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SoCalHoops High School News

High School Team Preview:
Centennial (Compton)--(Oct. 19, 1999)

"I think we're going to be very good this season, and definitely within the top 10 teams in CIF overall."--Rod Palmer, Head Coach, Centennial High School.

We finally managed to catch up with some of our work on high school team profiles, and that of course had to include a chat with Rod Palmer, the new athletic director and head coach at Compton Centennial HS.  To those who follow high school hoops in SoCal, Rod is no stranger:  Although he's in his first first year of coaching at Centennial, he is in his 7th season overall as a head coach, and he spent six seasons at Compton High School, where his teams won 2 league titles, and went to the Southern Section finals once, the semifinals twice and once to the State Regional Tournament.  Rod is now 32 years old, and in addition to moving over from Compton High himself, he'll be joined by former Compton assistants Gary Miles, George Borthwell and Jamaal Borthwell.   Another former Compton assistant, Will Thompson, will now be coaching at Lynwood.

While a State Title eluded Rod at Compton, which played in Division II-AA (against teams like Santa Margarita, Dominguez, Gahr, Garey, Sonora, Cathedral City, Newport Harbor, Rancho Verde,  Trabuco Hills, Brea Olinda, Buena Park, Tustin,   Pasadena, Foothill, Redondo Union, and Paso Robles. . . in short, a lot of top teams in the State), but this year, if there's a team that can touch Centennial in Division IV-AA, we want to know who it is.  Really, we just don't see another team in Division IV even coming close to the depth, the talent and the strengths that this team has, and that includes any of the traditional D-IV "favorites" such as Crossroads, Serra, Twentynine Palms, Verbum Dei, Paraclete, Crespi, Carpinteria, Laguna Beach, St. Paul, Marshall, or any of the other teams that finished well into the playoffs in either of the two D-IV divisions (A and AA).

While the departure of Rod and his staff from Compton has meant that the program there will be in a complete state of flux, as it was last year at the end of the season when 7 players were declared academically ineligible immediately before the start of playoffs (among the seven was Compton's top point guard prospect Tito Maddox (6'-4" PG) who has since enrolled at Fresno State as a Prop. 48 casualty), that same departure has also meant the rise of the Centennial program, including an influx of almost all new players.   In fact, Rod views this "newness" as one of the only potential weaknesses of this year's team. "If we have a weak spot at all, it's that there are so many new faces who will be learning to play together,"  Rod told us.  "I don't think we have very many weaknesses, especially for a team at the level of our division, but leadership on the floor might be one, given the fact that there are only two returning players from last year's Centennial team," Rod said.

This is a physically dominating team, with tough, physical and athletic talent.   Here's who's on the roster:

Omar Weaver 6'-7" Sr. SG
Ellis Myles 6'-8" Sr. PF
Gregory Goodin 6'-0" Sr. PG/SG
Jamaal Barnes 6'-2" Jr. SG
Eric Alvarez 5'-11" Sr. PG
Anthony Coleman 6'-9" Sr. F
Donny Joubert 6'-0" Sr. F
Jonathan Smith 5'-10" So. PG
Cornell Blackston 6'-4" Sr. PG/SG
Sterling Byrd 6'-4" So. F
Jarmaar Sloan 5'-10" So. G
Dee Kaur 6'-8" Sr. F
Kellen Buffington 6'-0" sr. G
Deion Davis 6'-4" Sr. SG/PG
Eric Ratleff 6'-2" Jr.SG

