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SoCalHoops High School News

Verbum Dei Beats Gardena:
Hey D-VAA, Eagles Are For Real--(Dec. 15, 2000)

We don't mean to scare everyone who plays and coaches in D-VAA,  but those who do might as well get a dose of reality sooner rather than later.  There's a new team in town, and no matter what you've heard or read about Verbum Dei, they are not going to be playing in Division IV-AA this year.   Instead, they'll be required to play in their own enrollment division, which happens to be V-AA.  And right now, based on all of the teams we've seen in the division (and that's most of them) Verb is, in our humble view, the most athletic, strongest  and possibly the deepest from a pure talent point of view of any team in the division.   Sure, they're beatable.  In fact some may say they are very beatable.  But apparently that all depends on which Verbum Dei Eagles team shows up:   If it's the one that Head Coach Kenneth (KC) Curry and his assistants Tony Thomas, Ray Hooper and Derek Cross have in mind when they run practices and coach games, then they're likely to be pretty good, maybe even downright scary.  On the other hand, if it's the team that has shown up at some of the early pre-season tournament games, you just never know. . . .

The game we saw tonight was evidently a consolation game in the Verbum Dei "South Central LA Classic" Tournament. . . we can't be sure though because there were no programs available, and there were only about 50 people in the whole gym, and that included both the home team and the visiting team, which seemed sort of odd to us considering it was a Friday night, a home game, and the school has plenty of security. . . not to mention that this is a pretty exciting team to watch.   Maybe everyone was watching from the comfort and security of their own homes (there were actually three television cameras inside the gym and some "Broadband Communications" banners, indicating that the game was being televised in Compton), or maybe they weren't .  . . . But in any event, from a pure score point of view, this was not much of a contest.  From a pure talent point of view, it was a bonanza.   Although Gardena trailed the entire game, they did manage to cut Verbum Dei's lead to 9 a couple of times in the third quarter, but just could never get any closer.  The final score was Verbum Dei 74, Gardena 50, but at times it didn't seem even that close. 

We went to the game with the intention of watching Verbum Dei, not Gardena, so it's sort of hard for us to really say anything meaningful about any of the Gardena guys.  First, we didn't know them.  Second, only one player really stood out.  And before we get to describing Verbum Dei, keep in mind that Gardena is not a bad team overall, they just look like they haven't been playing together long and lack some fundamentals,  and in that sense, it was really easy for the one player on their team we liked to stand out.   For those who don't know (or who have been living under a rock) Gardena HS is part of the LA City Section, which means they are, in terms of enrollment in CIF, a D-I team (actually all LA City Unified Schools are Division I for purposes of CIF state playoffs), and thus have a large talent pool to draw from.  And among the best in that talent pool was a player named Arnold Johnson (6'-6" Sr. SG/SF) a very talented wing type player who interestingly didn't play as much as we thought he should have.  He has excellent handles, a great crossover, long arms, jumps out of the gym,  and has one of the best pure pull-up jumpers we've seen in a long time.  He was personally killing Verb.  Maybe not on the scoreboard, but it took three guys to guard him when he was in.  He only finished with 10 points, but he would have easily picked up more had his coach not been so sensitive to a third foul he picked up in the third quarter.   In our humble view, this guy is definitely worthy of some college coaches checking him out.  We have no idea whether he has grades or would be a qualifier, but he can play. . . .

And before we describe who was on the Verbum Dei team, we can tell you who wasn'tJames Muhammad (6'-8" Jr. F), aka James Matthews, who was at Palisades last year, and at Manual Arts the year before, and who has transferred to Verbum Dei, was not on the bench, and as far as we know, wasn't in the gym either.  His name was written in the book and on the stat sheets kept by the team stat guys, but one of the coaches told us that he's been suspended for two games.   So, contrary to rumors you might have read here on the message forum, he's still with the Eagles,  but just suspended. . . .  Oh, and two other guys also listed in the book weren't playing, Larnell Ranson, and Robert Jones, so we can't really say anything about any of them.

The Verbum Dei group consisted of the folllowing guys:

DeShalen Barber (6'-3" Jr. SG)--A stocky, tough two guard, he played on and off, and finished with 3 points.  A very good defender, strong body, jumps well.

Ameer Mouhammed (6'-0" Jr. G)-- To look at him from a distance, you'd think he was a minature version of Darius Sanders.   Athletic, strong, but built with a sort of low center of gravity, he doesn't jump a lot, but he defends well, and is an excellent passer.

