Commentary

Dream Classic hosts West Coast elite

Originally Published: January 7, 2010
By Christopher Lawlor | Scouts Inc.

The dream became a reality 16 years ago. After establishing itself as a post-holiday destination for West Coast basketball pilgrims, the Pangos Dream Classic is now a January tradition.

"We were the first to do a single-day event on the West Coast; now there's a proliferation of them, maybe 15 or 20 along in the Los Angeles area," said event director and founder Dino Trigonis about Pangos.

The Dream Classic, which tips off Saturday at Cabrillo High in Long Beach, Calif., with five highly competitive games, brings exposure to West Coast schools, giving fans a sneak peak at the teams that will be in the hunt for Southern California sectional and regional championships in March.

The Dream Classic thus becomes the ideal platform for La Verne Lutheran High, a small co-ed Christian school with an enrollment of 150, located in California's Inland Empire.

"We're always looking for the best competition; a few years nobody heard of us," Lutheran coach Eric Cooper Sr. said. "We're trying to build a big program and send players off to college on scholarship. We treat this like a big college program. We have open gyms, preseason strength and conditioning and study halls.

"We stress 110 percent effort all the time. We have long practices and our [coaching] staff is willing to stay and put in the time."

Lutheran (8-6), which has played in three high-profile tournaments this season, continues its quest of national exposure Saturday against Ocean View (Huntington Beach, Calif.) in the nightcap at 8 p.m. Ocean View's 6-foot-7 Anthony Brown, a Stanford signee, 6-9 Conor Clifford or 6-7 Ryan Okwudibonye could be matched against 6-8 sophomore Grant Jerrett of Lutheran.

"[I] don't know much about [Brown] but I know he's going to Stanford and Ocean View is really good; we have to pick up our game," Jerrett said.

Sort of the same way Jerrett has jump-started his since the end of his freshman year. With offseason training and strengthening and maturity, Jerrett's game is blossoming. He leads the Trojans in scoring (19.2), rebounding (9.5) and field goal percentage (82 percent).

He's also fielding several offers mainly from Mountain West and Pac-10 schools, including locals USC and UCLA, and Washington.

"He's starting to come of age -- he's getting tougher and stronger," said Cooper, who played at Arizona before transferring to Texas-San Antonio in the mid-1980s. "His father is 6-11; he's still growing."

And so is the program that is still a virtual unknown in Southern California, considering Westchester, Mater Dei and Fairfax set the standard. Three years ago, Cooper left the pro ranks after coaching stints in the ABA and WNBA to build a program from scratch.

His entire roster returns, with the exception of injured senior forward Jordan Salley, who will miss the season with a knee injury but has signed with Montana State.

"With Jordan, I don't think we lose a game," Cooper said.

C.J. Cooper (16.7 points per game), the coach's nephew, is a 6-0 junior point guard and reigning Arrowhead League MVP, and has programs such as Arizona State, USC and San Diego State interested.

Cooper's son, Eric Jr., is a 6-2 sophomore attracting the Pac-10 school roll call and UNLV but will likely miss the next two weeks with a leg injury. A trio of juniors -- Bruce English, Kevin Payne and 6-8 Xavier Jones -- also will land full rides. Nick Colletta, a 6-5 freshman, is a promising shooter.

Despite the youth, the Trojans are well schooled.

"We like to get up and down the court," Eric Jr. said. "Everyone rebounds, helps on defense and our guards can handle the pressure. We're still young but well coached."

Trigonis agrees.

"[La Verne Lutheran is in] the next wave of talented teams from here; they'll be a around for a while," he said.

Unlike the previous Dream Classics, featuring national prep stars such as LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Sebastian Telfair, Trigonis has stuck with an all-California 10-team field. In 2003, James and his St. Vincent-St. Mary (Akron, Ohio) teammates helped attract a sellout crowd of 12,500 to UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. This year it's back to a 2,000-seat high school facility.

"It's a good field this year; normally we get very good players and teams from California," he said.

Here's a thumbnail of the top players in the first four games at Saturday's Dream Classic (all times are local):

Centennial (Compton)-Etiwanda, 2 p.m.: Centennial's Deonte Burton, a 6-1 guard, is the region's top unsigned senior, while 6-4 Byron Wesley of Etiwanda has committed to USC.

