Los Angeles Preps: Robert Gsellman

Inland Empire and LA South: Corona Centennial 68, Westchester 57

March, 10, 2011

CORONA — Gelaun Wheelwright is getting pretty adept at picking up the slack.

The senior guard for the Corona Centennial boys’ basketball team had to carry some of the scoring load for hobbled teammate Michael Caffey and he came through with 38 points Thursday night in a 68-57 victory against Westchester in CIF Southern California Regional Division 1 quarterfinal at Centennial.

The Huskies advanced to host Woodland Hills Taft in the regional semifinals Saturday night. Centennial beat the Toreadors earlier this season at the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic.

As the second-seeded team, Centennial has enjoyed home-court advantage through the first two rounds. Wheelwright said the comfortable confines has helped spark his stellar play. The Huskies had just one home game in the Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs, which ended with a loss to top-seeded Long Beach Poly in the championship game at Anaheim Convention Center.

“I feel good playing in front of a bunch of my peers,” said Wheelwright, who signed with Weber State. “They get me focused and ready to play.”

Caffey, who signed with Long Beach State, sprained his right ankle in the third quarter of a first-round victory Tuesday against visiting Redlands East Valley and did not return. Wheelwright finished with 31 points in that win.

As recently as Thursday morning, Caffey was still on crutches.

“I honestly didn’t know if I was going to play or not because it was killing me,” Caffey said of his ankle. “I was a little slower than usual but then my adrenaline started pumping.”

Caffey finished with seven points, including a big 3-point basket early in the fourth quarter that broke a 48-48 tie.

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Southern California Regional boys’ basketball playoffs

Division 1

Second round

Westchester at Corona Centennial, Thursday, 7 p.m.

Five keys to the game:

1. Corona Centennial point guard Michael Caffey will likely be a game-time decision after twisting his right ankle during the third quarter Tuesday against visiting Redlands East Valley. Caffey, who has signed with Long Beach State, said after the game that he "should be back" against the Comets. Caffey is averaging 17.5 points and 6.2 assists for the second-seeded Huskies and has emerged as the team’s best playmaker.

2. If any team can weather the storm without one of its key players, it’s Centennial. The Huskies’ backcourt also includes New Mexico-bound slasher Dominique Dunning and Weber State-bound sharpshooter Gelaun Wheelwright. The duo combined for 59 points in the victory against REV. Caffey missed two Big VIII League games earlier this season with a sprained left ankle and the Huskies didn’t skip a beat. Westchester isn’t Norco, however.

3. Due to their respective locations, you wouldn’t expect these teams to have a history against each other, but they played Dec. 30 in the fifth-place game of the prestigious National Division at the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic. The Huskies raced to a 24-7 lead in that game and kept the Comets in the rearview mirror the rest of the way in 59-51 victory. Dunning scored 17 points in the game and Joshua Wilson had 17 to lead Westchester.

4. This isn’t the Comets of old. Sure, they reached the City Section championship game but they don’t have the start power of recent seasons, such as when Trevor Ariza streaked down the lane, Amir Johnson patrolled the middle or Dwayne Polee, Jr. soared above the rim. This season, Westchester relies on an unsung cast that includes 6-6 forward Robert Gsellman, who is better known among baseball recruiters for his .649 batting average last season.

5. Much of what makes Westchester so beatable this season is its inexperience. The Comets graduated 11 players from last season’s Division 1 state championship team. Woodland Hills Taft had every reason to kick the Comets when they were down. The Toreadors lost to Westchester in the City Section final the last two years and three of the last five, but they could only manage a four-point victory in last week’s City Section final.

LA South: Westchester 67, Washington 58

February, 25, 2011
LOS ANGELES -- As expected, the Los Angeles Westchester High boys' basketball teams is heading to the City Section championship game.

The Comets secured their appearance in the finals Friday with a 67-58 semifinal victory over Los Angeles Washington at Galen Center. Awaiting second-seeded Westchester in the title game next Saturday is top-seeded Woodland Hills Taft.

The Toreadors defeated fifth-seeded Palisades, 78-59, on Friday night in the other semifinal.

“We didn't want to look too far ahead, our focus was on Washington tonight, that was it,'' Comets coach Ed Azzam said. “A win against them was the only thing that mattered. Without a victory, there would be no Taft, there is no championship game for us.''

Turns out, everything went according to plan.

The Comets (26-6) made sure of that by playing particularly well early Friday as Robert Gsellman made a couple of key baskets, including a long distance three-pointer to give Westchester a 15-5 lead with 3:38 remaining in the first quarter of play.

The Generals (22-7) answered as Christopher Brown made back-to-back three-pointers to help cut the deficit to 15-14 with 1:33 left in the first quarter.

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LA South: Westchester 59, Fairfax 34

February, 22, 2011

WESTCHESTER -- Fairfax coach Harvey Kitani was hoping the third time would be the charm for his Lions when going up against the Westchester Comets in the quarterfinals of the CIF City Section playoffs.

It wasn't.

Westchester (25-6), ranked eighth in the latest ESPNLA.com Top 20 rankings, was again too much for Kitani's Lions to handle -- for the third time this season. The Comets had already topped the Lions twice this season, by 27 points at Fairfax and by 12 at home. Tuesday, Westchester manhandled the Lions with a smothering man-to-man defense from the opening tip to take home the 59-34 win to set up a semifinals matchup with Washington at the Galen Center on Friday.

The Comets opened Tuesday's game with a 9-0 lead and led 25-10 at the half, never really letting the Lions into the game after that point. They withstood Fairfax's best run in the third quarter and led, 43-24, at the end of that period, before closing it out in the fourth with a well-balanced offensive attack that included a couple reserves.

