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Canoga Park High School--(November 18, 1997)

"Defense wins games."--Ralph Turner, Canoga Park High School

Ralph Turner, Canoga Park's Varsity Head Coach is in his fourth year at the school. He's originally from Wisconsin, played college basketball at St.John's of Minnesota as a 1-2 guard, and when his sister moved out to California, he decided to follow. He's not sorry he did. He was the assistant coach for several years at LA Cleveland High, and then coached in the Antelope Valley for two years before coming to Canoga. He's compiled some nice results, and has never had a losing season, coming within 2 points of winning a City Final Championship. His first year, the team finished 14-10; the second year, the team finished 22-5, losing only after a double-overtime in the City Championship game to Van Nuys. Last year was not as auspicious, and after the team moved from 3A to 4A, Canoga lost in the semi-finals. Turner says the team lost its focus, and instead of concentrating on beating Kennedy High (to whom Canoga lost), the players were instead looking to get to Crenshaw. Shows what happens when you stop playing defense.

The team this year is good, quick and young, and Turner is optimistic that they should be able to sustain the type of up-tempo game which he likes to play. They will be without former standout player Carloes Harper, who graduated and is now at CSUN playing for Bobby Braswell's Matadors, who averaged 28.1 ppg (590 total points in 21 games), and will be looking to a few seniors, some juniors and soph talent, which includes some incoming transfers, to take up any slack.

The roster:

Jamie Harris (6'-6" Soph.F)
Mike Bell (6'-6" Jr. F)
Rene Casteneda (5'-7" Sr. PG)
Vlade Sandoval (6'-0" Sr. PG/SG)
Charles Harper (6'-3" Jr. SG/SF)
Nick Aguirre (6'-1" Sr. PG/SG/SF)
Andre Freeman (5'-11" So. PG/SG)
Brandon Lasley (6'-3" Fr. SG/F/PF)
Archie Ferguson (6'-0" Jr. PG/SG/SF)
Edwin Garcia (5'-9" So.F 200 lbs.)
Armand Hernandez (6'-4" Sr. C)
Akbar Zaki (6'-0" Sr. SF/PF)
Romero Mendoza (6'-0" Jr. PG)
Arthur Belgarian (6'-2" Sr. PG/SG)

This is not a real tall team, and will depend upon its guard and swingman play, to push the ball and creat havoc for other teams. The backcourt will be led by a combination of Casteneda, Freeman, Sandoval, Belgarian, Aguirre, Ferguson, and Mendoza all playing in what will probably be a three wing setup. Castenada and Freeman are likely starters, but Sandoval could start at the 2 spot and Belagarian could likely move over to forward. Castendada has a deadly 3 point shot, is a great decision-maker and an excellent leader. Vlade played the point for most of last year, but according to Turner, he was really out of position and will play the 2 guard position. While Vlade has a great handle, he's really more of a shooting threat. Castenada is a transfer from Cleveland this year, and he's adjusting to a new team very well. He likes to penetrate more than Vlade so look for him to stay at his natural position. Nick and Andre are both the steal kings, and both are great outside shooting threats. Andre's real young, but he's got the most potential of anyone on the team says Turner, but only if he continues to work hard. Andre's got a great first step and change of speed with allows him to break down the defender effectively; he's very strong, and Turner believes that by the end of the season he could be a top prospect. Turner is just as high though on Aguirre, who is a real three-point threat, who also likes to slash and cut to the basket; Nick's also got a nice turnaround J in close. Archie is also a cutter and slasher who's got a very effective 15' j. Mendoza is a similar type of player, who likes to penetrate and drive to the hole, and who is effective from mid-range, and who is capable of using a very quick first stept to break down a defense.

In the frontcourt will be Bell, Belgarian, Charles Harper, Harris, Lasley, Garcia, Zaki and Hernandez. The only true center on the team is Hernandez, who at 6'-4" might have a bit of trouble inside with some of the bigger 4A teams this year; Turner describes him as incredibly hard-working with a great attitude; he has a nice inside game so far, with an effective hook. The biggest surprise in the frontcourt will be Edwin Garcia, who at only 5'-9" but 200 lbs., likes to play inside. He's another hard worker and will see significant time this year. The big news for Canoga though, at least during the pre-season is Bell, who is being recruited by schools such as Long Beach State, UCSB, and Navy; apparently he's friends with Scott Long, but we'd bet that he'll choose another school rather than Navy. He's got a great three-point set shot with great range, and he can also go inside and penetrate, and can play the low post. Harris is another inside/outside type of player, with a good J out to about 20', but he'll need to work on his perimeter game; he's young but he'll be getting a lot of attention by the end of the season from some D-1 schools. Arthur at 6'-2" will swing between the shooting guard and small forward spots, and he's got a very nice perimeter game, a great 3 point shot and he can penetrate and finish on a fast break; he's got the best pull up J on the team.

Also at the forward spot will be Carloes Harper's "little" brother (who at 6'-3" is not so little anymore). Turner describes him as being "all over the place": He can rebound, shoot, has a nice handle, can finish coast-to-coast, has great speed, can dunk, and shoots the J out to three point range. Is there anything he needs to work on? Sure, he needs to keep working hard, and could improve defensively in order to be a complete player. Akbar will be a deep sub on the team, is a great shot from about the 17' range, and is one of the hardest working guys on the floor; his size and versatility allow him to play the 2-3-4 combo depending upon the game situation. Brandon is the "kid" on this team, and he's also one of the best shot blockers; he'll see time at the 3-4-5 spots this year as well.

So how will Canoga fare this year? Turner wouldn't even venture a guess. He described a game last year between Canoga and Birmingham in which Canoga was up by almost 20 points at the half, and then completely disappeared, losing by more than 10. This was the same team that badly defeated others in the league. Who's the competition going to come from? Probably from Grant (Gilbert Arenas), Monroe and North Hollywood (DeJon Lee, Arsen Ekimyan, Keron Wilkerson, Chinnua Wright, Jon Hicks, et.al), all of whom are in their East Valley League in the Valley Pac 8 Conference.

Canoga's season opens on Tuesday, November 25 when Canoga Park will take on Chatsworth, at Chatsworth, at 4:00 pm. Canoga will also compete this Christmas in the Nike Prep Classic in San Diego. We'll be getting the brackets and tournament details soon and will post them up for you. Canoga will also compete in the Beverly Hills Holiday Tournament, and will also be at the Simi Valley Tournament Dec. 2-6, where they'll matchup first against Santa Paula at 4:30 pm at Camarillo High.

Is Canoga capable of making a run again for a City Title, and competing against a team like Crenshaw? Sure. It's a longshot, but they can give it a shot. But only if they remember to play defense. Turner-style.

The Swish Award

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