SUPER TEAMS IN SAN DIEGO

It is not often in my longtime friendship with Steve Brand of the San Diego Union Tribune that we agree on one thing...let alone TWO things in the same week. Fact is the dean of prep sportswriters in California and I agree on this week's CIF San Diego Section boys rankings, and that games (did I say games?) played at Cox Arena in November should indeed count...more on that later.

I have been around prep basketball in California for over 20 years, and I do not remember a time in which three teams from San Diego were rated in the state's boys overall top 10. With Horizon at No. 4 overall, El Camino at No. 6 and Lincoln at No. 7 and Torrey Pines, Carlsbad and Rancho Bernardo competitive enough to beat L.A. and other out of area teams in recent tournaments, the locals are being treated to the finest boys basketball in bordertown ever, including the days of the Big Redhead/Deadhead, Helix's Bill Walton.

As for the girls...Candice Wiggins and Charde Houston are as good as anyone has ever been in America's Favorite City...including the legendary Terri Mann.

Now for the controversy surrounding the "events" or "exhibitions" that took place during the Thanksgiving holiday at Cox Arena in which the Horizon boys competed against the El Camino boys...and the La Jolla Country Day girls competed against the San Diego High girls as well as Santana and Eastlake, etc. The question remains: Do these contests count?

I have spoken to almost all the coaches and AD's involved, and those who would speak (under the condition they remain anonymous) and attended the organizing meeting all agree on one thing. They say the question of whether the matches would count on the records of the teams never came up in the discussions surrounding the event.

But according to Dennis Ackerman, the section commissioner, "the games were always intended to be an exhibition and all parties were informed of that both verbally and in writing prior to the event taking place. I have memos to prove it." In fact, Ackerman plans to have a similar affair to "kick off" the football season this fall, and he states "the game will not count against the team's records...they can still play 10 games."

Of course, if they don't count, why any coach would risk injury to a key player for an "exhibition" makes no sense. Maybe they'll be just like a preseason NFL game in which the starters appear in the first quarter and then sit. Good luck selling tickets to that.

I have also pointed out to the commissioner that the section by-laws would seem to indicate that under Article 5 General Rules, Section 500 these contests did not meet the eligibility for being considered "Exhibitions" and even if they were Exhibitions sub-section D states: "Such contests count toward the competing individual's allowable maximum number of contests" when a score is kept and officials are in attendance.

I believe in what commissioner Ackerman is doing in the San Diego Section, and I'm sorry that when I return to Northern California in March I won't be able to see first hand the continuance of the fine work he and Bill McLaughlin are doing for prep sports in San Diego. I do, however, believe the student athletes come first. Games in which student athletes compete and risk injury...where admission is charged...accredited officials are in charge both on and off the court...and a score is kept...where the games are not counted...do nothing for the student athlete involved...only the adults whose idea it is to raise the funds by staging the event.

I hope commissioner Ackerman is true to his word when he said he would take a close look at whether to count these types of contests in the future. According to John Maffei, the North County Times will not count the games in their rankings and records...while Steve Brand and colleagues at the Union Tribune will. Conversations with Mark Tennis, editor of Cal Hi Sports, have him agreeing with Steve and yours truly.

Boys Rankings (records as of 1/22)

1) Horizon, San Diego (16-1)

The addition of a blossoming 6-7 Alan Wiggins Jr. (University of San Francisco) to the duo of Jared Dudley and Ryan Read (14.8 PPG and 54% from 3 pt range) makes coach Zack Jones' squad the class of a very classy group in the San Diego Section. Wiggins, the older brother of La Jolla Country Day sensation Candice Wiggins, comes to Horizon seeking spirituality and a chance to win a state championship. Dudley is a power forward who averages 23.1 PPG, 11.3 RPG and 2.3 steals...and is generally regarded as one of the top three players in the section. The 6-6, 225-pounder has his eye on continuing his career at St. Mary's in Northern California, although several other schools are interested in his services. Read's long range shooting and tenacious defense make him one of the top backcourt players in the section. At 6-3 and 195 pounds with a 4.0 GPA, this young man is considering offers from a host of schools including UC Davis, UC riverside and Pennsylvania.

2) El Camino, Oceanside (16-3)

Remember, we are counting the loss to Horizon...and it hasn't hurt the Wildcats in any of the rankings. El Camino lost only once in Vegas and upset new state No. 2 Fairfax...who beat Westchester last week. The Wildcats are in pretty impressive company, and with players like senior Mikel Watson and junior Gyne Pomare they deserve to be. Last Saturday against Rancho Bernardo and Georgia bound All-American 6-9 Mohamed Abukar, who leads the section in scoring at 29.4PPG, the 6-6 Pomare dominated the paint and Abukar while Watson threw down 30 as El Camino rolled over the Broncos 88-61. Avocado League play is now starting and Carlsbad looms on the near horizon. Don't look for El Camino to lose too many more games -- if any -- before the section and regional Div. I playoffs begin.

