Los Angeles Preps: Shaka Smart
April, 1, 2011
By Sean Ceglinsky | ESPNLosAngeles.com
US Presswire, Getty ImagesUConn's Donnell Beverly, left, and VCU's D.J. Haley, both Southland products, will play in the Final Four this weekend.
It's funny how things work out sometimes.
During his time at Lawndale Leuzinger High, Donnell Beverly was not the most heavily recruited prep basketball player in the Southland, although the often underestimated point guard did manage to show glimpses of his all-around potential.
Nevertheless, local schools such as UCLA and USC looked elsewhere for a floor general. And while nearby programs Pepperdine and San Diego expressed some varied levels of interest, an all-important scholarship offer never materialized.
Enter Connecticut and coach Jim Calhoun.
Apparently, the Huskies noticed something in Beverly the others didn't. Four-plus years later, Beverly is on the verge making an appearance in the Final Four with Connecticut, which plays Kentucky on Saturday at 5:49 p.m. PT in Houston.
“Most people don't know this, but Donnell always had one of those high basketball IQs and I think the Huskies figured that out before anyone else ever did,'' said Reggie Morris Jr., who coached Beverly at Leuzinger and is currently at Playa del Rey St. Bernard.
“I guess you could say that he was a late-bloomer. I always knew he would catch on with some school though. Looking back, everything happens for a reason. I think that Connecticut has been a good fit for Donnell and Donnell has been a good fit for Connecticut.''
Beverly has been a steady contributor for the Huskies, mostly coming off of the bench since his arrival on campus back in the 2007-2008 season. This season, however, his minutes have decreased quite a bit, due in large part to the emergence of Kemba Walker.
Nevertheless, Beverly is two victories away from being fitted for a championship ring. The 6-foot-4 senior has come a long way since his high school days.
He played in the shadows of current Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook for two years at Leuzinger. Once Westbrook went to UCLA, Beverly took over. As a senior, he averaged 17.1 points, 6.9 assists and 6.6 rebounds per game for the Olympians.
“I'm happy for Donnell, no one gave him a chance when he was with us at Leuzinger. But look at him now, he's made his mark at Connecticut,'' Morris Jr. said.
HALEY HAPPENS TO FIT IN WELL AT VCU
Speaking of flying under the radar, D.J. Haley is another local product who did not receive much, if any, recruiting interest but has landed on his feet nonetheless.
Right around this time last year, the post player and Palmdale High graduate had three offers, none of which came from any of the nation's powerhouse programs.
In the end, Haley picked Virginia Commonwealth, choosing the school over the likes of Iowa State and Wyoming. And the 7-footer, a freshman center, figures to play for the Rams in their Final Four showdown against Butler on Saturday at 3:09 p.m. PT in Houston.
As a senior at Palmdale, Haley did not deliver what many would consider to be eye-opening numbers given the fact he towered over most of his opponents. He averaged 13.7 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocks for the Falcons.
Still, his efforts locally caught the attention of those at VCU, particularly coach Shaka Smart. Suppose that best explains why Haley started in the Rams' 10-point victory over Kansas in the Elite Eight.
The rest, as the say, is history. Chances are, Haley could not be happier with the way things eventually worked out.
Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.