Seven boys teams ranked in the Cal-Hi Sports state top 20 were in action this weekend at Mater Dei’s two-day event. The event’s results will impact this week’s state rankings. Beyond that, there are a few other things we learned about California’s high school boys basketball scene.
By Ronnie Flores
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Although unbeaten Bishop Montgomery of Torrance wasn’t involved, Southern California’s top two-ranked teams both played grind-it-out games and won during the weekend’s Nike Extravanganza held at Mater Dei of Santa Ana.
Long Beach Poly, No. 1 in the most recent Cal-Hi Sports’ top 20, defeated No. 9 St. John Bosco of Bellflower 60-54. The host Monarchs, ranked No. 2, topped No. 17 Westchester of Los Angeles 63-60. That score was made closer than the game really was by Westchester canning a 3-pointer at the final buzzer.
Other winners during the event included No. 6 Etiwanda (defeated No. 11 Loyola of Los Angeles 51-24); Brethren Christian of Huntington Beach (defeated Servite of Anaheim 50-34); De La Salle of Concord (defeated Foothill of Tustin 59-42); Fairfax of Los Angeles (defeated JSerra of San Juan Capistrano 55-52); Colony of Ontario (defeated No. 18 Mission Viejo 57-55); and Ocean View of Huntington Beach (defeated Durango of Las Vegas 88-68).
Here are the top five things we learned from seeing the action in this year’s Nike X:
1. Mamadou Ndiaye is the state’s most intriguing prospect in a long time
The 7-foot-5, 290-pound Brethren Christian of Huntington Beach and Senegal native is unlike any basketball player we’ve seen in the state, perhaps ever. He played in spurts this past summer and displayed a decent shooting touch, but on Friday night we saw him for a complete game and he dominated to say the least. In Brethren Christian’s 50-34 victory over Servite of Anaheim, Ndiaye scored 34 points and grabbed 26 rebounds. Ndiaye had an off-night at the free throw line (6 of 20) or he might have went for 50 points. He doesn’t pass particularly well (yet) or grab rebounds out of his area, but once Ndiaye improves his stamina, learns how to keep the ball high and use his body, the sky is the limit. One prominent scout compared him to seeing 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley of Utah for the first time, but the No. 2 pick of the 1993 NBA Draft was never able to put on weight. Ndiaye is already pushing 300 pounds. He’s headed to UC-Irvine and, forget SoCal high school basketball, there is nobody in the Big West Conference that can physically match up with him, either. We might not see what “Mamadou” can really do until he’s in a pro setting playing with men.
2. Frank Allocco will win a fourth state title
The veteran De La Salle of Concord coach owns two Division I state titles in his tenure with the Spartans — and one at the Division II level at Northgate of Walnut Creek. We’ll go out on a limb and state Allocco will win No. 4 by the 2015-2016 season. In the Spartans’ 59-42 victory over a Foothill of Santa Ana team that came in with just two losses, Allocco started three freshmen — 6-foot-2 Nikhil Peters, 6-foot-3 Jordan Ratinho and 6-foot-4 Devin Asiasi. Peters came in highly-regarded and is one of the better freshman guards in the state. Asiasi already has a college-like body (190 pounds) and is jelling with the rest of the team after missing the first seven weeks because of football commitments (he is a quarterback and might be on the varsity next season). In De La Salle’s disciplined Princeton offense, Asiasi made all five of his field goal attempts for 11 points and led the Spartans with four assists. “I’m catching up and learning because it’s really hard to get our offense down,” Asiasi said. The trio has started since De La Salle’s only league loss, which came to Monte Vista of Danville on January 8. The Spartans avenged last loss on Thursday and can now climb back up into the state top 20.
3. L.A. City Section basketball is not dead
Playing five underclassmen in a rare two-platoon basketball system where five players sub at a time, it’s evident six-time Division I state champ Westchester of Los Angeles will be a major contender for a state crown next season. This year, for the first time since we began ranking boys basketball teams in the early 1980s, no L.A. City team cracked our preseason state top 20. El Camino Real of Woodland Hills and the Comets were just outside the top 20, but have now played their way in. During the 2011-2012 season, it was no secret in basketball circles Westchester had a fine junior varsity team and now that group is contributing heavily to a team that could win this year’s L.A. City Section Div. I title. The other L.A. City Section team in the Extravaganza, Fairfax of Los Angeles (Westchester’s archrival), came away with an impressive 55-52 victory over JSerra of San Juan Capistrano. We’ve seen JSerra ranked awfully high in some polls, but the Lions didn’t have an answer for Fairfax senior guard Jonathan Brown. He scored a game-high 17 points, as Trinity League teams went 2-5 against non-league foes in the two-day event (with Mater Dei winning twice).
4. Steve Smith of Oak Hill Academy is a darn good coach
You’re probably wondering what does a coach of a boarding school in rural Virginia which has been a national power for 30 years have to do with this event? After all, Oak Hill hasn’t played in California in over five years. But with players only having to sit out a 30-day period after transferring under new CIF rules, there are some talented teams that have had a short period of time to mesh their new players with the old ones. That’s what Steve Smith does every season. In some instances, programs have had a completely new team beginning on January 2. Even for talented teams such as St. John Bosco that have the same lineups since the beginning of the season, it’s not always easy incorporating new players. Bosco head coach Derrick Taylor has expressed his frustrations to find the right combination transitioning transfers Tyler Dorsey (Ribet Academy, Los Angeles), Darien Williams (Orange Lutheran) and Brian Nebo (Gahr, Cerritos) in his lineup. It gives one a better appreciation for what Smith has been able to do year in and year out against national level competition. Yes, Smith does have talented players (not to mention big egos) in his program, but it’s not always easy to get them to play together in a short period of time as some California coaches are finding out this season.
