Los Angeles Preps: Eric Cooper Sr.

Serra knocks off LV Lutheran in 4AA

March, 1, 2012
3/01/12
7:28
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ANAHEIM -- Kajon Mack and Dakarai Tucker were sophomores when Gardena Serra won section and state titles two years ago. They were handed championship rings but, with guys Marqise Lee doing most of the heavy lifting, it didn't quite feel right.

The senior duo felt grand Thursday afternoon, as Serra captured the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA crown with a 69-59 victory against La Verne Lutheran at the Anaheim Convention Center Arena. Fellow senior Daddy Ugbede scored 32 points on 14-for-20 shooting, out-dueling Lutheran's Grant Jerrett, an Arizona-bound forward and the state's only McDonald's All-American.

"It feels good to be a part of this now," Mack said smiling.

Tucker added 21 points for top-seeded Serra, which pulled away late in a game that featured 15 lead changes and nine ties. The Del Rey League-champion Cavaliers capitalized on their size advantage down low, out-rebounding the Trojans 36-20 and forcing Jerrett, Lutheran's only big, into foul trouble.

"I'm a firm believer in whoever controls the boards, controls the game," Serra coach Dwan Hurt said. "That's what we talked about in practice."

Serra (29-2) had 10 second-chance points and it proved to be the difference. Jerrett picked up his fourth foul with 1:32 remaining in the third quarter, paving the way for the 6-foot-7 Ugbede. The student section serenaded him with chants of "Who's your Daddy?"

"La Verne Lutheran is a very good team," Hurt said. "We just persevered out there. Once we got rid of Jerrett, Daddy basically had his way down low."

Jerrett finished with 19 points but only five rebounds. Eric Cooper Jr. scored 12 points and Brian Beard had 11 for Lutheran, which now turn its attention a state tournament it has won the last two years.

"If Serra does play us again they know it will be a game," Lutheran coach Eric Cooper Sr. said. "It will definitely be a game. I look forward to state and seeing what these guys do when they step on the court again."

Mack and Tucker, meanwhile, were giddy in the postgame media room, knowing they had just won arguably the most difficult division in the state.

"There's a difference when you're on the bench than being a part of it," Hurt said. "This one is probably more meaningful to them because they know they had a part in it."

Blair Angulo covers preps for ESPN Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.

LV Lutheran holds off Oaks Christian

February, 21, 2012
2/21/12
10:58
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WESTLAKE VILLAGE – Injury or not, there was no way of keeping Eric Cooper Jr. on the bench for Tuesday night's Southern Section playoff game. The junior guard from La Verne Lutheran understood the importance of his presence out on the floor for his teammates.

Despite a troublesome finger on his shooting hand, Cooper Jr. logged major minutes for the Trojans and was an all-important steadying presence down the stretch as they avoided an upset with a 60-58 victory over host Oaks Christian in a Division 4AA quarterfinal game.

“At this stage of the game, you have to stick it out and fight through some things in order to get the job done,'' Cooper Jr. said. “Nothing is going to keep me out of the lineup. I just taped up my finger, went out there and did my thing. It's the playoffs, that's what you do.''

The Lions (22-6) had a chance to win the game. Luckily for La Verne Lutheran (22-6), Chass Bryan's 3-pointer hit off the back iron just before the buzzer sounded.

If not for Cooper Jr., the Trojans might have been in trouble. Starting point guard Brian Beard picked up three fouls in the first five minutes and was forced to the sidelines. The Arizona-bound Cooper Jr. finished with six points, four rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes.

“Eric might need to have surgery,'' said his father and Trojans coach Eric Cooper Sr. “I think he has a dislocated right index finger, his shooting hand, and a possible break too. We're going to see the doctor on Monday. He says his discomfort is at an eight on a scale to 10. I don't think so. He would not be able to play. Still, we're trying to be cautious about things.''

Cooper Jr. had help along the way, of course. Grant Jerrett scored 11 of his game-high 21 points in the first half as La Verne Lutheran rallied from eight-point deficit. The 6-foot-10 senior post and Arizona commit also contested Bryan's potential game-winner.

Bryan kept the Lions close and finished with 18 points.

His teammate, Michael Roletti, nearly played the role of spoiler. He made four three-pointers in the fourth quarter alone and ended up with 18 points of his own.

Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

L.V. Lutheran breezes past Chino Hills

January, 5, 2012
1/05/12
10:21
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CHINO HILLS -- Two-time defending state champion La Verne Lutheran, like many across the Southland, still hasn't found its top form. Oftentimes it doesn't arrive until February, a few weeks before the start of playoffs.

Lutheran provided glimpses of what it might look like in a month in a 61-36 non-league victory against Chino Hills on Thursday night. Arizona-bound forward Grant Jerrett scored 22 points before taking a seat early in the fourth quarter. Guard Eric Cooper Jr. added 19.

