Prep Rally: Basketball season moves along despite COVID-19 concerns

Prep Rally: Basketball season moves along despite COVID-19 concerns

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. The basketball season continues to move along despite COVID-19 obstacles that have led to postponements and obstacles. The Los Angeles Unified School District approved a return to action, so it’s full speed ahead hoping to finish the regular season with only a slight change before the playoffs.

Restart begins

Sophomores David Mack and Jaden Hubbard led Fairfax to an 86-69 win.

Sophomores David Mack and Jaden Hubbard led Fairfax to an 86-69 win over South Pasadena on Saturday in a restart to the season.

(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

After ordering a one-week pause in the sports season while evaluating the surge in coronavirus cases, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced Friday in an email to schools that its sports teams can resume their seasons beginning Saturday.

LAUSD students returned to campuses Tuesday after extensive testing of students and teachers. The district stopped competitions and required practices to take place outside with masks.

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Here’s the link to the plan moving forward.

Fairfax returned to basketball action for the first time since Dec. 27 with a win over South Pasadena that featured 26 points from sophomore Jaden Hubbard and 17 points from sophomore David Mack.

Basketball rewind

Sierra Canyon traveled to Missouri for the Bass Pro tournament but came up short, losing to Fairfax (Va.) Paul VI in the championship game. Amari Bailey returned to action after missing more than a month with an ankle injury.

The Trailblazers are 17-2 and apparently more help is on the way. Trentyn Flowers, a 6-foot-8 sophomore from West Virginia, announced he is joining the Trailblazers. Sierra Canyon is already waiting for 7-foot transfer sophomore transfer Majok Chuol to become eligible.

St. Anthony made a move in the Del Rey League with a victory over Gardena Serra. Jaayden Bush scored 28 points.

Mater Dei continued to roll to an unbeaten record in the Trinity League and also won a game on the East Coast.

There will be one-day tournaments on Monday at St. John Bosco, South Pasadena and Washington Prep for boys and Orangewood Academy for girls.

Also on Saturday is the State Preview Classic at Colony High in Ontario with some great matchups.

Corona Centennial remains No. 1 in this week’s Top 25 rankings by The Times

A look at the top 25 high school boys’ basketball teams in the Southland:

Rk. SCHOOL (W-L); Comment (last week)

1. CORONA CENTENNIAL (16-1); Will face Riverside Poly on Jan. 24 (1)

2. SIERRA CANYON (17-2); Lost in finals of Bass Pro tournament (2)

3. RIVERSIDE POLY (19-1); Coach Yancy Dodson has young team rolling (3)

4. DAMIEN (18-1); at Etiwanda on Friday (4)

5. HARVARD-WESTLAKE (16-2); Need to win out for Open Division spot (5)

6. CREAN LUTHERAN (14-1); Jack Fairchild is three-sport marvel (6)

Here’s the link to remaining teams.

Master teacher

Ed Azzam began coaching middle school students at Rolling Hills Prep after winning 15 City titles at Westchester.

Ed Azzam began coaching middle school students at Rolling Hills Prep after winning 15 City titles at Westchester.

(Harvey Kitani)

Eighteen middle school students surrounded their masked coach wearing a name tag as they gathered for the first day of basketball practice on the outside court at Rolling Hills Prep in San Pedro.

“My name is Coach Azzam and I’m going to be your coach the next couple of months and we’re going to have some fun,” he said.

Any player with a cell phone could surely Google the name to learn more.

Let me save time.

Ed Azzam, 67, retired as basketball coach at Westchester High last June with 15 City Section championships and a City Section record 932 victories after 42 years of coaching. Among his players was Trevor Ariza, now of the Lakers. Rolling Hills Prep varsity coach Harvey Kitani, who was Azzam’s rival when coaching at Fairfax for 35 years, decided to recruit Azzam to instruct middle school students in basketball. Azzam accepted and began last week.

Here’s a profile of Azzam’s new work.

A woman succeeds coaching boys

Brooke Kalama is a mortgage lender, actress and basketball coach.

Brooke Kalama is a mortgage lender, actress and basketball coach.

(Cisco Reyes)

The winter wind whipped through the courts. Loose gravel crumbled under the soles of the boys’ basketball players. One of the nets hung by a few threads, the tattered nylon swaying in the breeze.

It was part of a horrid year for a struggling Roybal High basketball program. In early January 2020, legendary coach Danny O’Fallon died of colon cancer, leaving a coaching vacancy and a devastated roster. When COVID-19 hit, the team was locked out of its gym, forced to practice outdoors.

Tasked with righting the ship was Brooke Kalama, a mortgage lender, veteran actress and mother of four.

Kalama was unconventional, both in identity and in style. She heard the comments that came with being a woman coaching a boys’ team. She never has been one to back down from a challenge.

After a 2021 season during which they finished 0-5, the Titans are 8-3 this season.

“She didn’t give up on us,” co-captain Isaiah Moreno said. “She had faith in us.”

A look at Kalama’s journey.

Girls’ basketball rankings

Etiwanda and Sierra Canyon top the Southern California high school girls’ basketball rankings put together by CalHiSports.com.

Here’s the link to rankings.

Etiwanda returned to action with a rout of Windward on Saturday.

Mater Dei is at 13-3 and continues to progress. Sierra Canyon is getting chemistry while blending Juju Watkins in the lineup. Camarillo is 18-0 behind Gabriela Jaquez, who keeps scoring 30 or more points.

A new Heisman Lane sign

Mater Dei's Heisman Lane sign will need to be updated by adding the name of Bryce Young '21.

Mater Dei’s Heisman Lane sign will need to be updated by adding the name of Bryce Young ’21.