5. Evan Zeller is a really good point guard
Mission Viejo’s 6-foot-3 quarterback-on-the-court turned his ankle in the Diablos’ big victory over El Toro in South Coast League play on Wednesday. After Mission Viejo easily beat Aliso Niguel on Friday night to clinch the league title without Zeller, there was no reason for him to play Saturday in a non-league contest against Colony of Ontario. Mission Viejo struggled without its best player, falling behind by as much as 14 points (43-29) before making a comeback that just fell short, as Colony pulled out a 57-55 win. In the closing moments, Mission Viejo didn’t know who to go to for offense and on its last possession Grid-Hoop star Max Redfield nearly turned the ball over before a teammate threw up a desperation heave. It goes without saying the Diablos will need a healthy Zeller (whom Frank Burlison of BulisonOnBasketball.com calls one of SoCal’s three best point guards along with Windward’s Jordan Wilson and Crespi’s London Perrantes) to even make a dent in the loaded CIFSS Div. I-AA bracket.
Nike Extravaganza’s Top Five Performances
1. Elliott Pitts (De La Salle, Concord) 6-5 Sr.
Some fans sitting next to us, and even a few media scribes, openly questioned whether Pitts could play at the Pac-12 level. We know better and realize individual talent isn’t showcased in De La Salle’s team-oriented system. Pitts turned everyone into believers after the Spartans defeated Foothill of Santa Ana 59-42. He has a strong body, is a good decision maker in the open court and is capable of making big shots. Pitts made all nine of his free throws and finished with a game-high 27 points. At one point, he had his final point total and Foothill had 35 points. “He’s a special player, ” De La Salle head coach Frank Allocco said.
2. Sheldon Blackwell (Etiwanda, Rancho Cucamonga) 6-5 Sr.
One of SoCal’s most underrated players, we single out Blackwell for one of the best team defensive performances we’ve ever seen in covering a high-level, high school basketball matchup. The Eagles played Loyola of Los Angeles, which came into the game ranked No. 11 in the state (five spots behind the Eagles), and routed them 51-24. Leading 13-11 after one period of play, Etiwanda turned up the defense and completely shut down any good offensive opportunities the Cubs had the rest of the way. Etiwanda’s help defense, hedging, rotations and cutting off of entry passes is simply sensational. Loyola scored five points each in the second and fourth periods and was completely overwhelmed in the third quarter, outscored by Etiwanda 15-3. Blackwell sacrifices his individual numbers for the betterment of his team, but is lengthy, skilled and makes a huge impact on the outcome of games. He claims offers from USF, Northeastern and San Diego, but is confident he’ll get more offers between now at the spring signing period. Blackwell finished with eight points and was credited with three steals, but nearly everyone on press row is in agreement he and Etiwanda (13) had more than was officially tallied.
3. Tyler Burch (Ocean View, Huntington Beach) 6-5 Soph.
The Seahawks’ talented young wing got his team off to a hot start, scoring 16 first quarter points to spark a 88-68 victory over Durango of Las Vegas. Ocean View led 33-21 after one quarter, as Burch finished with 24 points but more importantly set the tone for the game. A good shooter who has a solid base and his feet under him when he puts up his jump shot, Burch can finish from various angles around the basket and is one of two highly-regarded 2015 prospects for Ocean View. The other is 5-foot-11 point guard Kendall Small, who finished the game with 18 points, 12 rebounds and four steals.
4. K.J. Feagin & Kameron Murrell (Long Beach Poly)
Long Beach Poly has been a major contender for the CIF Division I title in recent seasons, but it has come up just a bit short in the SoCal regional. It’s no secret Poly’s backcourt will be under tremendous pressure to come up with big performances in the playoffs, as anything less than a state title for the No. 1 ranked team in the state will be a disappointment. In Poly’s 60-54 win over St. John Bosco of Bellflower, the Braves were packing in the zone and daring Poly to beat them from the outside. In the first half, Murrell, a 6-foot-2 junior, hit two big 3-pointers, but Feagin, a 5-foot-10 sophomore, was hesitant to make an aggressive offensive move. After a pep talk from coach Sharrief Metoyer at halftime, Feagin took his open shots, making three of four 3-pointers to finish with nine points. Murrell finished with 14 points. “In the first half I was passing up a lot of shots, but when I get the green light like that, I have to take them,” Feagin said. “I feel when I’m on, nobody can stop me.”
5. Matthew Grant (Westchester, Los Angeles) 6-2 Sr.
The Comets’ go-to player had a hot start, scoring Westchester’s first eight points, to give his team confidence playing against Mater Dei in a big road game. Westchester, however, didn’t convert enough plays or free throws down the stretch to pull off an upset. Mater Dei won 63-60 as Westchester missed 12 of its 30 free throw attempts, including several front ends of one-and-one situations. “We have to learn how to finish games,” said Westchester junior forward Nick Hamilton. “It’s just the little things we can control, and I’m not just talking about this loss or our other wins.” Individually, Grant made 8-of-12 free throws, but he’s going to need to keep working on his overall perimeter game (handle, shooting) in order to earn a college scholarship. He finished with a game-high 23 points, but made only 3-of-10 on 3-point attempts. Note: Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year candidate Stanley Johnson led Mater Dei with 21 points while Elijah Brown finished with 19 points.
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