The likely starters on this team are Omar, Ellis, Jamaal, Eric Alvarez, and Anthony Coleman. As for any speculation that Omar might not have any remaining high school eligibility, Rod simply said, "nonsense."  He says that Weaver will definitely play and will be a starter, "no question about it."  Omar is a legitimate, high D-I player, perhaps the most visible of any of the high D-I players in Compton this year, and his arrival on the West Coast from his native Washington D.C. was much touted, and by and large, Omar has more than lived up to all the advance publicity and hype.  He's a great shooter, with an imposing physical presence, who has tremendously good speed.  He's shown greatly improved ball-handling skills from when we first saw him this summer, and he's especially potent on the fast break, a tremendous athlete who can and does play above the rim and finishes.   Rod also believes that he's a vastly underrated defender with long arms and the ability to be an excellent rebounder and shot blocker.  Right now, Missouri, Alabama, Georgetown and Kansas State are the favorites for this top wing player.  Omar will be joined by Ellis Myles, whom many describe as an "old school" type of player. Ellis generally plays below the rim, although when motivated he can certainly get up and jam above the hoop.  He's talented, very skilled and especially effective in the blocks, and is one of the leading rebounders, both offensively and defensively in this year's senior class. Right now, Ellis is probably being a bit underrecruited, and that's probably because he has some people wondering whether he'll qualify, but as a transfer from Compton, he was not one of the 7 declared ineligible, and while we haven't seen his transcripts, believe that he'll be a full qualifier.  Right now, San Diego State and New Mexico appear to be the leaders for Ellis.

Jamaal Barnes is also likely to start.  He's another transfer from Compton, and is an excellent shooter, a smart, very savvy defender, and he might, according to Rod, be one of the best pure basketball players on the team. While his starting spot is by no means locked up, he's a likely starter. At the point, there's little doubt that Eric Alvarez will get the nod as the starter.  He's a very tough player, who gives 100% the whole game, plays very hard and pushes everyone around him.  Rod calls him a "natural leader" and he's probably right.  Eric is a transfer from Palisades with excellent point skills, who sometimes shows a tendency to over-dribble a bit, but who has good court vision and a good handle, and best of all, he can run the offense.  He's getting some looks from USF and Cal Poly SLO, and he'll wait to sign until the spring.   Anthony Coleman, a transfer from West Torrance, is a thin, lanky shot-blocker who will also probably get the nod at the 4/5 combo spot.  He's a good jumper and has a pretty good shot, and he might also play the three some since he's got an excellent jumper and will knock down every 15'-17'  shot in sight.  He's a great rebounder and shot-blocker too, with very long arms. 

As noted, there are only two returning players on this team, Donny Joubert, and Gregory Goodin. Greg is a slasher, quick, a very good jumper,  and with excellent grades would make a great D-II player, but he might also have the potential to play low to mid D-I.  Joubert is one of the hardest working players on the team, and he'll defend anyone, and while he doesn't have tremendous speed, he has great anticipation. Eric Ratleff was a student at Centennial last year, but didn't play varsity.   He's the brother of Everett Ratleff, who himself was D-I player at Long Beach State and a standout high school player at Long Beach Jordan.  Rod has only recently started to notice Eric, who has been working out with team; he says he's got a great handle,  understands the games, knows how to set screens, has good fundamentals and shoots the ball well.

Among other players who are new to the team, Jonathan Smith is a young point guard who reminds Palmer of a "young Deandre Moore."  He's lightning quick, and has a great handle, makes good decisions, but is still young.   Smith is a transfer from Lynwood.  Cornell Blackston, another player who was at Centennial last year but didn't play, is a very good ball handler and will back up at the point position and possibly cover the shooting guard spot as well. He's really a very complete player according to Rod, a good leaper, a good rebounder, and with his size he can get open looks and knock down the jumper regularly. Also in the backcourt is Jarmaar Sloan, another of the young guards who followed Rod over from Compton.  "He's very confident, makes excellent decisions" said Rod, and will definitely get his share of minutes this season. Several other guards will make contributions to this team, including Kellen Buffington, a JV player from last year's Centennial team, who is a great shooter (and a 4.0 student), and Deion Davis, another combo guard whom Rod described as "similar to Blackston".  Davis is another of the transfer students, from West Torrance.

At the forward spots, in addition to Ellis, look for Sterling Byrd, another transfer from Compton, who is a young guy with good post moves, pretty raw, but with a nice touch out to `15'.  We'd also expect to see Dee Kaur (pronounced "Kur") who is a thin, lanky rebounder, weighing perhaps 195 but standing 6'-8, whom Rod describes as "always around the ball."  He's a great rebounder with long arms, and is getting a few looks from eastern schools, notably Old Dominion, and Rutgers.  Dee is a transfer from Mississippi.

