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SoCalHoops High School News

High School Team Preview:
Heritage Christian HS--(Dec. 7, 1999)

"We could be the best small school in Orange County this year."-- Mark Berokoff, Head Coach, Heritage Christian HS

Heritage Christian, aka "Eastside Christian"   is a small D-VA school located in Orange County, specifically in Anaheim.  The school has a current enrollment of about 110, which puts it in the smallest of the small school divisions for playoff purposes.  The school competes in the Express League against Liberty Christian, La Verne Lutheran, New Roads, Pioneer Baptist, Rolling Hills Prep, and Southlands Christian.  As a seven team league, they are assured of four playoff spots, and we're betting that they get one of those spots for certain.  Even with a rocky start to the preseason in a couple of tournaments, where the Patriots have stumbled against bigger schools (e.g., losing close ones to El Segundo, Brethren Christian, picking up an easy win over Southern California Christian, and a loss to St. Bernard all in the Brethren Christian Tournament this past week, for an overall record of 1-3), they've still got to be considered one of the best teams in D-VA in Southern Section. At least that's the opinion of the Patriots' coach, Mark Berokoff, who is currently in his third year at the helm.

Berokoff has been described by many as the youngest coach of a high school team in all of Orange County.   He's only 25 years old.   Prior to joining Heritage, he coached the Sophomore team at Sonora High, where his brother and current Aztec Jeffrey Berokoff played two years ago on on the varsity. Mark was also a small college player himself, a college All-American. He's married, and he and his wife Staci spend great amounts of time following the game, watching kids play and coaching.  Mark coaches year round; when he's not coaching the school team, he's become an integral part of the Rockfish, coaching their II's (the Orcas) on the road and coaching several of the Rockfish Spring League teams.  You can often find him spending all day Saturday and Sunday, from dawn until close to midnight, working at the LACC gym or wherever players are playing. Mark does have ambitions to coach at the college level, something he makes no secret about.  "I'd ultimately like to move up to NCAA D-I coaching,  and I'm willing to put in the time and effort that it takes to get there.  But for now," Mark told us, "I'm committed to these guys on this team and to the school."

Notwithstanding some of the early season losses, Berokoff remains optimistic. "We're loaded.  I'm just absolutely shocked at how good we are for a D-VA team.  We have at least two Division I caliber players this year.   We played in both the Fullerton and Ocean View fall leagues, and did very well, which was a surprise to me, especially considering that we were playing Division I-A and I-AA teams.  These were much bigger opponents and we were holding our own."   Last year the team finished 16-10 and won the league.  This year, they've picked up a couple of really big transfers, and if they can get the chemistry to work, they should do even better. "I think we're good enough, talent wise, to contend for a Southern Section title," Berokoff told us. He also told the Orange County Register in their preview edition:  "This is one of the top three small schools in Southern California. I expect huge things from them."

So who are the Patriots this season?  Here's a look at the roster:

Shawn Lee   5'-10" Sr. SG/PG
Eric Suh   6'-0" Sr. SG
David Grace   6'-4" So. SG
Ryan Meyer   5'-10" Sr. PG
Todd Warner   6'-2" Sr. F
Jason Grier   6'-2" Sr. SG/PG
Michael Sumrall   6'-2" Sr. F
Bryant Lopez   5'-8" Fr. G
Matt Winter   6'-3" Sr. SG/PG
Matt Williams   6'-6" Sr. C
Andrei Villanueva   6'-2" Sr. C

This is a team which will probably go seven or eight deep, at least initially this season.  The will likely starters will be chosen from among David Grace, Todd Warner, Jason Grier, Matt Winter, Ryan Meyer, and Matt Williams.

Ryan Meyer is listed as the school's true point guard, although Winter or Grier can and sometimes will also play the one.  Meyer is a transfer student from Kennedy in Anaheim and will certainly help. "He's got very good range from anywhere on the floor and is an excellent shooter and great passer. Meyer played for one of the Rockfish teams at the Best of Summer tournament and has some potential to be a college player if he continues to improve," said Berokoff. "He's a great floor leader, sets everyone up and has a good head for the game. He's more of a pass-first kind of guy who is learning he can also be a scorer. He's starting to effectively penetrate, pull up in the lane for the jumper or kick it out. His decisionmaking has dramatically improved."

