SoCalHoops Tournament News
40th Annual Best In the West
The Top Eight Seeds Are Loaded--(Dec. 25, 1999)
What: 40th Annual Best in the
Where: Long Beach State & Lakewood High School
When: December 27, 28, 29 & 30, 1999
Who: 32 of the top boys' teams in the West
|[Note: These are the program notes we wrote for the Official Best in the West Program which will be made available at the tournament (for a small fee, no doubt; buy it and support the tournament so we'll all be able to see the 41st BIW in 2000). We know for a fact that the stuff we wrote below was edited waaaaay down by Ebony Charles (at the direction of tournament head honcho and Artesia head coach, Wayne Merino. . . two pages? We can't do it in two pages :^) ). . . So, we thought we'd make some use of the original material which took us hours to knock out, by posting it up here in it's unexpurgated form, slightly updated to reflect some of the recent developments at tournaments which were played last week. We'll have more on this tournament throughout next week, but for now here's a little closer look at what the top 8 seeded teams look like]:|
Welcome to the 40th Annual "Best in the West" Basketball tournament, where you'll see some of the best talent in boys' high school basketball anywhere in the country. The first 39 editions of this tournament have featured many of the top teams in the nation, and this year's pool of talent, especially the junior class, is, in a word, amazing. The tournament features the top teams in virtually every CIF Division; there are two defending California State Champions, 10 section finalists, and 19 out of this year's 32 team field made it to quarterfinals in their respective Sections and Divisions. The top seeded team is host Artesia, currently ranked No. 3 in the nation by USA Today, No.l in the West by USA Today, the Orange County Register, the LA Times, Fullcourt Press, SoCalHoops, and anyone else you ask, including Slam Magazine which featured them them in the December issue as their preseason "No. 1 High School Team in America." At the other end of the bracket, seeded No. 2 is defending California State Division II Champion, Dominguez of Compton, which is currently ranked No. 3 by USA Today nationally, and No. 2 in the USA Today West Region Poll. Not bad for starters. [Note: The USA Today rankings have changed, and while Dominguez has lost twice in major tournaments, including to current No. 4 Oak Hill, Clovis West is now also ranked, and none of the teams has dropped out of the rankings. Artesia has now moved up to No. 2, and with the double defeat of Rice, formerly No. 1 by Portland Jesuit and Redondo Union last week at the Oregon Holiday Invitational, look for Artesia to assume the No. 1 USA Today ranking. For reference purposes, Dominguez is 12, and Clovis West is No. 18. We'd also look for Long Beach Poly to crack the Top 25 with their win in the Millenium Cup at the Reebok Holiday Prep Classic in Vegas].
The tournament also features 30 other teams in addition to the top two seeds, and any one of them can, on any given night, win the 40th Annual Best in the West crown. Eight teams are seeded. Here's a look at each of them in order of seeding:
1. Artesia: Coach Wayne Merino's No. 1 seeded Artesia Pioneers were last year's Division I-AA Southern Section CIF Champs, Southern Regional State Championship semifinalists, and they were led by Jason Kapono, Mr. All-Everything, now attending UCLA. If last year's team was good, many believe this year's Pioneer squad might actually be even better, even without Kapono, considering the continued maturation and development of Artesia's young and rich talent pool. It's hard to imagine a team being better without Kapono, but they may very well be. [Note: We've already featured a preview of Artesia, so much of this will be condensed]. The Pioneers will be led by Andre Hazel (6'-0" Sr. PG) who recently signed with the University of Nevada-Reno Wolfpack, and he's one of the best pure point guards in the West, a tremendous passer, who can get to the basket, and always seems to find the open man. Up front, Artesia also has two of the brightest and best top junior prospects in the nation, Jack Martinez (6'-8" Jr. PF/SF) and Amaury Fernandez (6'-9" Jr. PF), both natives of the Dominican Republic, and both incredibly agile and mobile, high scoring big men, who can put points on the board from inside or out. Jack is the shotblocker, with his incredibly long arms, and Amaury is the rebounder and high post man, and together they form one of the most amazing frontcourts in all of high school basketball. Jack and Maury will also get some assistance from varsity newcomer Ryan Meilluer (6'-8" So. F) and together these three make up one of the biggest and most active frontlines you'll see anywhere. Out on the wing, look for super-shooters and slashers like ABCD-invitee Jon Steffanson (6'-6" So. SG/SF), super scorer Tony Roberts (6'-3" Jfr. SG), the smooth Malcolm Heron (6'-4" Jr. SG/SF), and the fiery and explosive Franklin Matos (6'-3" So. SG/PG) And the guard talent doesn't stop there: There are several other talented shooters and ballhandlers like Ryan Reyes (6'-4" Jr. PG/SG), Ricky Thornton (5'-11" Sr. PG) and Aaron Aska (5'-10" Sr. G), and Fred Ang (5'-10" Sr. G). How good are the Pioneers this year? As good as they want to be, in our humble opinion.
