Two could enter tourney spotless
High school hoopla
I saw nearly every top team in Southern California in December, most of those on multiple occasions thanks to tournaments at Redondo Union (Pacific Shores), Westchester, Ocean View (Tournament of Champions) and Torrey Pines (Max Preps/Torrey Pines Holiday Classic).
I'll give you a few of the exceptions in a few moments.
The best teams I watched were (in approximate order): Taft, Dominguez, Simi Valley, Fairfax, Westchester, Santa Margarita, Campbell Hall, Compton, JSerra and Gahr.
The 10 players that impressed me the most when I watched them last month were (alphabetically) Jerime Anderson (Anaheim Canyon), Keion Bell (Pasadena), Demar DeRozan (Compton), Jordan Hamilton (Dominguez), Jrue Holiday (Campbell Hall), Lorne Jackson (Simi Valley), James Rahon (Torrey Pines), Renardo Sidney (Fairfax), Klay Thompson (Santa Margarita) and Casper Ware (Gahr).
UCLA-bound Malcolm Lee (J.W. North) and future North Carolina Tar Heel Larry Drew (Taft) certainly rate among the "10-best" players in Southern California. But neither played as well when I saw them (at the Westchester and TOC events, respectively) as I know they are capable.
Rehashing Torrey Pines
Simi Valley (which blew out Compton in a semifinal and then lost the 84-83 gut-cruncher in the final to Dominguez) and its exceptional - and unsigned by a college - point guard, Lorne Jackson, were the biggest surprises during the four days of the 16-team, National Division of the MaxPreps/Torrey Pines Holiday Classic.
Simi Valley, a member of the Marmonte League, is smallish (6-4 Michael Meza is its tallest starter). But, with Jackson quarterbacking its pressing and trapping defense and its up-tempo and back-cutting offense to perfection, Simi Valley figures to make a very deep run in the CIF Southern Section IAA playoffs.
How deep a run?
I think the Pioneers should be considered, along with Dominguez, Mater Dei and Santa Margarita, as one of the division's four strongest championship contenders.
The 6-foot Jackson is supposedly a very good student and figures to be pursued by just about every college program across the country in need of a quality point guard this spring.
As dynamic as Jackson (39 points) and his teammates were against Dominguez Saturday night - and they would be 14-0 right now if not for Dominick Lacoste's follow shot with two seconds to play - the Dons have only themselves to blame for not winning by a double-figure margin.
Three Dominguez players were called for technical fouls, each time while the Dons were in possession of the ball.
Besides gaining possession, the Pioneers converted each of the six (two per technical) free throws they received. And they knocked in 3-pointers on the last two of those possessions - including the one that gave them an 83-82 advantage with 27 seconds remaining.
Do the math, guys, and take it as a lesson - minus a loss - about the importance of staying in control of on-court emotions.
Ronnie Flores CalHiSports Managing Editor
The past two seasons have been disappointments for the Dominguez boys basketball program. The Dons were competitive as they always are under veteran coach Russell Otis, but their season ended before they would have like both years after Otis coached the Dons to their fifth state title, and the first in his second tour of duty with the Compton program, in 2004 and to a SoCal regional final in 2005.
Even with a roster full of newcomers, the Dons were placed at No. 18 in the Rivals.com Preseason FAB 50 National Rankings. Prep basketball insiders knew that if this talented unit meshed under Otis' guidance, they had a chance to return to the level they displayed back in 2004 when they won their sixth state title since the 1995-1996 season. The Dons lost by 16 points to preseason No. 16 Taft of Woodland Hills early in the season, but it now looks like Otis' deep unit is starting to jell after winning the National Division title game of the MaxPreps/Torrey Pines Holiday Classic with a thrilling 84-83 victory over Simi Valley on Saturday night. With the title game win, Dominguez (ranked No. 6 in the latest state rankings but likely to move up) upped its record to 10-1 with a rematch with Taft on the horizon on January 5. "That may be the best team in Los Angeles," Campbell Hall coach Terry Kelly told MaxPreps after the Dons routed his club 76-53 in the semifinals. "I know Taft beat them earlier this year but the way Hamilton is playing with such confidence and the way the supporting cast is improving, that team is going to be hard to beat."Simi Valley (which entered the game ranked No. 19 in the state) looked like it might pull off the upset and run its record to 14-0 after taking a 83-82 lead on a three-pointer by Michael Meza with 21.9 seconds left. That clutch shot by Meza gave the Pioneers their first lead of the second half after they rallied from a 13-point deficit over the course of the final period and a half. On the Dons' last possession, tournament MVP Jordan Hamilton (18 points, 12 rebounds) drove the lane and kicked the ball out to a wide-open Darrel Espy for a three-pointer. Espy missed the potential game-winner, but Dominguez junior Dominick Lacoste secured a rebound over teammate Myron Green and banked in a shot with one second remaining to give his team the improbable one-point victory. In defeat, Simi Valley had nothing to hang its head about as they played a terrific game and showed why it will take a near perfect effort to beat Dominguez the rest of the regular season. Hamilton, a talented wing forward who played last season at Dorsey of Los Angeles, might have been the tourney MVP, but the best player on Saturday night was Simi Valley's Lorne Jackson, a senior point guard. He netted a career-high 39 points and also stuffed the stat sheets with five rebounds, seven assists and five steals in a losing effort. Simi Valley was able to keep