"We've got a ways to go," Jerrett said. "We've still got to find our team camaraderie."

The Trojans (11-4) buckled down defensively in the second quarter, outscoring the Huskies 24-7 to pull away for good. Their largest lead was 27, built by contesting perimeter jump shots and forcing movement into the crowded paint.

Even the home fans couldn't help but applaud Jerrett's transition slam dunks.

"Our team has to live off winning the 50-50 loose ball challenges," Lutheran coach Eric Cooper Sr. said. "We've got to be aggressive enough to challenge other teams."

Deandre Page led Sierra League contender Chino Hills (10-4) with 10 points. Twin brother Deion Page had nine.

Lutheran has won four straight since losing its first two games in the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic tournament. Up next is a matchup against one-loss Carlsbad La Costa Canyon in the San Diego Lincoln Showcase on Saturday.

Blair Angulo covers preps for ESPN Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.

L.A. South: Boys' basketball Top 10

December, 6, 2011
12/06/11
6:20
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Loyola, Long Beach Poly and La Verne Lutheran are ranked in the preseason POWERADE ESPNHS Fab 50 national rankings, and they lead the way in our opening edition of the south Los Angeles County boys' basketball top 10:

1. Loyola (4-0)
Key players: PG Parker Jackson-Cartwright, SG Justin Childress, SG Jacob Hazzard, SF Julian Harrell (Penn)
Last season: The Cubs went 25-6 and won the CIF-Southern Section Div. I-A championship before losing by two to eventual state champion Mater Dei in regionals.
Why they're here: Jackson-Cartwright, only a sophomore, is already considered the top point guard in the state. Mix in the shooting of Childress and Hazzard -- as well as the versatility of Harrell -- and the Cubs have a lineup that few can match.

2. Long Beach Poly (3-1)
Key players: SF Roschon Prince, PF Jordan Bell, PG Chris Croom, SG Reuben Strickland
Last season: The Jackrabbits posted a 30-2 record and captured the Division 1AA title in Anaheim before losing to eventual state champion Mater Dei in regionals.
Why they're here: Poly coach Sharrief Metoyer lost his top two to graduation -- state player of the year Ryan Anderson (Boston College) and Alexis Moore (USC) -- but there's more than enough talent left. Prince and Bell might be the best one-two combination in the county.

3. La Verne Lutheran (4-0)
Key players: PF Grant Jerrett (Arizona), SG Eric Cooper Jr. (Arizona), SF McKay Anderson, SG Cameron Osorno
Last season: The Trojans overcame off-the-court adversity, finishing with a 25-5 mark and a second consecutive state championship.
Why they're here: Jerrett, a long and lean power forward, is arguably the top prospect on the West Coast. Coach Eric Cooper Sr. returns nine letter-winners from last year's team, including son Eric Cooper Jr., a sharp-shooting junior who makes teams pay for double-teaming Jerrett down low.

4. St. John Bosco (4-0)
Key players: SG Isaac Hamilton, PF Anthony January (UTEP), SF Darryl Matthews, SG Daniel Hamilton
Last season: The Braves finished 21-9 and were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the CIF-SS Division 4AA playoffs.
Why they're here: New coach Derrick Taylor, who built Woodland Hills Taft into a City Section power, has the Braves thinking about the Trinity League crown. Getting past defending state champion Mater Dei won't be easy, but Bosco has Isaac Hamilton, a transfer from Crenshaw who is one of the nation's top juniors.

5. Price (3-1)
Key players: PF Skylar Spencer (San Diego State), PG Chance Murray, SG Chris Sandifer
Last season: The high-flying Knights went 24-8 and fell just short against La Caņada in the CIF-SS Division 3AA championship game.
Why they're here: Yes, Price lost guard Askia Booker (Colorado) and ultra athletic forward Norvel Pelle to graduation but don't dismiss coach Michael Lynch's bunch. Spencer is another high-soaring scorer who's lethal in fast break opportunities, and Murray, a junior, already has a scholarship offer from UCLA.

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SACRAMENTO -- Kevin Payne sank the shot of his life and pointed to the sky. That one was for his fallen father. Twenty seconds later, another dagger, and Payne pointed to the stands. That one was for his mother, who was there to console him.

Payne's back-to-back threes propelled La Verne Lutheran to a 64-59 win against Oakland Bishop O'Dowd in the CIF State Boys Division III championship Saturday afternoon, securing the Trojans' second consecutive title.

"This means everything to me," said Payne, whose father, Kevin Payne Sr., died in August. "This is a storybook ending. It feels like a fairy tale right now. From everything we've gone through and me personally, with everything I've gone through, sometimes I felt like quitting, and my [teammates] would not let me do it."

Payne had taken the place of starter Xavier Jones, who left for the hospital after his defibrillator began buzzing in the early minutes. Jones wears a defibrillator to monitor his heart rate.