|9:05 p.m.||West Gym||LA Jordan v. #2 Dominguez||Game No. 16|
2. Compton Dominguez: Dominguez finds itself in familiar territory at the opposite end of the bracket from Artesia as the No. 2 seeded team. Many believe the Dons are good enough and deep enough to not only defend their State D-II Championship title, but to do some real damage and improve their national ranking in the process. Russell Otis' Dominguez team has several top senior and junior prospects, including Tyson "The Franchise" Chandler (7'-0" Jr. C) who is currently one of the most coveted prospects to come out of the unusually talented and deep junior class in SoCal. Dominguez also has one the most prolific scorers in big man, Keith Brooks (6'-6" Sr. F), a huge shot-blocker and rebounder, and the Dons are also deep in perimeter shooters and slashers like Steve Moore (6'-3" Sr. SG), Larry Johnson (6'-5" Sr. SG), Micah McKinney (6'-3" Sr. SG), and multi-faceted wing forward Sherman Gay (6'-6" Sr. SF/SG). The Dons are not just deep in seniors and juniors, but also boast some of the most talented players in the sophomore class: Darius Sanders (6'-6" So. PF), a big man in the middle, Bobby Jones (6'-6" So. F) who has a nice stroke and can score inside or out, Samir Hernandez (6'-6" So. F/C) who provides more depth inside and on the blocks, and Keinon Kindred (6'-2" So. SG/PG), a tough and tenacious combo guard. The Dominguez backcourt will be a blur of speed and great ballhandling with veteran playmakers like junior Keilon Forturne (5'-11" Jr. PG) [Note: Keilon may or may not be with the team any longer. He did not travel with the Dons to the Iolani Classic this past week, and we were told by Russell Otis about two months ago that he is "not with the team." Nevertheless, he's played with them in several other preseason tourneys, and his absence from the Hawaii tournament may have had something to do with a "court date" according to his guardian and club coach Pat Barrett. . . . at least that's what Pat told us at the DePaul v. UCLA game last weekend], Gary Looney (5'-9" Sr. PG), Donald Bluitt (5'-10" Sr. PG), and freshman point guard sensation from New York, Mingus Murray (5'-8" Fr. PG). [Dominguez dropped a bit in the rankings with USA Today since we first wrote the BIW program notes, and they are now No. 12, and we'd expect them to hover in around there next week when the new poll is released on Tuesday, even after losing to No. 4 Oak Hill in the finals of the Iolani. It was a close game, and Oak Hill is a monster team, so there's no disgrace there. By the way, you can see a matchup of the Oak Hill v. Dominguez game here in SoCal at the 5th Annual Nike Extravaganza at the Pyramid at Long Beach State on February 5, 2000, and that's a game you won't want to miss.