Matt Winter, who was at Ambassador Christian last year at the start of the season, but transferred in mid year and petitioned the CIF for immediate eligibility,  is one of several combo guards this year and he's one of the better players in Orange County, which is surprising that he'd find himself at such a small school. "Other coaches have told me that they think he could be one of the best players in the County, and I agree," said Berokoff. "He's a phenomenal shooter, who has gotten really strong and was very dedicated to the weight room this past fall. He's got a very quick first step, improved ball handling and is a good three point shooter."   But the best part of his game, Berokoff says, is his defense. "He's a great offensive rebounder. I think he's definitely among the top three players in Orange County and maybe in the top 3 in Division V this year. He's  very quick first step, improved ball handling, three point shooting improved, very good defensive and offensive rebound, definite D-I prospect,  could be the best small school player in OC, top 3 in D-5. He averaged 21.7 ppg last year and I think he'll have an even better year."

Jason Grier is another of the combo guards who is likely to start, and he's probably more of a shooter than a point like Winter. "He can easily put up 20-25 a game, and he did that this fall and summer. I think Jason has a chance to be a college player at the D-I level. He's a very hard worker, who can play above the rim, with two handed and tomahawk dunks, and best of all, he can flat out shoot the ball," Berokoff told us. "He's also the best defender on the team, and has these great, long arms, and is exceptionally quick.  He's not getting any active recruiting yet, but he will," said Berokoff.

David Grace is yet another shooter on this team, another player whom Berokoff says could be a potential talent for some small D-I program somewhere.  "He's an excellent three point shooter, who also shot 80% from the line and he's still growing.  And best of all, he's only a sophomore, so he'll get better," said Berokoff.  He'll likely be the sixth man off the bench this season,but could vie for a starting spot. He's a good shot blocker and also has long arms and good quickness. 

Todd Warner, a small forward type, only needs 90 points to have scored more than 1,000 in his career. He's the school's leading all-time scorer, the school's leading three-point shooter of all time, and is a four year starter and an excellent shooter rebounder and we'd also look for him to start. 

Matt Williams will anchor the post for Heritage.  He was the second leading rebounder in all of Orange County last season with 14 rebounds per game, and is currently the school's all time leading rebounding. "But he's also becoming a scorer. He scored about 10 ppg last year and could be even bigger this year. He's gotten really strong and at 230lbs, he's got the muscle to push other people around in the paint," said Berokoff.  "He's one of the most improved players in our program."

Shawn Lee a student from Korea who is in his first year in an American school has been the big surprise for Berokoff. "He's really surprised me with his shooting ability and athleticism.  I found him in a PE class and he ended up playing with the team in the fall league. He's pretty good, and will likely be our 7th man this year." Others who will get time off the bench will be Eric Suh, a good medium range shooter who works hard in practice, Michael Sumrall, a backup post player who rebounds well and will see some minutes relieving Matt Williams at the post;  Bryant Lopez and Andrei Villanueva will also see some time.  Villanueva is a sort of wide-body, a good passer who will probably relieve Williams some as well.

The team played in the Brethren Christian tournament last week and will appear in both the Avalon Tournament next week and the Orangewood Tournament from December 27-30.

Here's the rest of their schedule:

Jan 4   @*New Roads
Jan 7   *Rolling Hills Prep
Jan 8   @*Pioneer Baptist
Jan 11   *La Verne Lutheran
Jan 14   *Southlands Christian
Jan 15   @*Liberty Christian
Jan 21   *New Roads
Jan 25   @*Rolling Hills Prep
Jan 28   *Pioneer Baptist
Feb 1   @*La Verne Lutheran
Feb 4   *Rolling Hills Prep
Feb 8   @*Heritage Christian
Feb 10 *La Verne Lutheran

Heritage is primed to have a good season, and to improve on their mark last year and contend for a Southern Section title. Whether they can pull it off is the open question, but Berokoff isn't worried. "We'll get it done on the court."  And we'll be watching.

 The Swish Award
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