SoCal High School & Prep Preview
Crossroads High & Coach Roper--(November 5, 1997)
"Talent and fundamentals--can't beat that combination. My job is to develop fundamentals and get my kids to leave it all out on the floor. Let it out every play, every game, every day. Play hard and play good fundamental basketball."--Darryl Roper
Darryl Roper is a very successful coach. He's in his eighth season at Crossroads School, located in Santa Monica. He's accomplished (almost) everything he's set out to accomplish at this level, although he's still got a few things left to do (but he's not saying what that might be). He's probably best known as Baron Davis' former coach, but that's really not a fair moniker to lay on him. He's much more than just a one-dimensional guy, more than just someone's "former coach": He's a great student of the game, a player himself at the high school, college and European Pro level, and has developed into the type of coach who can bring out the talent necessary to help good kids become great players and better people.
He grew up in Los Angeles, where he attended and played for LAUSD's Fremont High. He credits coach Dave Yunai (now at CSULA) with being his true mentor. "Everything I learned about the game, all the fundamentals, he taught me. He's really my true mentor, both as a player and a coach."
Roper attended Cal State Fullerton, and had the opportunity to play for Bobby Dye (now GM of the Boise, Idaho CBA franchise) and as a sophomore the team went to the "Great Eight" at the NCAA Tournament. After Fullerton, Roper was an assistant at Crossroads for one season, and then left for a brief period to play international pro ball, primarily in Europe (mostly Holland), Israel, and Australia before coming back to the United States and settling in as the varsity coach at Crossroads.
He's had plenty of opportunities to go to the college and pro ranks, and he says that one day he might like to try the challenge. He says that Austin Croshere has called him about coming to the Pacers. He told me about a time a few years back when Jerry Sloan was coaching in the CBA and called Roper to ask if he wanted to be an assistant. "Who knows, maybe I'd be in Utah now," he said. "But I'm glad I stayed, because I've really enjoyed everything we've accomplished here."
And they've accomplished quite a lot at Crossroads. Last year, Crossroads, which plays in CIF Div 4A went 31-3, losing only to Crenshaw, Dominguez, and H-W, all state championship teams. His team established a CIF record, compiling the most points in any division (including Divisions 1, 2 or 3), and winning by the widest margins in the history of the CIF tournament. Last year's team was the first California team in the history of the prestigious Myrtle Beach Classic to make it to the finals, and win, and Crossroads defeated some of the best national prep powers on the way, beating such teams as Simon Gratz of Philadelphia. No team from California before Crossroads, not Crenshaw, not Harvard-Westlake, not even Jason Kidd's Alameda St.Joseph's team had made it to the finals of this tournament, even though they tried.
So what's up now that Baron's gone to UCLA? Who else is gone, and who's gonna do it this year? If this team's at a "crossroads", they're not making any turns; they'll keep on taking it straight ahead. Get it up and down the court.
Crossroads will be without E.J. Harris (6'-2" So. PG) who has transferred to Crenshaw. They'll also miss Cash Warren (6'-2" G) and Leguan Tolbert (6'-5" F/C), both of whom graduated.
So who's going to do it this year. The roster:
(6'-9" Fr. C 255 lbs.)
Felipe Williams (6'-3" Soph SG/F 190 lbs.)
Chad Gordon (6'-2" Jr. F/SG)
Devrin Anderson (6'-1" Jr. SG/SF)
Mischa Taylor (6'-5" Jr. F/PF)
Steve Johnson (6'-3" Sr. PF/C)
Adam Shimolian (6'-3" Jr. SG)
Kristofer Lofgren (6'-2" Fr. F)
Robert Cave (5'-10" Fr. PG)
Martin Usher (6'-0" Fr. G)
Daniel Utsinger (6'-1" Jr. SG)
This is still a very talented and deep team, that will be hard to beat and will probably be contending again for a State Championship. Talent and Fundamentals. Can't beat it.
Starting at Center will be Isaiah Fox. At 6'-9", Fox was probably one of the top 8th graders last year in the country, although he hasn't gotten the type of exposure that Tyson Chandler's gotten, at only 1 inch taller; while Tyson was ranked No. 1, Fox was ranked by Hoop Scoop as the No.36 incoming Freshman in the USA. Fox is very talented, extremely big, and is expected to do big things; he'll need to adjust to the new level of play that he'll see in pre-season tourneys and in post-season play, and Roper is very pleased with his progress in conditioning. He's got good footwork, nice hands, and tremendous power; Roper will be working on developing his lower body strength so that he can take proper advantage of his size in the blocks. He's used to being more of a running type of player and Roper would like to see him develop into more of a power center this year. At 255 lbs, he's got a lot of bulk to work with. We predict he'll be an even higher top prospect before the end of the year.