|7:30 p.m.||West Gym||#3 Long Beach Poly v. South Gate||Game No. 9|
3. Long Beach Poly: Coach Ron Palmer's team is not nationally ranked by major media outlets this year, but what do they know? They're about to find out that Poly is not only back, they never went away. Poly [note: the link takes you to our earlier preseason preview] returns most of last year's roster from a team that played in the Southern Section CIF Division I-AA Championship game against Artesia, and this will be again one of the top teams in the State. The Jackrabbits feature some of the best guard play in the country, including top NCAA Division I prospect and Missouri-signee Wesley Stokes (5'-10" Sr. PG) who has, in the intervening time since last year's Best in the West, taken his game, his shot, and his deadly crossover to new heights, and this speedster is one of the premier point guards in the senior class on the West Coast. Joining Stokes the backcourt are some of the quickest players in SoCal, including A.J. Diggs (5'-10" Sr. PG), Adrian Martin (5'-9" Sr. PG/SG), Ramaan Shotwell (5'-10" Sr. SG/PG), Tim Thomas (5'-10" Sr. G) and sophomore sensation Carlos Rivers (5'-10" So. PG) who has been ranked by some as among the top three rising point guards in SoCal. Poly also features several big men in the middle with Joe Travis (6'-8" Sr. F/C), who is getting a lot of D-I attention, Charles Jones (6'-5" Sr. F/C), Mercedes Lewis (6'-7" So. F), Ryan Love (6'-5" So. F), and Reggie Butler (6'-5" So. F). But it doesn't stop there, as the Jackrabbits have more slashers, shooters and scorers in guys like Lonnel Penman (6'-3" Sr. SG/SF), Markee White (6'-4" Jr. SF/SG), Pat Phillips 6'-0" Jr. SG/SF) and, if he's healthy, pure shooter and rebounding specialist Jonathan Harper (6'-4" Jr. SG/SF). [Since writing this, Poly has competed at the BCW "Battle of Central Cal" Tournament, where they had mixed results, but after the football season ended --with Poly and Mater Dei tied for the CIF Division I football title-- Poly got back most of it's roster, and with a healthy and strong contingent, Poly just won the Millenium Cup Tournament division at the Las Vegas Reebok Holiday Prep Classic, so this is a team which is just beginning to reassert itself and hit their stride so that they'll be ready to challenge just about anyone].
|4:25 p.m.||West Gym||Millikan v. #4 Clovis West||Game No. 8|
No. 4 Clovis West: Many argue that this Clovis West team could be the most under-appreciated team in all of West Coast high school hoopsl. So what have they done lately? Oh, not much. Just shock Dominugez and Ayala in the same day, beating both in overtime, and go on to win the Championship of Buchanan-Clovis West "Battle of Central California" earlier this month (which likewise featured many of the top teams in the State of California). Clovis, a Division I team from the Central CIF Section, did much the same thing last year when they upset top-rated Washington Union with Kansas-signee DeShawn Stevenson (6'-5" Sr. SG/SF). Who are these guys? Golden Eagles' coach Coach Vance Wallberg, their head coach, will likely tell you they're just a bunch of "regular student-athletes", very good players indeed, but just a bunch of regular kids. Bu that is being too modest. Clovis West is traditionally the top D-I schol in the Central Valley and one of the top D-I schools in the State, year in and year out. And this year they've got two bona fide stars who are having breakout seasons: Chris Hernandez (6'2" Jr. PG), and Charlie Rodriguez (6'-7" So. PF). Hernandez is a tough, aggressively smart player (he's got a 4.0+ GPA), a pure competitor who is quickly becoming one of the most coveted college prospects in the talented class of 2001. Rodriguez is also hugely talented, just a sophomore, a powerful and mobile scoring big man who can be a monster in the paint, but who is also capable of stepping out hitting the nice jumper from the short corner. In the backcourt will also be Greg Warren (5'-9" Jr. PG), a speedy lefty who loves to go to the hole, and any number of other guys, including Tyrone Jackson (6'-1" Jr.G), Eric Norcross (6'-5" Sr. G). Steve Ried 5'-10" Jr. G), Danny Parker (5'-8" Jr. G) and Jason Walberg (5'-11" Jr. SG), probably the best pure shooter on this team against a zone. Andrew Awad (6'-4" Sr. SG), Steve Myles (5'-9" Sr. G) and Chris Bates (5'-11" Jr. G) will also see time. At the forward spots, look for Anthony Aiello (6'-4" Sr. F), Nick Debban (6'-3" Sr. SG/SF), Mike Endler (6'-2" Jr. F) and Matt Avedikian (6'-2" Sr. F). Backing up Rodriguez will most likely be Ryan Lucchesi (6'-5" Sr. F)and Nick Cazier (6'-6" Sr. C). [ Note, Clovis West cracked the USA Today Top 25 National rankings this past week, and they are now ranked No. 18, and after this tournament, we wouldn't be surprised to see them go even higher.]