"They didn't do anything different," Comets coach Ed Azzam said of the rival Lions. "And we didn't do anything different either. We struggle scoring, but they really struggle scoring, and so that was the difference. They just couldn't put the ball in the basket."

Westchester has now beaten Fairfax six consecutive times, with the last Fairfax win coming in February 2009 at Westchester. The storied rivalry, once thought to be fairly even at one point last decade, has clearly tipped in the Comets' direction.

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Nike Extravaganza lives up to its name

February, 5, 2011
When they say extravaganza, they mean extravaganza.

There was plenty of hype surrounding Saturday's Nike Extravaganza, held over at Santa Ana Mater Dei High. And rightfully so, given the fact that several of the Southland's premier boys' basketball programs were in attendance and competing for regional bragging rights.

The event started bright and early in the morning, right around 8 a.m. Things didn't finish up until late in the evening, of course, just before 11 p.m. In between, you better believe the action was played at the highest of levels. It was non-stop, from beginning to end.

Suppose that best explains why the camera crews from ESPN2 were on hand for the showcase game, a match-up featuring Las Vegas (NV) Bishop Gorman and Long Beach Poly, which has been ranked No. 1 in the ESPNLosAngeles.com top 20 poll all season long.

Turns out, the visitors from the nearby desert were too much, particularly Shabazz Muhammad. At times, the talented junior scored seemingly at will and he finished with 31 points in a 58-53 victory over the Jackrabbits, who lost for the first time in 23 games thus far.

With a five-point lead at the outset of the fourth quarter, things appeared to be heading in the right direction for Long Beach Poly (22-1). However, Ryan Anderson, Alexis Moore and Roschon Prince, among others, struggled during the final eight minutes of play.

Muhammad, of course, preserved the victory, making four straight free-throws in the final minute of the game. Spectators should not be overly surprised that he played extremely well for the Gaels (20-6) considering the small forward is ESPNU's top-ranked player at his position for the 2012 class, and No. 5 prospect overall.

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LA South: Westchester 58, Fairfax 46

January, 27, 2011
WESTCHESTER -- When it comes to boys' basketball rivalries in the Southland, very few are as fierce or have a longer history than the one between Los Angeles Fairfax and Westchester.

Accordingly, the two teams got together once again on Thursday night. And for the second time in as many attempts this season, the Comets prevailed, 58-46 in a Western League game.

“When we play Fairfax, records go right out the window, our showdowns with them always seem to be competitive. Forget about the final score tonight, it was one of those hard-fought games, both teams came out hard and competed until the end,'' Westchester coach Ed Azzam said.

“The great thing about our two programs is that we have this mutual respect for each other. The kids get along, for the most part. Well, maybe not during the game, but afterward, things seem to be just fine. It doesn't matter who wins, there's never any real animosity the next day.''

That might be easy for Azzam to say.

The Comets, after all, defeated the Lions on the road, 60-47, a mere two weeks ago. The lopsided win helped them move up to No. 6 in the ESPNLosAngeles.com top 20 rankings.

This victory, however, meant much more considering Westchester (19-5, 8-0) remains atop the league standings heading into Monday night's game against host Los Angeles University (20-5, 5-1) at 5:30 p.m.. And sole possession of first place figures to be at stake in that one.

Give the Lions some credit, they did a good job of keeping Robert Gsellman in check on Thursday. The 6-foot-6 senior wing was held to nine points when all was said and done.

Joshua Wilson and Matthew Grant picked up the slack for the Comets, who jumped out to a 12-6 lead at the end of the first quarter of play and took five-point lead at halftime.

Wilson and Grant were effective in the second half and combined for 23 points. As result, Westchester built what proved to be an insurmountable nine-point lead in the fourth quarter.

Laik Carter had 21 points for Fairfax (12-7, 4-4), but his efforts came up short.

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

LA North and LA South: Taft beats Westchester in basketball showdown

December, 5, 2010
LOS ANGELES -- With the Southern Section high school football playoffs seemingly heating up all over the Southland, it would be easy to understand why a high-profile boys’ basketball showcase such as the Westchester Tournament could potentially be overlooked.

But missing out on a chance to catch the talent on hand during Saturday night’s game between Woodland Hills Taft and the host Comets in the tournament championship game proved to be far too good of an opportunity to pass up, even with all of the gridiron goings on.

The Toreadors lineup, loaded with a number of NCAA Division I type recruits, entered the showdown as the prohibitive favorite. And they looked every bit the part. Taft was impressive from start to finish en route to winning the title with a 71-60 victory over Westchester.

Colorado-bound Spencer Dinwiddie had to be considered as one of the marquee names and he did little to tarnish his reputation on Saturday. ESPNU ranks the 6-foot-3 senior point guard as the nation’s No. 25 player at his position and he scored 18 points against the Comets.

Another of Taft’s many prospects to play well was Kevin Johnson, a 6-9 and 225-pound senior center who is being recruited by the likes of Baylor, Illinois and Kentucky, to name a few. The big man finished with a substandard six points, but his impact was felt on the defensive end against Westchester.

C.J. Blackwell is a newcomer at Taft, having moved to Southern California from Georgia. And it appears as if the 6-5 senior small forward is fitting in just fine with his new teammates. Blackwell, who’s been contacted by several schools, ended up with 18 points.

As for the Comets, they don’t have nearly as many household names. Nevertheless, Robert Gsellman played well. The 6-5 junior wing had 15 points for Westchester. Fellow underclassman Keywhon Powns added 12 points.