot of the game uncontested, which they did.  While the disappointment was plain on the faces of the Cleveland guys, it was also easy to see why Sylmar was elated. "We've really improved this year," said Escoto. "We're a different team from last year." 

Joey Youman finished with 15 points,   Jeremiah Turner had 14 points and seven rebounds and Dallas Townsend had 14 points. For Cleveland, Dennis had 26 points and Eric Bush, a transfer from Monroe, had 13. The Spartans are now 5-1 overall.  Cleveland is 4-2, and the only other loss was to Pali in the semifinals of the Beverly Hills tourney.  Sylmar goes to Vegas on Saturday for the Reebok Las Vegas Holiday Prep Classic where they will play Washington College Academy in the first round at Cimarron-Memorial's Auxiliary gym at 12:20 p.m. on Saturday, December 19.  We're not exactly sure where Cleveland is playing next, but they might be appearing at the Washington Open Tournament, which is held at LA Washington High and features a lot of really good City Section teams.

Oh, one last word about something we heard last night at the game, also from Darryl McDonald:  Seems that someone tried to play a practical joke on him using our message board, claiming to be Dean Crowley, and last night we deleted the offending messages, which had something to do with McDonald allegedly using the Cavs organization to benefit the Alemany program.  Nothing could be further from the truth, and McDonald is a great guy, who has worked for many years to develop a strong youth program for the kids in the North Valley area. We wish him well and much success at Alemany this year, which will be, as far as we can tell, one of the top two or three teams this year in the Mission League.

The Swish Award
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