|11:45 a.m.||West Gym||#5 Long Beach Jordan v. Morningside||Game No. 5|
No. 5. Long Beach Jordan: Currently rated by SoCalHoops, Fullcourt Press and Cal-Hi Sports as one of the top teams in the State, No. 5 seed Jordan figures to be a big factor in this tournament. The Panthers feature one of the hottest top college prospects, unsigned Travon Bryant (6'-8" Sr. PF) who has already taken visits to and is likely to choose from among Cal, Missouri, Kansas, and Kentucky, but who is also rumored to be considering Duke. Travon is a fluid and steady presence in the paint, a big man with mobility who can also hit the jumper out to three point range or jam above the rim. But the Panthers are more than just Travon, and with their balanced attack, will be a potential D-IAA CIF finalist again this season. They ended last season at 18-6, ranked No. 4 in region in the SCIBCA Poll, wound up as a Southern Section semifinalist, losing only to Artesia, the eventual SS-CIF champs. In addition to Travon, the Panthers feature some quick guard play from Alshawn Rodgers (6'-1" Sr. SG), Jonathon Holly (5'-8" Sr. PF), Nick Tamarao (5'-11" Sr. G), Keith Rogers (5'-8" Jr. G), and .Anthony Massey (5'-10" Jr. PG/SG), and they've got good shooting and scoring from juniors Rashawn Childs (6'-3" Jr. SG) and Ron Banks (6'-2" Jr. SG). Out on the wings, Jordan has some very athletic slashers who can get to the rim, including the high-scoring Donald Williams (6'-2" Jr. SG), newcomers Clay Salima (6'-4" Jr. SF/PF) Donte Cottrell (6'-1" Jr. G), and returnee Kendall Lucas (6'-4" Sr. SF). Look for Jordan to make some noise. [Jordan has had mixed results at the several tournaments they've participated in thus far, and they finished 5th in the Gold Cup Tournament at the Reebok Holiday Classic, far down from where they wanted to be on the last day of the tournament. Other than Travon and Rashawn, and Alshawn, this is a relatively young team that is just learning to play together. Anything could and probably will happen with them.]
|1:05 p.m.||East Gym||Lakewood v. #6 St. Ignatius||Game No. 12|
No. 6. San Francisco St. Ignatius: St. Ignatius lost All-American Luke Whitehead to well regarded prep school and perennial national power Oak Hill Academy (currently ranked No. 1 by USA Today--[Note, they've been dropped to No. 4 given their early season loss to No. 3 Westinghouse from Chicago]), and as a result, the WCAL champs from the Bay Area, who finished with a 30-3 record last season, are a big mystery to most people this season. But they return some excellent players, and many say that they will be even better this year than last. And it all starts with one of the best coaches in high school basketball, Don Lippi. If you haven't seen Don coach a game, by all means go watch him because you're in for a treat. With Lippi's amazing style of coaching, St. Ignatius last December stunned the Las Vegas Reebok Holiday Prep Classic crowd with a huge upset win over Compton Dominguez, which at the time was ranked as the No. 2 team the country by USA Today, right behind Oak Hill. This year, St. Ignatius returns slasher Kareem Guilbeaux (6'-3" Sr. F), Matt Conti (6'-4" Jr. F), and several other solid players like point guards Charles Apah (5'-9" Jr. PG), Eric Strain (5'-10" So. PG), Christopher Waters (5'-10" Jr. PG), some excellent combo guards such as Dave McMonigle (6'-0" Sr.PG/SG), Lawrence Metz (6'-1" Jr. SG/PG), and Robert Young (5''-10" So. PG/SG). Up front, SI features big men Igor Olshansky (6'-7" Sr. C) and Victory Reynolds (6'-7" Sr. C) along with power forwards Parker Berling (6'-4" So. F), Aaron Hines (6'-5" Jr. F), and top shooter Steve Blake (6'-2" Jr. F).