Michael Lay (5'-10" Sr. PG)-- A pure point guard, runs the team well, picked up 6 steals that we counted, and we would have liked to see the coaches do a little less subbing in the course of the game, but it seems they are still trying to see who runs the team better, Michael or DeAngelo Bijore. . . for our money, Michael is the better floor general, and he's got a better sense for pacing the game and directing traffic.  He made some excellent passes, threading lanes that you'd hardly think existed, and getting the ball to his big men effectively.   Finished with 13 points, including 3 three-pointers.  An excellent player, and but-for his size, he'd have D-I written all over him. . . heck, forget the size, maybe he does anyway.   Another guy worth checking on.

DeAngelo Bijore  (6'-0" Jr. PG)-- DeAngelo has better size and stature than Lay, but looking at the two of them, you can see the difference a year's maturity makes. DeAngelo can be very effective at pushing the ball up the floor, but when pacing and control were really the desired effect, he had a tendency to force things, and the coaches were continually telling him to slow it down, to walk the ball up the court rather than forcing the tempo. . . and considering that Verb had a 20 point lead most of the time he was in the game, it was pretty good advice.     Still, he has all the makings of a fine point guard, it's just that with another year of seasoning, he'll be that much better.  Hard to tell a lot from watching just one game so don't think we're being hypercritical.  A lot of potential.    Finished with 10 points tonight.

Justin Martin (5'-11" Sr. G)-- Justin is one of those typical Verb guards we've seen over the years:  Tough, quick, athletic, can jump like crazy, and he plays hard.  With he and Lay, they run a play called, what else, "Two Guard"  where everyone else clears down to the baseline and two guards remain up top, and it seemed to be a favorite play of the coaches to run when he was in.  Martin finished with 11 points, including one very acrobatic shot where he just flew to the basket late in the fourth quarter which had us just shaking our heads. . .

David Guerrero (6'-4" Jr. F)-- David didn't play for more than about 3 or 4 minutes late in the fourth quarter.  Has good size, long arms, and seems to relish his role on the team as one of the big cheerleaders and a support player.  Not overly athletic, but on many other D-V teams, this guy would be a stud. . . which ought to give you an idea of the depth of talent on this team.

Richard Chaney (6'-5" Jr. SF)--A stud, smooth, capable of scoring in huge bunches, we've seen Richard before, but not within the structure of a high school team setting (and despite what you may also read on the message board, the coaches are really running an offensive system at Verb this season, with good halfcourt sets).  Reminds us a lot of Tayshaun Prince about four years ago.   Lanky, large active feet, great first step, can pull up for the j or slash to the hole. Very talented, bu ttonight he didn't do very much in the way of scoring.

Kendell Oliver (6'-5" Jr. F)--Kenell is another long, lean, lanky player who can get up way over the rim, rebounds very well, has a nice stroke, and knows how to play.

Deon Marcus (6'-7 Jr. F)-- helps make up a great frontline along with Chaney and Oliver, moves well, lanky and lean with very long arms, and excellent player. Finished with 10 points according to our count.

Michael Bell (6'-2" So. G)--a very good handle, moves very well with excellent lateral quickness, a good crossover, solid defender.

Martin Starr (6'-7" Jr. F)-- Martin didn't seem to get a lot of playing time tonight, finished with 8 points, but when he was in was very effective.   How many lanky, long-armed guys can one school have?   Sheesh. Another one here. . . athletic, runs the floor and can get out ahead on the fast break, very impressive player.

How good is Verbum Dei going to be?  We've seen most of the teams already this year from the Camino Real League (St. Monica, St. Anthony, Cantwell, Mary Star and Don Bosco), and there's little doubt in our mind that Verb has to be the favorite this season to take another league title.  Are they strong enough to take a section title?  Absolutely.  Will they?  Only time will tell.   And if James Matthews (er, um James Muhammed) finally returns, there's no telling how good this team will be.

If you get the chance to stop in over on Central Avenue just north of the 105 Freeway, be sure to check out a game or two, because you'll be pleasantly surprised at what you'll find.

Here's the schedule for the rest of the season:

Dec. 27-30 Nogales Tournament
Jan 5 @*St. Anthony
Jan 6 v. LA Washington @College of the Canyons
Jan 10 *St. Monica
Jan 12 *Cantwell Sacred Heart
Jan 17 @ Price
Jan 19 @*Mary Star
Jan 24 *Don Bosco
Jan 26 *St. Anthony
Jan 31 @*St. Monica
Feb 2 @*Cantwell Sacred Heart
Feb 5 *Mary Star
Feb 7 @*Don Bosco

The Swish Award
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