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SoCalHoops HS Profile

HS Preview: LB Poly, Div. I-AA Champs
Return A Young Lineup--(Nov. 18, 2002)

We've profiled Long Beach Poly several times over the years, so many in fact that we've lost count. If you want to see prior previews, just to get a glimpse of history, be sure to check the archives.  Of course, if you're only interested in what's going to happen this season, then be sure to check the Jackrabbit's schedule, and keep reading.....

We had a chance to speak with Long Beach Poly head coach Ron Palmer last week, and since we've not had the time lately to do a whole series of league profiles, we're going to get the ball rolling with our first preseason look at one of the better Southern Section CIF teams. And what better way to get started with the impending high school season than by profiling the Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits.

Where do we begin....How about with a brief recitation of some facts, which ought to give our readers a clear understanding about why, precisely, Long Beach Poly is the place to start when talking about hoops in the CIF Southern Section.  For more years than anyone else from any other school cares to remember, they've set a standard of  excellence.  Maybe they don't have as many state titles as some programs, or perhaps Coach Palmer's record isn't the most outstanding in California history (although we shouldn't be too quick to judge because if Poly picks up 14 more wins this year, he will reach the 600 win plateau), but we'd put it up against just about anyone else in California for overall effectiveness.  And as for why we're starting off with Poly for our first preview of the season, well, they are the defending Southern Section champions, and they've got a string of those kinds of titles over the years:  National Champs in 1984;  State Champions in 1921 and 1984,  and Section champs in 1929, 1939, 1940, 1942, 1956, 1960, 1964, 1965, 1976, 1981.  Additionally, they've won Section titles in 1984, 1990, 1994, 1997, 2000 and 2002, and were Moore League Champions in '76, '77, '79, '80, '81, '83, '84, '90, '94, '95, '97, '98, '99, 2000 and 2002.   That's a lot of banners.

How good will the Jackrabbits be this year?  According to coach Palmer, "We'll be good.  Pretty good.  Maybe really good," he said.  "How good though depends upon how well we can get some of our players to control their emotions on the floor and play as a group, and how well we can work in the middle."   According to coach Palmer, one of the biggest weakeness of this year's team will be that his players sometimes demonstrate and show that they care too much.   "Some of our players just get too intense at times," Coach Palmer said, "Particularly some of our guards.  They've got to avoid wearing their emotions on their sleeves," he said. "If they can do that, then we have a chance to be very good this year."   Another weakness is that this year's team won't be particular deep up front, with just three players over 6'-6" and two of those juniors with only one senior who didn't get any playing time at the varsity level last year.

Here's a look at the roster:

20    Bryan Maddox    5'-10" Sr. G
21    Richard Han    5'-10" Jr. G   
22    Thomas Christian    5'-7" Sr. G
23    Isaiah Freeman    5'-9" Sr. G
24    Carlo Evangelista    5'-11" Sr. G
25    Barry Barnes    5'-9" Jr. G
30    Agustin Laguana    5'-6" Fr. G
31    Alex Barrad    6'-2" Sr. F
33    Chris Fields    6'-6" Jr. F
34    Brandon Towns    6'-1" So. G
35    Josh Guillory    6'-4" Fr. F
40    Marcus Lewis    6'-8" Jr. F
41    Isaiah Bridgette    6'-6" Sr. F
44    Anthony Clark    6'-0" Sr. G

Not a lot of big names, especially among the point guards.  And coach Palmer is a point guard's coach, first and foremost, having developed some of the better point guards in the region over the years, including Tyus Edney who helped lead UCLA to a national title, and Wesley Stokes, who started out at Missouri along with Travon Bryant from Long Beach Jordan, and who is now sitting out the year at San Diego State.   Nope, this roster doesn't look like the most impressive LB Poly roster we've ever seen, but then we've seen Coach Palmer do a lot more with what looked like a lot less on paper.  And thankfully, games aren't played on paper.  

In the backcourt this year Coach Palmer told us that he will, as in past years, likely go with three guards on the floor at all times, but that he expects to look to Barry Barnes to be one of the team leaders along with returning starter Isaiah Freeman.  Coach Palmer believes that Barnes, a quick and accurate jump shooter with great speed could be one of the best guards on the team this year if he can keep himself in check: "Barry is very fast, but he needs to play under control and not let anything affect him.  If he can do that," Coach Palmer noted, "and we can also get good, solid play from Isaiah Freeman, we shouldn't have anything to worry about in the back court."    As for Freeman, a lot will depend upon how strong he's gotten since last year.  He's a very effective ballhandler, with a good feel for the offense but sometimes tended to get overly-ambitious with his passes last season in big games.  Still his play was enough to help the Jackrabbits to the Southern Section crown, and he brings that experience back with him again this year.  Richard Han, a part-time starter in the '01-'02 season will also see a lot of time this year, and there are a number of other guys who will vie for solid playing time as well.

Up front, Marcus Lewis is clearly the player that the Jackrabbits will be looking to hold things together, and he's also clearly the best pure basketball player on the team, both in terms of potential to get to the next level, and the potential to do what needs to be done to finish on this level.  Lewis, (no relation to Marcedes Lewis, who graduated last spring and is now playing football at UCLA) is a solid, athletic wing player, who is comfortable posting up or slashing to the basket with an excellent reverse move.  He's got active feet, big soft hands, and knows the game, and is a solid shot-blocker and can dunk it with authority.  His friends call him "Sleepy" because he has that Sam Perkins-kind of look, like he just woke up from a long nap, but don't let his look deceive you, Marcus is quick, big and agile enough to handle both small guards, as well as the biggest guys he's likely to see in the Southern Section this year, including some of the other prominent forwards he'll see in the Moore League this year like cross-town rival Marcus Dove at Millikan    Helping the Jackrabbits out down low will be Isaiah Bridgette, an up-and-coming forward who will help anchor the middle.   We'd expect to see Josh Guillory and Chris Fields getting some solid time as well.

Long Beach Poly will be appearing first in the Redondo Union Pacific Shores Tournament which will start on December 2, and then they'll be playing in the prestigious Powerade 2002 Las Vegas Holiday Prep Classic, which they won two years ago, the last time the team made an appearance there.  Finally, they'll follow up with a tournament which will be played at Lynwood HS in late December, which is no longer going to be called the "Best in the West" but instead will be called the "California Classic" or some similar name.  We know coach Palmer told us, but frankly, what's in a name.  The important thing is that it's going to be one of the better local tournaments, featuring a lot of top high school teams from the region.

Can the Jackrabbits effectively compete in Division I-AA, where they will undoubtedly be placed again, given their combined enrollment of more than 3,500 students?  Who knows.  But even with teams like Eisenhower,  league rival Long Beach Millikan, Oxnard, AB Miller,  Fontana, Capo Valley, and other traditionally strong I-AA teams lurking out there, Long Beach Poly could have a great shot at repeating as Southern Section Champions in their division by the end of February.  Whether they have enough to take a State Title against teams like I-A defending champs Loyola, or City Section teams like Carson, Fairfax, Westchester, Fremont, Dorsey, Crenshaw, Cleveland and Taft, remains to be seen, and only time will tell.

But we'll be watching.....

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