"I got him out of there quickly," said Lutheran coach Eric Cooper, who in November saved Jones' life by administering CPR after the player had collapsed in practice. "He looked concerned."

The game went on after Jones left Power Balance Pavilion. The teams came out cold to start, shooting a combined 31 percent (eight for 26) in the first quarter. Brandon Ashley had six of the Dragons' eight first-quarter points; Grant Jerrett and Bruce English, with four apiece, combined for Lutheran's eight. They settled down in the second -- Lutheran made eight of 12 shots, O'Dowd five of 10.

The Trojans (26-5) scored the last seven points of the first half to go up 26-21. But O'Dowd emerged from the locker room a different, more inspired team, using a 10-0 run at the start of the third to go in front. The Dragons scored 24 points in the third after getting 21 in the entire first half.

"We showed who we really are," O'Dowd coach Doug Vierra said.

Lutheran, which trailed by as many as eight, responded with a 12-4 run to open the fourth. They regained the lead, 54-51, on a three from Cameron Osorno, whose 16 key points off the bench tied him for the team lead with Jerrett, the top-rated forward in the 2012 class. Ashley had a game-high 26 for O'Dowd (25-7) -- which fell in the Division III state title game for the second straight year -- before fouling out in the final minute.

The Trojans trailed, 59-58, with 1:24 left before Payne's unexpected heroics.

"As soon as I took both of them I knew they were going in," Payne said. "I just had the confidence and I believed. There's an angel watching over all of us."
Sometimes, losses have their benefits. The La Verne Lutheran boys' basketball team can attest to that.

The Trojans last lost on Feb. 25, against Los Angeles Price, in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AA semifinals. Lutheran fell by five after trailing by as many as 21 midway through the third quarter. It may have been a blessing in disguise, particularly because the Trojans had to turn up their intensity to make a mind-numbing 23-4 run.

Junior forward Grant Jerrett was spectacular, pulling the Trojans to within two following left hooks galore. He posted a game-high 26 points against no slouch -- Price's Norvel Pelle, one of the nation's premier forwards who's headed to St. John's next season.

Fast forward three weeks and 11th-seeded Lutheran (24-5) is still alive and kicking. The Trojans don't head into Saturday's CIF State Division III Southern California regional final against top-seeded La Caņada (30-3) at Galen Center as heavy underdogs.

“They’re huge,” La Caņada coach Tom Hofman said. “They’re a good team. It should be a good game. It will be a tough one.”

Jerrett is listed at 6 feet 9 and has two teammates over 6-7. The tallest starter for La Caņada, forward Matt Faber, is 6-5. It's not difficult to guess what Lutheran coach Eric Cooper Sr. will be asking for from the bench.

Lutheran has been throwing the ball down low throughout regional play. The defending state champion Trojans beat San Diego University City, Orange Lutheran and Harvard-Westlake to get to the Galen Center. The last two wins -- against the third-seeded and second-seeded teams -- were by a combined 33 points.

La Caņada received a bye in the first round, then defeated Encino Crespi and Inglewood to get to the title game.

"You know, we're thrilled," La Caņada guard Michael McGlashan said. "Going into Galen Center, we've got nothing to lose. That's a great thing. We're just going to play our hearts out."

Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com Preps blogger Tim Haddock was used in this report.

LA South: La Verne Lutheran overcomes enormous adversity

March, 16, 2011
3/16/11
5:01
PM PT
Kevin Payne/Xavier JonesCourtesy of Dave KeeferKevin Payne, left, lost his father to a car accident in September, and Xavier Jones, right, suffered a heart attack in November and had to be revived by coaches through CPR. Both look to lead La Verne Lutheran to a berth in the state finals.

LA VERNE -- In most cases, a tragedy, particularly a loss of life, tends to have a profound impact on the psyche of a high school sports program.

Sometimes the extenuating circumstances can cause strife so severe the players and coaches, often times, find it difficult to overcome.

The La Verne Lutheran boys’ basketball team has been a resilient bunch. It's a group that has recently dealt with three deaths to persons closely associated to the program and a close call with regard to another, a teammate no less.

Through it all, the players and coaches have persevered and are now on the verge of reaching a goal that many observers thought unattainable a couple of months ago.

A victory over La Canada (30-3) in Saturday’s Southern California Regional playoffs at USC’s Galen Center will secure the Trojans (25-5) an improbable Division III title and enable them to advance to the state finals on March 25 and 26 at Arco Arena in Sacramento.

“We have had some ups and downs so far, but our kids have stuck it out and fought through adversity,’’ La Verne Lutheran coach Eric Cooper Sr. said.

Perhaps Kevin Payne and Xavier Jones have been involved in the most traumatic experiences, given that each senior lost a close family member.

Payne’s father, Kevin Payne Sr., was killed in an automobile accident in early September. The grief left a lasting impression on the entire program.

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