|2:55 p.m.||West Gym||#7 Compton Centennial v. Wilson||Game No. 13|
No. 7. Compton Centennial: Even without Omar Weaver (6'-7" Sr. SG/SF) who recently returned to his native Washington, D.C., the Coach Rod Palmer's Centennial Apaches are a team that will make a lot of people in the newly combined SS-CIF Division III very unhappy this season, and they figure to challenge for a State Title in March. The team features several top college prospects, including Ellis Myles (6'-8" Sr. PF), a transfer from Compton. Ellis is a talented and skillful big man who is especially effective scoring off the blocks, a monster rebounder, who is considering San Diego State, New Mexico, and others top D-I programs. Jamaal Barnes (6'-4" Jr. SG/SF), another Compton transfer is an excellent shooter and a smart, savvy defender, who will be joined in the backcourt by Eric Alvarez (5'-10" Sr. G), a transfer from Palisades who has become the team's natural leader. Anthony Coleman (6'-'10" Sr. F), a transfer from West Torrance, is a wiry, lanky shotblocker, who will utilize his excellent leaping ability and long arms to reject anything thrown his way. Only two players actually return from last season, Donny Joubert (6'-2" Sr. G/F) a quick and tough defender and Gregory Goodin (6'-2" Sr. G) a slasher who is quick to the basket. Eric Ratleff (6'-0" Jr. G) has an excellent handle; Jonathan Smith (5'-8" So. PG), a Lynwood transfer is lightning quick, as are Cornell Blackston (6'-5" Sr. SG/PG), Jarmaar Sloan (5'-9" So. PG), Kellen Buffington (5'-11" Sr. PG/SG), and Deion Davis (6'-4" Sr. SG/SF). Up front, besides Ellis and Coleman, will be Sterling Byrd (6'-5" So. F), a young transfer from Compton HS with good post moves and a nice touch around the basket. Dee Kaur (6'-9" Sr. F), from Mississippi, is another thin, lanky rebounder and at 6'-9" he provides a huge presence in the paint with his long arms.
|5:45 p.m.||East Gym||Hanford v. #8 Bishop Montgomery||4|
No.8 Bishop Montgomery: Coach Doug Mitchell returns one of the State's top teams in Division III. The Bishop Montgomery Knights are led by two of the most outstanding junior guard prospects, twins Errick Craven (6'-2" Jr. SG/PG) and Derrick Craven (6'-2" Jr. PG/SG). Both of the Craven twins are high-major prospects, extremely athletic, with long arms and incredible rebounding skills, and an incredibly instinctive way of getting to the basket and finishing. They're deadly on the floor and just somehow find a way to score, whether it's shaking, baking, and driving, using their blindingly quick speed and amazing crossovers, or pulling up for the perimeter jumper, somehow they just go out and score. They're both All-CIF and All-State candidates again this year, as are several of the other top guards at Bishop Montgomery: DeVaughn Peace (6'-3" Jr. PG/SG) is an excellent ballhandler, quickfooted, an exceptional athlete; Kenny D'Oyen (5'-7" So. PG), is deceptively quick and strong, an excellent passer who is nicknamed the by the team, the "Energizer Bunny." They've got great shooting with guys like Leland Dodd (6'-2" Jr. SG) who is just discovering how good he can really be. Ian Salisbury (6'-0" Sr. G) and Daniel Fynaardt (6'-1" Sr. G), two athletic shooters with good handles who play tough pressure defense will also see time in the backcourt. Up front, Brian Pruitt (6'-6" Sr. PF/C) will provide a huge atheltic presence with good quickness and tremendous strength, while Craig Caldwell (6'-2" Jr. F) will provide interior defense and rebounding, as will Gavin Lee (6'-3" So. F). Lastly, the Knights will also look to Fred Washington (6'-3" Fr. SG/SF) a young but very talented wing guard, for some big scoring and slashing to the hole. That's a lot of talent for one team. [Note, since this was written, Bishop Montgomery has finished second at the Pacific Shores Tournament and they won the "Brown" regional of the LaCanada Tournament, just demolishing Moorpark last Thursday night. We attended that game along with Dana Pump and Dinos Trigonis (now that was quite a pairing. . . and no we didn't all drive together), and to say that the Cravens are scary, really scary is an understatement. Other than the twins, the team doesn't have a lot of "stars" but they are truly star quality, and if Clovis West is nationally ranked, well, these guys get our vote to be included on anyone's top 25 list. Unfortunately it doesn't look like we'll get to see a Bishop Montgomery v. Clovis West matchup unless Bishop beats host and No. 1 seed Artesia, but it could happen. . . look at what Verbum Dei did last year. . . . now there's something Wayne would rather not think about. Anyway, these guys are truly frightening and whoever gets them (Hanford) in the first round should be very, very afraid. We know it's not popular to think about ranking small, division III teams but it's happened before. . . remember a couple of twins who used to play for Harvard-Westlake? Those guys won the 1996 version of the Best in the West. Twins again. . . hmm.]
Next up: The rest of the profiles for the unseeded teams, so check back soon.
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