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High School Preview: O.C. Freeway League
Sonora High--(November 28, 1997)

Sonora is picked by many to finish first in the Freeway League again this year. They've won the league the last six years in a row. Last season, Sonora went 26-1, was undefeated (10-0) in League play, and made it deep into the finals, defeating Garden Grove 89-49 in the first round, beating Ocean View 54-38 in the second round, winning a close one from Tustin 57-42 in the quarter finals, and losing only to eventual CIF Champions Dominguez (73-44) in the semi-finals of the CIF playoffs.

Sonora is coached by Mike Murphy, who is in his 8th season, and has compiled an impressive 193-93 won-loss record. Murphy is one of the most talented coaches in the area, and loves to play an up-tempo, pressure type of game, and is especially good with young point guards. This year, in addition to 6'-3" senior guard Jeffrey Berokoff, Murphy will be coaching Greg Vecchione, a 5'-9" senior. Murphy calls him "the most underrated point guard in the county and the best passer I have ever coached," he told the LA Times recently.

The roster includes:

Jeff Berokoff (6'-3" Sr. G)
Marqui Worthy (6'-3" Jr. G/F)
Greg Vecchione (5'-9" Sr. G)
Deric Hilliard (6'-0" Sr. G)
Matt Anderson (5'-10" Sr. G)
Gabe Garcia (5'-9" Sr. G)
Ethan Juarz (6'-0" Jr. G)
Ryan McGaflu (5'-10" Jr. G)
Andy Campbell (6'-4" Jr. C)
Jacob Fromson (6'-4" Jr. F)
Adrian Taylor (5'-10" Jr. PG)
Curtis Levine (5"-10' So. PG)

A few newspapers (including the Times and Orange County Register) and a few internet pundits are figuring that Sonora will be battling Troy for the league championship. We think instead that it will be between Sonora and La Habra, and that at least on paper, La Habra's got the size edge. Take a look closely at that roster above. There are ten guards on the roster, and only two legitimate forwards, and one forward who'll have to play center. There's no one taller than 6'-4" and there are only two of those. In contrast Troy has only two 6'-5" guys (Scott Blake and Jeff Janaitas), while La Habra has a veritable giant in Josh Fischer who is 6'-9".

But then, consider this too: It's not just height, but also the quality and skill of the players (sure, tell that to UCLA). Sonora does have Berokoff-Worthy-Levine combination. Jeffrey Berokoff, is an all-league senior who is one of the better 2 guards on the west coast. He signed early, and has sent his National Letter of Intent to San Diego State where he will be playing with David Abramowitz of University of San Diego High next year. He's a great three point shooter, and a very tough defender, who can really rattle opposing players. He had a great summer league, seemingly scoring at will.

The L.A. Times recently did a full feature on Berokoff, describing the piece of paper that he keeps in his desk drawer in his bedroom with his goals written down for this year. "I want my scoring average to be in the mid-20s," he told the Times, quoting the hand-written list. "I'm going to shoot 80% from the free-throw line and make at least 50% of my three-point shots."

Berokoff did not include making the all-county team on his list. He has learned, he told the Times, that you can't depend on others to see things the way you do. You just go out and do your thing and let the chips fall where they may. "Basically, you set your own goals and [have to] personally feel that you have accomplished them," he said to the LA Times. Last summer, Berokoff earned national attention by making the all-tournament team at the prestigious Spiece Run and Slam Classic at Purdue. But Berokoff decided to sign with the San Diego State Aztecs now, rather than wait for a better offer in the spring, because he liked that he would be playing in the new campus arena and would have the opportunity to help rebuild the program there.

