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Article Launched: 2/17/2006 12:00 AM
This class of basketball sophomores are anything but jinxed
2008 grads expected to be one of the best to come out of the San Fernando Valley
By Sean Ceglinsky, Staff WriterInside SOCAL
It's not uncommon to find college basketball scouts from the powerhouse conferences - the Pacific-10, ACC, Big Ten, SEC and Big East - sitting in huddled masses in the corner of the gyms at Taft High of Woodland Hills or Campbell Hall of North Hollywood.
They're not always looking for someone who can help their programs immediately. In fact, the focus has been geared toward the area's underclassmen, including a superb group of sophomores that's grabbed the attention of recruiters.
Remember these names: "In basketball, you can tell at an early age if a kid has potential or not," said Sonny Vaccaro, a Calabasas resident and one of the most influential figures in amateur basketball. "There's some pretty darn good young players in the Valley, and I say that because I've seen them play. "These sophomores are challenging the seniors and holding their own. They're on the radar."
"The fun part is molding them and playing a role in their development - you don't want ruin them. These guys are true, true basketball players, students of the game. You'll see both of these guys at a big-time college, for sure."
"The 2008 class is loaded," Rutherford said. "I'd put money on our sophomore class going up against any (group of seniors) in the Valley. I like our chances of winning." "I haven't seen a class this good around here in quite some time. It's rare," said Bort Escoto, who's in his 13th year as coach at Sylmar.
Name, School, Comment
Oscar Bellfield Taft Few can match athleticism.
Justin Cook Renaissance Acad. Slasher, solid mid-range game.
Larry Drew Taft Quickest first step in area.
Joseph Fauria Crespi 6-foot-7 and growing.
Mat Hankins Sylmar Scores in bunches from long distance.
Jrue Holiday Campbell Hall Complete package, improves daily.
Lorne Jackson Simi Valley Playmaker of the future.
Ryan Merkle Harvard-Westlake Point guard, shooters' mentality.
Danilo Raicevic Montclair Prep Big man with soft touch.
Kyisean Reed Highland Unknown commodity waiting in wings.
Dallas Rutherford Hillcrest Chr./GH Makes big things look routine.
Chris Smith Burroughs Not afraid to take clutch shot.
Eric Strangis Crescenta Valley Emerging as a leader early on.
Junior Thompson Chatsworth Does the dirty work inside.
Jesse Zarate North Hollywood Jack of all trades.
Simi Valley and Royal players named to All-Marmonte League team. Alex Ponce and Curtis Marsh of Royal and Lorne Bell and Devin Kelly were named to the First Team offense unit. Honored on the First Team Defense unit were Jonathan Sanders and Jared Debo of Royal. Receiving Second Team All-Marmonte League honors were Tim Brown, Mardo Mardirossian, Thomas McCormick, and Cody Uebelhardt of Royal and TJ Washington, Bryan Randolph, and Nick Shaver of Simi Valley. Honorable mention honorees included Langston Jackson, Nick Matlas, Colin Franklin, Jack Albert and Brian Grace of Simi Valley and Michael Long, Kevin Redmond, Tony Evans, Danny Jennings, and James Callaay of Royal.
Preseason Prediction: Youth prevails:off! With 10 players from last year's team having graduated, Simi Valley High hopes several impressive sophomores can come in and fill the void by Sean Martin, Special to the Daily News
Lorne Jackson, a 6-foot-2 guard, and 6-3 forward Michael Meza were starters last season for the 23-1 junior varsity. "Lorne is a very complete player," Simi Valley coach Christian Aurand said. "I think he can make some big noise in the next couple years. He's been impressive all summer. Michael can shoot the ball, but is a threat inside as well. We are very fortunate to have them both."
Jackson and Meza have started for the Pioneers the entire summer. Langston Jackson, Lorne's twin brother, and Spencer Feist have also gotten significant playing time in the summer before their sophomore seasons. "We've got a good mix of young guys who will mix well with our returners," Aurand said.
Simi Valley will return three players: Lorne Bell, Collin Franklin and Michael Meza's older brother, Tony. Next year will be Bell's third varsity season. Franklin is a 6-foot-5 center.
Gone from last year's 22-8 team are Caise Burris, the state leader in 3-pointers, and Michael Rodgers. Both were All-CIF selections.