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SoCal Prep & High School Preview

Coach Kanemura's Van Nuys Varsity--(October 29, 1997)

"I work with what comes in the door. A kid makes a choice to get an education or not; if he wants to get one at a top magnet program, I'll help him accomplish that."--Kevin Kanemura

Kevin Kanemura is a young, bright, enthusiastic and energetic coach. This will be his 4th season at Van Nuys as the Varsity coach. He was the assistant coach at Kennedy for six years before that. He's a graduate of CSUN. When I asked him if he played basketball at CSUN, he laughed, acknowledging that he wasn't that talented: "What do they say about those who can't play? That they become coaches?" Kanemura quipped. To which I replied, "Well, I guess that's why I'm writing about coaches then."

It's true that Kanemura works with what comes through the door. Because of open enrollment at other schools, and also in part because of the strength of the magnet program at Van Nuys and the limited enrollment there (they have refused to go to a year round program), Van Nuys has had to turn away some talented kids, sending them to Birmingham, Canoga or Reseda. So Van Nuys certainly doesn't get the talent pool of, say Crenshaw (but then who does?). Nevertheless, Van Nuys still holds an open tryout for anyone who wants to play. This year, according to Kanemura, more than 150 kids tried out, and he's got the list down to about 14 or 15 this year. The roster, in no particular order, and without reference to starting and bench players is:

Jesse Keane (6'-0" Sr. F)
Tristan Santos (5'-8" Sr. G)
Gary Long (6'-3" Sr. F)
Abe Morabbi (6'-2" Jr. PG/SG/F/C)
Phillip Truong (5'-7" Jr. G)
Rocky Daniels (5'-10" Jr. G)
Kay Nava (6'-3" Jr. F)
Josh Brody (6'-5" Jr. F/C)
Marjune Bagadiong (5'-8" Sr. G)
Klein Buen (5'-8" Sr. PG)
David Gharakhanian (5'-9" Sr. SG)
Greg Jackson (6'-1" Sr. F)
Jatin Mehta (5'-10" Jr. SG)
Jason Jones (6'-3" Jr. PF/C 280lb.)

This is not a big team. In fact, Kanemura is looking forward to re-establishing the Paul Westhead LMU "fast-break" offense again. And he'll need to do that if he hopes to have success this year. Van Nuys was a very tall team last year, and did pretty well in the playoffs. But last year Van Nuys could count on dropping the ball into the post to 6'-7" George Gurrolla, who will be playing this year at Whittier College. Van Nuys also lost another big man in the off-season when 6'-5" Soph forward/center Joseph Dural transferred to Verdugo Hills to be closer to home.

Even with the loss of height, this is a team which should do well, and at least have a lot of fun trying, since the talent is there for them to avoid struggling this year. Only three player return from last season: Keane will be the spark of this team, and Kanemura is hoping for good things from him. He's got good foot speed, is a hard worker, but will need to improve his defense. Santos, another returning varsity letterman, will need to see more minutes this year, since his time was pretty negligible last year. He can shoot the 3 pretty consistently, but really didn't get the time last year to show what he can do. The other returning player from last year, Gary Long, could be the most talented from a pure athletic point of view; he's also got the most experience among the three returnees, and Kanemura will look to him to be a team leader.

If Kanemura is "high" on a player, it's Abe Morabbi, whom he described as "extremely versatile". He's very bright, and can adjust to very quick changes in tempo and different roles, and thus Kanemura believes that he's really capable of matching up in almost any position, including in the middle. He's got very good fundamental skills, and has shown that he's aggressive. While he may be the first player off the bench, he's certainly in line for a starting spot on this team.

Kay Nava at 6'-3" and Josh Brody at 6'-5" will be the inside guys for Kanemura. Both are up from the JV last year, and both have good court sense and skills, but will need more playing time to become accustomed to playing against tougher varsity competition. Brody in particular will need to toughen up inside, and work on his footwork to improve his game. I've been watching Brody for years now (especially in Park & Rec. ball, which is no real breeding ground), and the progress he's been making is significant. He's got a nice outside J, and in general is a great kid with a good attitude. Kanemura agreed with this assessment, and believes that if he can improve strength-wise, he could be a significant contributor and become more than a role player. Jason Jones will also step in to help in the middle, but he's really more of a football player, and he'll need to shed a few of his 285 lb.'s in order to get up and down the court in a fast break offense and transition defense.

Phillip Truong and Rocky Daniels will both assist at the guard spots. Daniels is more of a shooter than Truong, and both have pretty decent handles, although Kanemura believes they are both better catch and shoot players. Jatin Mehta is another guard who is an excellent athlete, but who needs to develop a more aggressive presence on the floor.

Greg Jackson is a very athletic player, and David Gharakhanian, at 5'-9" is a three point specialist who will probably see some time at the 2. Klein Buen will most likely back up at the point.

Kanemura was excited but realistic about the season. He's certainly not overly-optimistic, but believes that his guys have as good a chance as any team this year in City Section at their level. He's looking forward to playing in the Chaminade Christmas tournament which Jeff Young arranges every year, so if you want to get a look at a running team, that will be a great opportunity. It will also be a great time to see if Chaminade can give Simi Valley (also reportedly coming to the tournament) a run for its money.

Like most high school coaches, Kanemura is really a teacher first, and a coach second. We spent a great deal of time talking about education, sports, and kids. Mostly he cares about education, building character, and teaching his players about life. He's realist enough to know that most of his kids won't ever play D-I ball; but them maybe some will. As he acknowledged, "You never know where talent will come from. That's why I only work with what comes through the door."

The Swish Award

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