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SoCal Prep & High School Preview

Harvard Westlake and
Coach Hilliard--(November 17, 1997)

"I'm a teacher first, so I want to impart some life skills to my players as well as basketball skills."--Greg Hilliard, Harvard-Westlake

[We've already done a sort of "mini" preview of this team, but we've finally managed to connect with coach Hilliard; thus we've got some more up-to-date information, and it comes directly from him. So consider this to be the more accurate report. . . unless of course we got it wrong! :-) ]

Greg Hilliard is the varsity coach at Harvard-Westlake. The school presents an unparalleled opportunity for educators and students with its rich academic environment and it's powerhouse sports programs. The school has two separate campuses, a middle school located in the hills of Brentwood, just north of UCLA, and an upper school campus, which houses the high school, located on Coldwater Canyon, just south of Ventura Boulevard in Studio City (we don't care what anyone tells you, it's not in North Hollywood). This school is an academic institution first, and it's graduates attend virtually every major college and university, from Ivy League schools, to Pac-10 institutions. It has also become known lately as a growing athletic power. H-W basketball teams have, in the last three years, won two State Championships, and three straight CIF Championships.

Hilliard's been coaching for the last 23 years. He attended high school in Beaverton, Oregon where he also played high school basketball. After college he attended law school at Oregon's Lewis & Clark Law School. But he didn't really want to practice law--basketball was his first passion--so when the varsity basketball coaching job at Catlin-Gabel High School in Beaverton opened up, the folks there already knew he could play, and decided to give him a shot as the head coach. He stayed for 10 years, and has been at H-W for the last 13.

He's enough of a teacher to know that it would be unrealistic to burden this year's team with the expectation of duplicating the past three year's successes. "They are a very young group, and we really only have one returning starter from last year's team. It would be unfair to ask such a young team to try to win a State Championship or a CIF title," Hilliard told me. But he was quick to add that stranger things have been known to happen. "With a young, fast team, it can go either way."

Here's the roster:

Victor Munoz (6'-0" Sr. PG)
Pat Biggerstaff (6'-7" Sr. C/PF)
John Terzian (5'-11" Sr. PG/SG)
Justin Logan (5'-11" Sr. SG/SF)
Dan Kinzer (6'-7" Jr. F)
Todd Kurihawa (5'-10" Jr. PG)
Alex Minn (6'-1" Jr. SG)
Ike Udeze (6'-2" Sr. PF)
Russell Lakey (5'-11" So. PG/SG)
Eric Geffner (6'-5" So. F)
John Karavas (5'-9" So. SG)
Chad Garson (6'-4" So. SF/SG)
Anthony Naylor (6'-3" So. F)
Alex Holmes (6'-4" So. PF/C 265 lbs)

Hilliard intends to stick with his philosophy of playing up-tempo, aggressive basketball. "I like to try to dictate the pace, force the other team to come to our game, which can hopefully create some advantage for us," Hilliard said. And if the team is not as big or as experienced as last year's squad, they've certainly got the potential to be a threat to many teams, including Chaminade, which is a big team, but which might have difficulty with H-W's quickness.

Providing senior leadership on the floor will be top prospect point guard Victor Munoz, who Hilliard says has in fact now been nominated as a McDonald's All-American candidate (one of only 100 selected nationally). And there's little surprise in Munoz receiving the McDonald's nomination: He should be an All-American candidate, because he is an All-American player. He's quick off the dribble, and is a tremendous floor leader. At 6'-0" he's got good size for a point, and is going to be integral to helping this team create for the inside guys. He can pass, shoot, penetrate; in short he can do it all. Great hands, great court vision, great fundamentals.