St. John Bosco (Bellflower)-Dominguez (Compton), 3:30: Keep an eye on St. John Bosco's duo of 6-3 junior Braiten Madrigal and 6-3 sophomore Darryl Matthews.

Cabrillo-Paramount, 5: The host school is led by seniors, 6-3 Tony Bell and 6-2 Christian Verdugo.

Price (Los Angeles)-Gahr (Cerritos), 6:30: Price, a Los Angeles small school power, features Allen Crabbe and Richard Solomon headed to California but junior Norvel Pelle is still awaiting clearance by section officials to play this season. At 5-9, Eric Ware is Gahr's senior leader.

Free throws

Two of the nation's top teams lost key junior players while another Texas powerhouse piled it on a hapless district foe.

Michael Gilchrist, the nation's top-rated junior from St. Patrick High in Elizabeth, N.J., suffered an undisclosed knee injury Tuesday in a 62-46 win over Union. Gilchrist was taken to the hospital according to sources and will have an MRI to determine the extent of the injury.

Coach Kevin Boyle would not comment on his star player's injury but it may keep him out the top-ranked Celtics' game on ESPNU against Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) on Jan. 19 at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass.

• Speaking of Findlay Prep, assistant Todd Simon confirmed Wednesday that junior guard Jabari Brown has withdrawn from the boarding school and could resurface at hometown Oakland (Calif.) High. Brown leaves the defending national champions having averaged 16.4 points and 3.4 rebounds and connecting on 51.4 percent of his shots.

Brown's role flip-flopped when 6-3 senior Marko Petrovic emerged. Petrovic's playing time increased and Brown's dropped following a 53-52 loss at Northland (Columbus, Ohio). Simon also said Brown was homesick, returning home following Sunday's Hampton Inn Invitational in Henderson, Nev., where he was named all-tournament.

• In Houston, Yates High did the unthinkable, apparently without conscience. Yates pounded Lee (Houston) 170-35, establishing a Texas state single-game scoring record. The national single-game record is 211 points.

Yates plays a suffocating brand of pressure basketball, never taking off a play. The Lions led 100-12 at the break, but apparently coach Greg Wise felt threatened. He continued the breakneck pace, never allowing his team to apply the brakes.

It marked the eighth time Yates (14-0) cracked 100 points this season, stretching its win streak over two seasons to 39 games. The teams meet again on Jan. 29.

"I feel very disrespected right now," Lee coach Jacques Armant told the Houston Chronicle. "I don't understand why Yates just kept scoring and pressing when they were up so much. These are kids. It isn't good to do that to other young men."

Armant is right: It's always about the kids and educating young men. Apparently Wise doesn't get it.

Bluegrass hoopla

If you're around Lexington, Ky., this weekend, consider it must-see basketball viewing at Lexington Christian Academy and Lexington Catholic High as a pair of premier events will be contested.

The Central Bank Basketball Classic is Friday and Saturday at Lexington Christian, starting at 7:30 p.m. with Mountain State Academy (Beckley, W.Va.) and Quality Education Academy (Winston-Salem, N.C.) tipping off opening night at the Main Gym on the Rose Campus. Saturday's tripleheader features Scott County (Georgetown, Ky.) against Louisville Male at 5 p.m., followed by Lexington Christian and Clark County (Winchester, Ky.) at 6:30. The nightcap is Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) versus Mountain State Academy at 8.

Scott County recently finished fourth at the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., led by Ge-Lawn Guyn, Chad Jackson and Akron-bound Dakotah Euton. Clark County should be in good shape for the next two years with junior forwards Vinny Zollo and Robbie Stenzel.

At Lexington Catholic, the Dunkin Donuts Shootout National Classic lasts two days.

The lineup: Friday, Lexington Catholic-Wolfe County (Campton, Ky.), 6:30, and Word of God Academy (Raleigh, N.C.)-Blue Grass Baptist School (Lexington) at 8. Saturday there are six games, including four boys' games: South Laurel (London, Ky.)-Walnut Hills (Cincinnati), 2:30; Beech (Tenn.)-Pleasure Ridge Park (Louisville), 4; Lexington Catholic-North Oldham (Goshen, Ky.), 7; and Word of God-Roger Bacon (Cincinnati), 8:30.

C.J. Leslie, a 6-9 uncommitted senior from Word of God, is the event's marquee player and will likely land in the 2010 McDonald's All-American Game in Columbus, Ohio.

Christopher Lawlor

High School Basketball
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years.