Felipe Williams is probably the best known player on this squad, having ranked 135th in Sophs in the USA by Hoop Scoop at the end of this last summer. He played recently for Thaddeus McGrew's Top Prospects team at the Slam-N-Jam Soph Frosh Tournament (along with E.J. Harris, Tommy Johnson (6'-4" Soph. SF Fairfax), Andre Hazel (5'-10" Soph. PG Artesia), Lou Wright (6'-5" Soph. SG Westchester) Jamaal Williams (6'-6" Fr F Centennial, Corona), Jason Morrissette (6'-4" Soph. SF Fairfax) Chad Bell (6'-9" Fr C Fullerton) and Kam Walton (6'-8" Soph F San Diego Uni)).
Felipe is an explosive player, and Roper describes him as "Dennis Rodman, type of rebounder, but not as crazy". He's a very physical player, and loves to clean the glass and muscle other players inside. He can shoot well from 15'-17', but really loves to get the ball off the boards. Roper says he'll probably play a lot more at the 2 this year, as he's the most versatile player on the team. "He can do it all", says Roper, and he'll just about ask him to do it all too.
Chad Gordon, at 6'-2" is a guard who's just beginning to come into his own. He can play the 1, 2 or 3, and is offensively minded, although he also plays great D. He's got great footwork, is a real athlete and has tremendous speed. He also runs track and has been timed at 10.3 in the 100, although the 220 is really his best event. Gordon is just a relentless player, has incredible stamina, and plays great defense and offense. He opened a few eyes this summer, and he'll only get bigger and better.
Devrin Anderson is the best defender on the team. Roper says that he's the only one who could ever defend Baron in practice. He's had more experience at the 2 and 1 spots and really would like to play the point, but Roper thinks he'll see a bit more time this year even at the 3 spot. He's also an explosive kid, who's got a great first step, and can break down the defense off the dribble.
Mischa Taylor at 6'-5" is probably the best all-around athlete on this team, and he's also a soccer and volleyball player. The soccer has given him great foot speed and footwork, and the volleyball's given him great hands. He's long, lean, shoots and attacks the basket and the boards. Look for him to start at the 4 spot.
Steve Johnson is a 16 year old Senior transfer from Montclair Prep in Van Nuys. He's very bright, and probably one of the smartest players on this team. He's also the enforcer, a real banger. Because he's a transfer player, Roper's not had a lot of opportunity to see him in game situations "He's a 6'-3" Center in a Guard's body," was how Roper described him. Johnson is bulky, strong and loves to play defense. Like all the rest of the guys on this team, he can put it up very well from the mid-range perimeter, out to about 17'. Look for him to get significant minutes laying the lumber on the inside guys.
Adam Shimolian is a junior, who, at 6'-3" and 190 was pretty impressive this summer, as was Daniel Utsinger, a 6'-1" junior who's up from the JV team this year; Utsinger is a very accurate shooter from the perimeter and will give some additional strength to the outside game. While the starting roster is a bit crowded on this team, look for both of them to make some significant contributions spelling the starters.
Not much yet to say about the freshmen on this team. Roper says that they're all products of the Crossroads lower and middle school, and they should be very comfortable playing the style of play that Crossroads likes: run, gun, fast break, and a few sets, with intense, pressure defense. "Get it up, get it down", is how Roper phrased it.
Kristofer Lofgren is a shooter, and slinky smooth; Martin Usher at 6'-0" is slated to be a guard this year, although he'll probably become a forward; Robert Cave, at point guard, has all the potential, according to Roper, to be another great Crossroads point, in the tradition of Baron Davis.
Crossroads will be playing in several tournaments this year in the preseason, including the Ayala Tournament (December 19th-23), the Rebok-Compton Kick Off Classic (Dec. 1-2, 1997) at Compton College, where they'll face Artesia at 7:45 pm (not 8:30 like the schedule says), and at the Best in the West.
At the Ayala tournament, Crossroads will open against LA Fremont, Roper's alma mater. When asked how he thinks it'll go, he said "We'll crush 'em." But of course, he then laughed. You were kidding, weren't you coach? Coach?
Roper is very proud of the type of system he's got at Crossroads, is proud of his accomplishments, and is very proud of the players he's coached and their success. You can hear it in his voice, and in the way he describes what he's done, where he's been. And he's proud of the school and the integrity of their program. "We don't go out and recruit; we can't do that, because it's wrong and just something we don't do," he said. "And we don't give scholarships away to guys whose parents can afford the the tuition just because they're big players. It wouldn't be fair to those who truly need the scholarships and are deserving of them."
We talked a bit about league play this year. Crossroads plays in the CIF Southern Section Delphic League, which features teams from Brentwood Prep, Campbell Hall, Faith Baptist, Landmark West, Pacific Hills, and Whitney. He says that traditionally league play isn't "too much fun", and for the past several years they had beaten some opponents by more than 50 points. The only exception is Brentwood, which is the only team to ever beat Crossroads in league competition, and they've only done that three times in the 8 years that Roper's been in charge. While Crossroads really shouldn't expect any serious challengers, who knows what's lurking out there for them in prepland. Josh Glass, are you listening?
Talent and fundamentals. Can't beat it. With that combination, expect to see Crossroads bring back another State Championship and a more than a few national rankings for some of their top prospects.
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