H-W is very deep at the point this year. Backing up Munoz will be Terzian (who's also the H-W football quarterback and has a good handle, Todd Kurihawa, who's up from the JV and is very quick and strong, and new soph phenom Russell Lakey, who has a great basketball lineage (his cousin Greg Lakey is a freshman on Henry Bibby's USC team this year; his brother Chris Lakey played varsity basketball at Loyola High in 1995 & 1996--with Ryan "Moose" Bailey, and his father Fred Lakey has been a head or assistant coach for the Crenshaw Y, IAASA, VBA and Top Prospects (TPI) traveling basketball teams for the last six years, coached the 13U VBA team which placed 2nd in the AAU Nationals in 1995 and which won the 14U AAU Friendship tournament in 1996; his TPI team placed 11th this year at the 14U nationals.) Hilliard describes Lakey as "pretty amazing". He was H-W's leading scorer during the summer league, and at 5'-11" is pretty tiny. "He's about 145, dripping wet", but he's very quick, has a great handle and can shoot the three from way beyond the line. Hilliard says he's already a fundamentally sound player: "I'm just trying not to mess him up. He can already play the game."

Also in the backcourt will be Justin Logan, a very quick, strong young man, who's been working on the weights lately. "He can bench about 300 lbs", says Hilliard, which is pretty amazing for a guy who's only 5'-11", and that's why you'll also see him play some this year at the small forward spot. John Karavas, another excellent 3 point shooter will also play a lot for this team, and he performed great during the summer league and tournaments. Alex Minn, at 6'-1" will also see time at the 2 spot, and he's a great shooter who's up from the jv this year.

In the frontcourt, H-W has some pretty good size. Pat Biggerstaff is greatly improved this year. He spent the entire summer working with Jason Collins in the gym, working on his post moves, improving his footwork, rebounding and post moves, and the work has paid off. He'll be joined down low by Dan Kinzer, also 6'-7", who is very agile, has a great touch, and played well in summer league ball, and has remarkable coordination for his size. Alex Holmes, 6'-4" and 265 lbs, is a "huge space-eater", a giant of a man, who according to Hilliard "has the biggest and softest hands of any big man I've coached." He's a solid player, with great footwork, who should be a starter or at least close to it by the time the season opens.

At the 3-4 swingman/forward spots you'll see Eric Geffner (6'-5"), Chad Garson (6'-4"), Anthony Naylor (6'-3") and Ike Udeze (6'-2"). Udeze will be a deep sub, has great jumping ability and is up from the JV squad; Geffner is a much taller version of Lakey ("about 160 lbs dripping wet"), and he's got great "ball-sense". He's played for the last few years for Reinaldo Henry's "4D" All Stars traveling team, and this last summer was the MVP of the LA Mini-Maccabi Games, and wasTeam LA Maccabi's Seattle MVP averaging more than 18 ppg, 10 rebounds, and a ton of assists. He's a very agile player, who's well coordinated for his size. Hilliard describes him as having a "nose for the ball." He likes to play inside, and even if he's not the strongest player down low, is effective at tipping the ball on offensive and defensive rebounds. He will need to bulk up a bit to really become truly effective inside, but his real forte for now (at least until he puts on some weight) is his outside shot. Geffner's got a very nice J out to about the 17-20' range, and he can throw up a very high, pretty looking three-point shot.

Naylor is a terrific power player, very strong, mobile and at 6'-3" can dunk and crash the boards, with good inside moves. Chad Garson, is a three-time Maccabi Games medal-winner, who also likes to play inside and penetrate. His real specialty though is a left-handed baseline three-pointer, which is just a pleasure to watch. Garson's got good footwork, a nice touch, a good low cross-over dribble, which when combined with a quick first step is very effective on breaking down a defense. Hilliard is looking for Garson to improve his defensive play this year, and if he does, he could see significant playing time.

So in answer to the question we asked when we first reviewed this team on October 6 ("What do you do for an encore when you've just won the State CIF Championship, had most of your starters, including the deservedly-touted Collins twins, Rico Cabrera, and Ryan Smiley graduate?"), it seems the answer is, you just go out and play.

And with such a young, quick team, it can go either way.

We think it will go the right way, and that H-W will challenge for the Mission League title, and go deep into the playoffs. Or maybe they won't. They're not as deep a team as H-W has been accustomed to seeing, but we believe they'll at least go far enough so that they'll gain a few "life skills" from the experience. Coach Hilliard wouldn't have it any other way.

The Swish Award

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