Dominguez within striking range by nailing 25 of 28 free throws, including 20 of 22 by Jackson. Jackson's all-tourney performance was aided by Meza, who also was an all-tournament pick and finished with 19 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter. Brad Lewis chipped in 16 points for Simi Valley. Green scored a team-high 20 points and was joined on the all-tournament team by Hamilton and Bryce Cartwright, who fouled out with just under 40 seconds remaining and was replaced by Lacoste, whose last-second heroics gave him eight points in the title game. Hamilton scored 24 points in the dominant semifinal victory over Kelly's squad at Campbell Hall, which came into the tourney ranked No. 8 in the state. UCLA recruit Jrue Holiday netted 21 points for the Vikings in a losing effort. Holiday was not thrilled with his team's effort against the Dons and they rebounded to take the third place game, 70-62, over an up and down Compton High team. In a balanced effort, Holiday finished with 18 points, point guard Dallas Rutherford netted a team-high 20 points and sophomore post James "Duece" Johnson added 17. Compton, who was led in defeat by Mr. Basketball candidate and USC recruit Demar DeRozan with 23 points, was not only trying to avenge an earlier loss to Campbell Hall at the Ocean View Tournament of Champions, but trying to erase the memory of an embarrassing semifinal loss to Simi Valley. In that game, the Pioneers led 33-12 after one quarter and at one point led by 40 points before wining by a 85-59 margin. Lewis canned six three-pointers for the Pioneers and finished with 25 points while DeRozan was held to a tourney low 17 points. He averaged 31.5 points per game (126 points) as Compton (ranked right behind Campbell Hall at No. 9) finished 2-2 at the event. Eads: Simi Valley proves it belongs in company of state's elite
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
On the questionnaire distributed by MaxPreps Holiday Classic officials, the boys' basketball coaches are asked to request placement in one of the four divisions.
For the first time in seven years, Simi Valley High coach Christian Aurand made his team's case for elite 16-team National Division.
"I told them that we weren't big," said Aurand, "but we had good guard play."
Simi Valley (13-1) proved it belonged. The Pioneers ripped off wins over Torrey Pines, the top-ranked team in San Diego, Campolindo and Compton before dropping an 84-83 decision to nationally ranked Dominguez in the championship game.
Dominguez, ranked among the top 25 teams in the nation in three polls, beat Simi Valley by scoring off an offensive rebound with one second left in the game. Against Compton, Simi Valley limited USC-bound DeMar DeRozan, who had scored 86 points in the first two games of the tournament, to 17 points. Lorne Jackson averaged 28.5 points in the tournament. Brad Lewis and Michael Meza had 91 and 80 points, respectively. The loss to Dominguez ended what is believed to be the program's longest winning streak (13 games) to open a season. The last time Simi Valley made the upper-division field at Torrey Pines was 1999. Simi Valley lost to Mater Dei by two points in the first round. The two teams met again that season in the Division I-A championship game, won by Mater Dei, 53-39.
Simi Valley's body of work in its first 14 games will likely increase the program's value as one of the state's best teams. "We knew that we were going to be good," said Aurand. "Any time that you return two first-team All-County players like Lorne and Michael, you have a chance. Brad (Lewis) has been great. And we have nice supporting cast from players like Spencer Feist, Danny Cox, Paul Williams and Grant Keller. "Sometimes you have lulls in a season. This team has put its pedal to the metal right from the start of the season and haven't let up."
Foremost on Aurand's mind is Friday's Marmonte League home game against Moorpark.
"That is the most important game for us right now," said Aurand.
"We want to win our league. We have fallen short in the last few years (Simi Valley's last Marmonte title came in 2000)."
Four league losses in a five-game stretch cost Simi Valley last season.
"We want to learn lessons from what happened last year," said Aurand.
Streaking: The last area boys' basketball team to open its season with 13 straight wins was Oaks Christian.
— Derry Eads' e-mail address is deads@VenturaCountyStar.com.
2008 Ventura County Star
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Lewis making an impact for Simi Valley basketball
Simi Valley has to be considered one of the bigger surprises on the Southern California basketball landscape this season. And Brad Lewis has been one of the bigger contributors for the Pioneers, who opened plenty of eyes last week by nearly knocking off Compton Dominguez in the title game of the Torrey Pines tournament.
Lewis transferred from crosstown-rival Royal a season ago and was a mainstay on the Simi Valley junior varsity team because of transfer rules, despite having the potential to make an impact at the next level. The junior guard is making the most of his opportunity this season, playing alongside Lorne Jackson and Mike Meza, shooting 52% from the field and averaging 19.4 points a game.
"Having Brad in the lineup adds another dimension to our offense. It's like we have a three-headed monster out there on the court,'' Coach Christian Aurand said. "Brad is a scorer. He wants the ball. He has zero fear. He's very talented, extremely versatile, the kind of kid that gets better with every game.''
The Pioneers, as a whole, seem to get better with each game too. Can't imagine opposing teams in the Marmonte League not noticing the improvement. It appears as if Simi Valley was deserving of its No. 21 preseason ranking in The Times, and Lewis is largely, though not solely, responsible for the Pioneers' unexpectedly good start.