UCLA’s Darren Collison is considered to be the best college point guard in the country by people with somewhat believable opinions, like ESPN.com’s Jay Bilas. Jeff Pendergraph is six-foot-nine and cold as hell, at least for a Sun Devil. And David Carter is a former All-Southern Section first-teamer, who took the pill up the coast to UC Davis to play D-I ball for the Aggies while pursuing a degree in textiles and clothing.
That unforgettable trio is what made Etiwanda High School’s 2004-05 basketball team virtually unlickable. I say virtually because Fairfax licked them in the CIF State Division 1 Quarterfinals on March 10, 2005, knocking off the second-ranked team in the entire country (USA Today poll) by playing that brutally physical LA-ghetto brand of basketball, like Crenshaw did back in the day. The defeat that ended Etiwanda’s magical 31-1 run was for Rancho Cucamonga what the Patriots losing to the Wild Card Giants was for Bostonians (and bandwagon latcher-ons across the continent).
This past week Jeff Pendergraph was reunited with Darren Collison as Arizona State visited Pauley Pavilion to take on UCLA. The two former Etiwanda teammates, both of whom could end up playing in the Association, were not chatty. They did not hug one another and slap asses and giggle as good friends might. Instead Collison went a perfect five-for-five from the floor and finished with a quiet dozen while Pendergraph, who’s put on considerable muscle and attitude since his days as an Eagle, scored six meaningless points in an 84-51 UCLA route.
But seeing the two playing at high degrees on the college level is a tribute to coach Dave Kleckner at Etiwanda, whom Collison calls “the best high school coach in the country.” He has not only created powerhouse teams over the last several years (seven league titles in ten years) but gets the most potential out of his players, as evidenced by his team’s 26-1 record this season. He does so by teaching unselfish basketball, which is one of the reasons why Collison is quietly making a bid to be a top-ten draft choice and Pendergraph has emerged into a double-double guy with big league upside. As former Eagles begin to infiltrate not only college but the pros, we should commend the coach who wired them to play selfless basketball during their formative years.
Check out an Etiwanda game down the stretch and see what we mean.