(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Santa Ana Mater Dei is working on updating its Heisman Lane sign on campus, adding the name Bryce Young to join alumnus Matt Leinart and John Huarte.

The new sign is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

All are Mater Dei graduates who went on to win the Heisman Trophy.

Rising soccer star

Moorpark High School senior soccer standout Justin Conyers.

Moorpark High School senior soccer standout Justin Conyers, who also has never gotten a grade other than A in high school.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

When Justin Conyers was age six and kicking a soccer ball in the family living room, he remembers damaging the television, resulting in a $300 bill. His parents were not pleased.

“They made me earn the money back,” he said. “They didn’t mind me kicking the ball in the house. Just be careful where you kick it.”

There also was the time he shattered a vase. You have to make risk vs. reward decisions when a young boy falls in love with a ball at his feet. Fortunately, Conyers became more accurate when the ball was in the house.

As an 18-year-old senior, he has led Moorpark High to an unbeaten record. He has a scholarship awaiting him at UC Irvine and is a leading candidate to become valedictorian with his 4.8 grade-point average, having never received a grade other than A during four years at Moorpark.

Here’s a profile on one of the best soccer players in Southern California.

Baseball

Orange Lutheran leads a group of local baseball teams headed to Cary, N.C., for the National High School Invitational April 6-9.

Orange Lutheran has won the tournament three times. Also scheduled to participate are Servite, Yucaipa and Huntington Beach. The tournament will be held for the first time in two years.

Sherman Oaks Notre Dame has put together a promising three-man pitching rotation that includes players committed to UCLA, Loyola Marymount and Stanford. Junior Justin Lee, senior Cole Clark and sophomore Sammy Petrocelli will try to keep the Knights competitive with defending Division 1 champion Harvard-Westlake.

It was a busy weekend for winter baseball. Trabuco Hills shortstop Will Burns, a transfer from Mission Viejo, had eight hits in three games.

Two teams that could play for the Southern Section Division 2 championship, Hart and Sierra Canyon, locked up to play a 0-0 game for seven innings. There was some terrific pitching by the Sierra Canyon duo of Kassius Thomas (Duke commit) and Max Martin (UC Irvine). Hart junior Lucas Delpino threw three shutout innings and showed he’s much improved. Shortstop Brayden Jefferis of Hart was marvelous fielding, and he’s only a sophomore.

Track

There’s a lot of activity with winter track thanks to Arcadia High hosting a winter championship.

Eastvale Roosevelt’s Hunter O’Brien went 15-10 in the pole vault in Nevada. Aiden Pastorian of Great Oak had a mark of 59-5 in the shotput.

Jack Fairchild, a football-basketball-track star at Crean Lutheran, is a hurdler to watch. Camryn O’Bannon of St. John Bosco went 23 feet, 10 inches in the long jump. Maya Shinnick of Glendora ran 39.55 in the 300.

Notes . . .

The transfer portal in high school football is gathering momentum, particularly at the quarterback position. The latest is Sherman Oaks Notre Dame junior Javance Tupouata-Johnson moving to Chaminade, where his former Bishop Alemany teammate, Indiana Wijay, will be a senior in the fall. It means Notre Dame freshman Wyatt Becker will take over as the Knights’ quarterback. . . .

Esperanza football coach Wes Choate resigned after three seasons as head coach. . . .

Long Beach Millikan girls’ basketball coach Lorene Morgan won her 600th game. . . .

Rolling Hills Prep boys’ basketball coach Harvey Kitani won his 900th game. . . .

Notre Dame has signed a four-year lease to create a softball field at Franklin Fields in Encino, joining Louisville and Harvard-Westlake with softball fields. . . .

Keith Ellison, who played at Redondo Union, Oregon State and was an NFL linebacker, is the new football coach at Redondo Union. . . .

Sophomore linebacker Gage Burnett of Servite has transferred to Santa Margarita. . . .

Garden Grove Pacifica softball player Rory Schuck has committed to Pacific. . . .

Jeff Sears, a well-liked baseball coach at Laguna Beach, died this past weekend. He also was a former head coach at Servite. The baseball community is in mourning.

Track sprinter PJ Ize-Iyamu of Chaminade has committed to Oregon. . . .

Fountain Valley hosted a top wrestling tournament. Here’s the link to some results.

From the archives: Marcedes Lewis

In 2001, Marcedes Lewis tries to get past De La Salle defenders.

In 2001, Marcedes Lewis tries to get past De La Salle defenders.

(David Kawashima)

Tight end Marcedes Lewis, the pride of Long Beach Poly and UCLA, keeps on producing in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers.

He’s the endless wonder. He was a first-round draft pick in 2006 out of UCLA by the Jacksonville Jaguars and has been with the Packers since 2018.

At Long Beach Poly, he was part of the Jackrabbits’ fantastic team of 2001 that faced De La Salle on national television that changed the face of high school football.

Here’s a story from 2008 about the impact of that game.

Lewis is the oldest tight end in the NFL at 37 but shows no signs of slowing down. He’ll be playing Sunday in the NFL playoffs.

He has never forgotten where he came from.

Recommendations

From the Los Angeles Times, a story on how the father of quarterback Bryce Young prepared him to be a top football player.

From the Washington Post, a story on a top high school lacrosse player confronting the lack of diversity in her sport.

From the Los Angeles Times, a story on the Supreme Court agreeing to hear the case of a high school football coach disciplined for leading prayers at a game.

Tweets you might have missed

Until next time…

Have a question, comment or something you’d like to see in a future Prep Rally newsletter? Email me at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latsondheimer.

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