Again, this is an entirely new team, and there are no returning seniors.  Centennial finished fourth in the crowded Bay League last year and missed the playoffs by one game.  We don't think that's going to happen this year, and neither does Rod. He views the strengths of this team as it's size,  it's tremendous individual talent, and their coachability. "I hope we can take all that talent and turn it into an overall cohesive unit, and utilize our great shooting to our advantage," Rod said.  "Of course one of the difficulties we'll have is that we are not very experienced in playing as a team, and there are so many new faces.   But we'll get past that and I think we'll be very successful." 

Centennial has a tough league, perhaps one of the toughest in the State, but from Rod's point of view, that's one of the strengths of this team. "I always try to play the best teams we can, because it's the only way to really test yourself and get stronger"  There will be no shortage of tough games.   Other than three tournaments, there will be no non-league games.  Centennial will start out at the Ocean View Tournament of Champions from December 4-11 (some teams will not start until the 6th), then from December 20-23 they'll be in San Luis Obispo at the Rim Rattler Holiday Invitational Tournament, and finally, from December 27-30 they'll be at the Artesia-hosted Best in the West at Long Beach State. 

As far as league play is concerned, Rod says "Redondo is the  favorite right now in league; I think they are the team to beat.  But Inglewood, Peninsula, Santa Monica, North and South Torrance and Mira Costa, any of them could be very tough.  This is going to be a very hard league. Hopefully, we'll do well."  There are several top teams, including Redondo with Andrew and Adam Zahn, Santa Monica with their great guards including Jacoby Atako, and Inglewood and Peninsula are always tough; Mira Costa is pretty much an unknown this season, but Glenn Marx always somehow manages to pull together a great team, and the two Torrance schools always compete.  

Asked to name his Preseason "Top 10" Rod listed Artesia, Dominguez, Mater Dei, Compton Centennial, Poly, Redondo, Mayfair, Jordan, Santa Margarita, saying about the latter team, "Thank god we don't have to no play them again this year.  Enough is enough,"   alluding to Compton's defeats at the hands of Santa Margarita two year ago when SM knocked off Compton and won the State Title in D-II.

While Rod and Etop Udo-Ema will again host the Compton TipOff Classic this year, Centennial will not be among the participants due to the CIF 20-game limit.  This year, the Tip Off Classic will be held on November 29, again at Long Beach City College, and it will feature LB Jordan, Pasadena, Ayala, Serra, Perris, The Bishops School (LaJolla) and two other teams yet to be determined.

Rod also faxed us a schedule for the season, and here's what it looks like:

Day Date Opponent Site Time
Sat-Sat Dec. 4-11 Ocean View Tournament Of Champions Ocean View TBA
Mon-Thurs Dec. 20-23 Rim Rattler Holiday Invitational SLO TBA
Mon-Thurs Dec. 27-30 Best in the West Invitational CSULB TBA
    Bay League--First Round    
Wed Jan 5 Inglewood Inglewood 7:30 p.m.
Fri Jan 7 South Torrance Centennial 7:30 p.m.
Sat Jan 8 Redondo Compton College 7:30 p.m.
Mon Jan 10 Santa Monica Santa Monica 7:30 p.m.
Fri Jan 14 Peninsula Centennial 7:30 p.m.
Wed Jan 19 North Torrance Centennial 7:30 p.m.
Fri Jan 21 Morningside Morningside 7:30 p.m
    Bay League--Second Round    
Wed Jan 26 Inglewood Centennial 7:30 p.m
Fri Jan 28 South Torrance South Torrance 7:30 p.m
Mon Jan 31 Santa Monica Centennial 7:30 p.m
Wed Feb 2 Redondo Redondo 7:30 p.m
Fri Feb 4 Peninsula Peninsula 7:30 p.m
Tue Feb 8 North Torrance North Torrance 5:00 p.m.
Thurs. Feb. 10 Morningside Centennial 7:30 p.m

Centennial could be one of the most talented teams in their division this year, possibly in any division. We're looking for them to make a deep run in the playoffs, and possibly to make a serious attempt at a State Title.  How well they'll do is something only time will tell.  We'll be watching.

 The Swish Award
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