3) Lincoln, San Diego (17-1)

With Shaun Davis and Dominic McGuire both putting up consistent big numbers and coach Charlie Paulk's experience in producing winning basketball year after year, the Hornets will put a sting in quite a few opponents the rest of the season. They would like to start with a Panther next week...it hasn't happened in a couple of years, however.

4) Torrey Pines, San Diego (14-3)

Winning the 3rd place game in the top division of their own National Prep Classic solidified the Falcons position as the No. 4 team in the section and helped them to No. 10 in the state in Div I in this week's Cal Hi Sports ratings. Josh Kramer and Avi Fogel have been giving coach John Olive solid play at both ends of the court. On offense the pair are combining for about 35 PPG as Torrey prepares to fight Rancho Bernardo for Palomar League supremacy.

5) Carlsbad (13-4)

Coach Scott Ogden seems to have his Lancer squad at or near the top of the section almost every year. If 6-9 junior center Scott Austin can give Ogden the kind of effort he seems capable of producing, Carlsbad could be a force once again in the Div I section hierarchy.

Girls Rankings (records as of 1/22)

1) La Jolla Country Day, San Diego (15-4)

The Torres have not shied away from anyone so far this season, playing a host of state and nationally ranked teams. Of those teams, the ones that seem to give Country Day the most problems are those that play very physical and have 7-8 girls to rotate.

The latest of these type of teams to take on Candice Wiggins (30.9PPG) and company was defending Div IV state champion Marin Catholic (from my very own neck of the woods...and to where I return in March), coached by my longtime friend "the coaching plumber" Rick DeMartini in the Elite Classic this past Saturday at Country Day.

Although Marin Catholic graduated top stars Brooke Smith (Duke) and Nikki Warren (Air Force), the Wildcats' four losses were to the top teams in the state; Piedmont, St. Mary's of Stockton, Ursuline and Mitty of SJ. You can now make that five of the top teams in the state as the Torres pulled out a thriller 54-52 after erasing a 44-37 third quarter deficit.

If not for a pair of 3-pointers and two free throws by Wiggins in the waning moments, Country Day would have been tasting defeat. Marin Catholic had three solid big girls in 6-0 senior Cassie Lockwood, 5-11 junior Michelle Gage and 6-2 senior Maggie Hake. The combination of these three inside caused fits and fouls for Wiggins and Marissa Rivera (11.2RPG). The usually soft spoken Wiggins seemed especially fired up after the comeback victory. "We made huge steps tonight by not giving up...and handling the pressure."

The Torres may not have many tough games left in the section and even the regionals, but up north the Paris twins at Piedmont...Dominique Banks at St. Mary's...the massive front line at Ursuline...or even the Wildcats of Marin Catholic will certainly be in the path of Country Day's attempt at a third consecutive state championship.

2) San Diego (18-3)

Once again, remember, we are counting the loss to Country Day in November. Barring injury, either Wiggins of LJCD or junior Charde Houston of the San Diego Cavers (34.5PPG) will break the section scoring mark and No. 2 state mark of Brandi Collato and possibly eclipse the legendary Cheryl Miller for No. 1 all time in California.

Earlier this year Houston scored 71 against Castle Park, then last week she had 51 against Patrick Henry, 29 in a win over highly rated Kearny and 38 in an Elite Classic win over Francis Parker. In the tougher games Houston must go the full 32 minutes. In the easier contests, coach Marlon Wells rests his star for two reasons. First he knows he will need her strength to go with the inside power and 3-point shooting of 6-0 senior Alisha Bell (15.9PPG)...and second, "she could easily go for 70-80 points each game...and you know how the coaches feel about that."

3) El Camino, Oceanside (13-4)

Anyone who doubted that the Wildcats were not the No. 3 team in the section was not looking at their record very closely. Their losses were to highly ranked teams including St. Mary's of Stockton in the West Coast Jamboree in Pittsburg. Last night against Carlsbad in the first real local test for El Camino, the Wildcats raced out to a 24-7 first quarter lead en route to a 66-43 drubbing of the Lancers.

4) Kearny, San Diego ( 11-2)

The Komets have all the tools to be one of the top teams in the state in Division III. Daphne Kennedy (23.9PPG) and Amber Pullin (17.1PPG) can play with anyone. The only problem is they need to learn how to close out games when leading against top teams. Last weeks game against San Diego is a perfect example. Kearny was leading 58-52 at the end of three quarters and led 66-58 with 3:23 left. From there on is where it came apart...one basket and five turnovers for the remainder of the game including a five-second call near the end with a chance to win.

5) Mission Bay, San Diego (10-2)

The combination of 6-3 junior Amber Sprague (19.1PPG) on the inside and junior guard Amanda Rego's (16.5PPG) outside shooting was too much for Santana in last Saturday's Elite. The result was a convincing 51-41 victory over the Sultans. When Sprague is playing well, the Buccaneers can be competetive against any of the top teams in the section. Consistency is the key to Mission Bay moving past section competition and into the regionals.

Editor's note: Harold Abend has been providing occasional columns and game write ups to CalHiSports.com from his home in San Diego for the last year and a half. He also has served as a public relations consultant with the CIF state office.


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