SoCalHoops Playoff News
Boys D-I State Final Game Previews:
Westchester vs. Oakland Tech--(Mar. 23, 2002)
The Los Angeles Times' Ben Bolch wrote three separate game previews, little capsules that are available in the print version of the Times' high school section only. Sadly, even with the Times' greatly improved online prep coverage, they are not available online today, so we thought we'd pass them along, together with some other previews we found in other regional and local papers, including Ben Holtzman's preview of the game in the Daily Breeze, and the Oakland perspective from sportswriter David Schoen in today's Oakland Tribune. We've also included the complete State playoff bracket below for those who can't remember how these teams got here today.
Here's what we know:
Westchester (31-2) vs. Oakland Tech (28-3) @ 8:00 p.m.
Westchester has the national ranking and the bigger reputation, but don't expect Oakland Tech to be intimidated. The Bulldogs, making their first appearance in a state final, have won 187 consecutive games and utilize the same up-tempo style that makes the Comets so dangerous. Oakland Tech is led by 6-foot-8 center Leon P9owe (29 points, 15 rebounds), considered one of the top juniors in the nation, and Fresno State-bound guard Armondo Surratt (16.5 points) [Note: Surratt was granted a release from his National Letter of Intent on Friday, after Fresno State head coach Jerry Tarkanian announced his retirement last week]. Powe and Surratt combined for 41 points in the Bulldogs' 65-61 overtime victory over Concord De La Salle in the Northern California Regional final. Oakland Tech twice defeated De La Salle and Modesto Christian last year's state Division I runner-up, but lost to Long Beach Ply 63-55, in December. Westchester slipped past Poly, 66-60, in the Southern California Regional final behind Brandon Bowman [Georgetown-signee] and Brandon Heath [San Diego State-commit], who each had 17 points. --Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times
The Daily Breeze's Ben Holtzman also did a preview of sorts, which more or less focused on Brandon Heath. Here's what Ben had to say:
Basketball: Comets' Heath saw this one coming
By Bob Holtzman
Westchester senior Brandon Heath cannot help but be excited about the Comets' trip to Sacramento this weekend.
After all, it was five years ago that he witnessed Westchester High win its first CIF State Division I boys basketball championship in ARCO Arena. As an 8th grader, Heath watched and dreamed, believing that it would be him celebrating one day.
I remember that real well, Heath said. We were celebrating after the game. And all I could think is I want to win another one (for Westchester).
Heath finally gets his chance on Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Division I final against Northern California champion Oakland Tech. The 6-foot-3 senior thought last year would be his chance to wear the vaunted Division I crown. Instead, he appreciates that Saturday is his last game as a Comet.
It's something I've been waiting for a long time to do, Heath said. (Losing last year), it makes me a lot hungrier. As far as seniors, this is our last run at a state title. We're more focused than anyone on our team right now.
Heath's focus has never been questioned. The senior helped the Comets win three consecutive L.A. City Section crowns. It was a first in school history. The San Diego State recruit averaged 14.8 points and 3.7 rebounds for Westchester. The sharpshooter extends defenses with his 3-point shooting and exploits defenders with his quickness and ball-handling.
He's the one guy on our team if he's hitting his shots, we don't lose, Coach Ed Azzam said. When he is on, there is no finer shooter around. He's just that good.
Azzam pointed to the Southern California regional semifinal against Clovis West on March 9. Heath scored 20 of his 28 points in the first half of the 91-74 victory. The senior drained four 3-pointers in the first half.
Against Clovis West, it was over when he hit his first 3-pointer, Azzam said. He was uncanny. He hit three 3-pointers in a row in the first half. He could have gone for 50.
Teammates and coaches appreciate Heath for his work ethic during practices and games. They also appreciate his sense of humor and various hairstyles. Instead of keeping his hair short, he frequently mixes it up between the cornrow style and occasionally unleashes a high and wild afro.
He's pretty crazy, said forward Keith Everage, who has played with Heath since fifth grade. Sometimes he feels like getting it done and other times, he's like, `Forget it.' I like the wild style. It lets people know that we're coming wild too.
When he isn't figuring out which hairstyle to unfurl, Heath is making sure his favorite black Nike socks are on his feet.
I like them socks, Heath said. I've been playing in them every game since the second Fairfax game.
Assistant DeWitt Cotton said he wouldn't even get ready for Westchester's City Section semifinal against Fremont until he had his socks.
When he finally did get his shoes and socks on, Heath poured in 15 points as one of six Comets in double figures. And while Heath's shooting and hairstyles get the attention, his unselfish attitude may be most surprising. The senior quietly accepted a coaching decision to play off the bench.
I wasn't tripping when Coach told me, Heath said. I just wanted to win. Plus, I knew I would play a lot even though I came off the bench.
Azzam said he's proud that Heath let him make the coaching decision.
Yeah, he does mind that he doesn't start, but that's not the point, Azzam said. Brandon doesn't like not being on the floor. He just wants to play. He'll do anything to make sure he's playing.
On Saturday, he'll find out if his five-year dream comes true.
Here's the perspective from the Oakland side of things by Oakland Tribune sportswriter David Schoen:
Tech's boys reach for stars, state hoops title
By David Schoen
SACRAMENTO -- As a child, Kenneth Smith and his friend Armondo Surratt used to play basketball at Santa Fe Elementary School in North Oakland and pretended to be their idols.