About Berokoff's defense, Sonora Coach Mike Murphy told the Times, "He has a way of antagonizing an opponent. You won't talk to too many players about Jeffrey who say they like him." Berokoff is a confident player, some would say overly cocky, but he admits this, and says that it doesn't bother him. "Off the court I'm a fun-loving, gregarious guy," he told the Times reporter. "But on the court you've got to be serious. You have to take that nature and [opponents] have to be afraid of you." Those who known him say Berokoff is one of the most intense players on the floor. "He's a warrior," Mark Mayemura assistant of the LA Rockfish I traveling team for which Berokoff played this summer told the Times. Mayemura recalled last summer when Berokoff broke a finger on his shooting hand and continued to play. "This guy is tough. He's very well-rounded and plays very heady. He's very disciplined and can shoot the lights out, but he is just as effective defensively shutting down an opposing player." Mayemura compares Berokoff to a very good wide receiver in football. "He finds the lanes and runs them hard. Any area where you need brains, he overachieves," he said.

Berokoff is also quite an actor. At the end of a tight high school game last season, Murphy told the Times that Berokoff flopped to the floor untouched. The act convinced referees he had taken a charge. Sonora won the game. Murphy says he's been amazed at how hard Berokoff concentrates on creating good situations for the team. "He can fake a foul or a charge. He has funny ways of getting the attention of referees," Murphy told the Times. "He can make a referee think he has been fouled or that the other guy hit him. If I was a player he was doing this to, I would be mad, and they usually get pretty ticked off, but [his tactics] seem to work."

Whether Berokoff will be able to pull this act off this year remains to be seen, particularly if some of the refs have now read the Times article describing it. But those who know him, admire Berokoff for his energy and hustling on the court. They see him as a hard-working overachiever. "As a person he is a great guy," former teammate Ben Jones, who now plays at UC Irvine, told the Times. "He's a little different off the court than most people might think. He has a real great sense of humor and there's never a dull moment with him around."

Berokoff had a great season two years ago: He was among the county leaders in scoring, averaging 17.4 points. But to Murphy and Berokoff's way of thinking, the effort was mostly overshadowed and he was only a second-team all-county selection. Last season, his scoring average dropped below double figures, and he took a back seat to his former teammate Jones, who became a first-team all-county selection. Was he disappointed that he didn't achieve greater personal glory? Berokoff told the Times, "I was happy that we were winning, but I felt like I got lost in the crowd. I had to sacrifice myself the most of any player because I was the underclassman."

There will be tough competition for the county's top-scorer honors this season. University's Eric Palmer led the county as a junior last season, averaging 24 points and guard Duc Nyugen of Bolsa Grande averaged 20.5, and both are set to have great seasons again. But Berokoff isn't really interested in whether he scores more or less than someone on another team in a different league, playing against different competition, since it's not really any true measuring stick of whether one player is better or worse than another. Instead, as he told the Times, he'll judge himself by whether he meets the personal goals he set for himself on that slip of paper inside the desk drawer in his room.

The rest of the team will have to be similarly driven in order to repeat as League Champions over Troy or La Habra. One who will help is Marqui Worthy, a 6'-4" junior forward whom Murphy calls "very talented." He loves to play in the paint, and is a tenacious and skillful rebounder, with great vertical leaping ability (which he comes by naturally---notice the last name, Worthy?) Marqui also plays for the 4D All Stars traveling team with Eric Geffner (6'-5" So. Harvard-Westlake), and had a great summer league this year, averaging 10 assists per game. He's got great court vision, and is a good defender. Also back are guards Gabe Garcia, a 5'-9" senior who can also play small (yeah really small) forward and Matt Anderson, a 5'-10" senior guard. Garcia is very quick and has a nice perimeter shot out to about 17'. Also joining the team this year, in addition to Vecchione, who probably has the starting point job, is Curtis Levine, a 5'-10" sophomore transfer from Brea Olinda, who not surprisingly didn't expect to see much time playing behind Chris McMillian, the starting point at Brea who next year will attend Montana, or behind Kyle Dodd, a junior who will see significant time as well. Three's a crowd, so Levine will see a lot of time now and in the future at Sonora. Adrian Tyler will also joint the squad, transferring from Ayala High in the Rialto area. The remaining six players will all be vying for playing time, but will certainly provide depth and shooting.

While Sonora will probably end up taking the league again, we think that La Habra will give this guard heavy, center-less team a real run for their money. We also think that Marqui will be all-league, and that Berokoff may have the ability to be an all-CIF Southern Section selection.

The Swish Award

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