Forget the Golden State Warriors or Cal. Smith and Surratt looked up to the city's finest prep talent.
"We imitated how the high school teams would come out and do warm-ups," Smith said.
As they got older, Smith and Surratt went to see Will Levy and Darrell Tucker of McClymonds, tracked all the spectacular dunks by St. Joseph's Ray Young and high-scoring games from De La Salle's Brandon Payton.
In 1999, as freshmen on the Oakland Tech boys squad, Smith and Surratt twice took the court against eventual state champion Fremont. The Bulldogs lost 93-63 and 80-62, but for two youngsters, it was an up-close-and-personal look at what it takes to become the top team in the state.
"I've been growing up watching all the guys in Oakland," said Smith, who cut out a photo of Fremont standout Larry Guess jumping up and down after winning the state title and still has it on his bedroom wall. "I used to imagine our team and us right there."
At 8 tonight at Arco Arena, the Bulldogs (28-3) meet top-ranked Westchester of Los Angeles (31-2) in the CIF Division I state title game. And for many of the players, it is a chance at the glory they have dreamed about since they were little kids.
"This is very special," said Smith, who attended Santa Fe with Surratt and teammates Kevin Moore, Nicholas Bullock and Theo White. "A lot of guys don't get to go to the same high school as their childhood friends and compete for a state title."
Tech is making its first appearance in the state title game -- the school's only state crown came in baseball in 1919 -- and comes in as prohibitive underdogs against Westchester.
The Comets feature at least seven Division I college players, including four seniors who have signed letters-of-intent in guard Hassan Adams (Arizona), forward Brandon Bowman (Georgetown), guard Ashanti Cook (New Mexico) and guard Brandon Heath (San Diego State). In addition, forward Trevor Ariza is regarded as one of the top juniors in the nation.
It's a tough task, but certainly Tech is capable of coming out on top.
"We feel a little disrespected," Bulldogs star Leon Powe said. "We know what we can do. Everybody's gotta put on their shoes on Saturday and lace 'em up."
The key for Tech will be to slow the game down, something the Bulldogs don't normally prefer, and challenge every shot Westchester puts up. When the Comets have struggled, it's when they've been forced into a half-court game and can't score in transition.
"We like to run the floor and have a fast-paced game," said Comets coach Ed Azzam, whose team is capable of a 10-0 run in the blink of an eye. "If the game is played that way, it's definitely to our liking."
On offense, expect Tech to try and spread out the Comets and free up the 6-foot-8 Powe down low. Bulldogs coach Hodari McGavock saw Westchester at the City of Palms Classic in Ft. Myers, Fla., and believes if his team handles the Comets' pressure, it can score.
"They try to outscore you," McGavock said. "They play a lot like we do, except they don't play defense like we do."
Powe, whose mother passed away on Tuesday, will play tonight. Plus, there is a sense among the team that winning the state title is meant to be.
"We have two players (Powe and White) that lost parents in one season," McGavock said. "With all the things we've been through this year, maybe it's just destiny that we win this thing."
And yet more from Schoen, some little tidbits about Oakland Tech from the Oakland Tribune:
Two of the best players in the class of 2003 will meet at 8 tonight at Arco Arena in Sacramento. They are Tech's 6-foot-8 center Leon Powe and Westchester's 6-8 forward Trevor Ariza. Powe is widely considered among the top three juniors in the nation along with Sports Illustrated cover boy LeBron James and Beaumont, Texas, center Kendrick Perkins. Ariza is tabbed as the best junior small forward prospect on the West Coast and one of the top-20 players in the country in his class. Powe and Ariza met at the ABCD camp in Teaneck, N.J., last summer and they said they connected on the phone in December when both Tech and Westchester were at the City of Palms Classic in Ft. Myers, Fla. "I like his game," Powe said.
All in the family
Tech's appearance in the state title game is especially sweet for assistant coaches Ronnie Gipson, Harold Hammock and Kevin Scott because all are graduates of the school. "It means so much it brings tears to my eyes," said Hammock, a 1972 graduate. "It gives me so much joy to see this." Gipson is a 1971 graduate and Scott started at point guard on the 1974 team that won the Tournament of Champions. Coach Hodari McGavock was a guidance counselor and assistant coach for all three. "It's all family," Scott said.
Above the rim
Tech has started a fund to help pay for the funeral of Powe's mother Connie Landry, who died Tuesday. To contribute, call athletic director Karen Jones at 879-3050 ext. 132 or McGavock at (510) 301-8411. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at First AME Church, 3701 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. ... North Carolina coach Matt Doherty attended Tech's practice on Friday. ... This is the first title game appearance for Tech. Westchester won the 1998 title, beating St. Joseph of Alameda 52-40. ... The OAL is 1-3 in boys title games since 1981 when the current playoff format was instituted. Fremont managed the only victory in 1999. ... Don't expect McGavock to dress in a suit and tie for this game. "I'm superstitious," said the laid-back coach, who has worn a sweatshirt and baseball cap all season.
Wednesday March 6
Sat. March 9
March 16 -
* Westchester 89
LB Poly 60
@ CS Hayward
St. Mary's 57
Oakland Tech 80
* Clovis West 69
Oak Grove 58
* LB Poly
LB Poly 76
@ St. Mary's
De La Salle 56
@ Modesto JC
La Salle 57
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