Leonard's stock keeps rising

If there is any indication where the future of Southern California basketball is headed, look no further than the playoffs. Teams from the Inland Empire have been slowly, but surely, making inroads on the rest of the state the past few years and it erupted into a climax with Martin Luther King's (Riverside, Calif.) stunning victory over the ESPNU No. 1 ranked team in the country Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) 71-56.

Mater Dei had shown some vulnerability throughout the playoffs beginning in the quarterfinals where Rancho Verde, yet another Inland Empire squad, took the Monarchs down to the wire led by its dynamic backcourt of Florida State bound Michael Snaer and 5-11 junior Kyle Fuller.

Then again in the semifinals, Mater Dei had to go on a remarkable fourth quarter run -- led by 6-5 junior Tyler Lamb -- to take out a well-rounded squad in Etiwanda. However, the Monarchs perseverance would run out in the C.I.F. 1AA Championship as they experienced a role reversal and were dismantled in the fourth quarter by the more athletic Wolves.

King didn't get much scoring punch from ESPNU 100 recruit Kawhi Leonard (11 points), but he displayed other attractive characteristics of his game with 20 rebounds and six blocks. Leonard's interior dominance in the second half coupled with 5-9 senior Taylor Cunningham's savvy point guard play (16 points and 5 assists) thwarted any chance of Mater Dei claiming the championship.

Along with Leonard and Cunningham, King also received a big-time performance from 6-7 senior Tony Snell, who tossed in 16-points, including three 3s. Mater Dei would be led by the 6-9 Wear twins David (15 points and 7 rebounds) and Travis (10 points and 5 rebounds).

Standout Players

Kawhi Leonard (6-7, 215)
Senior, Riverside, Calif./ Martin Luther King

Leonard continues to climb the charts with each performance. Although he struggled with his jump shot throughout the night, he exhibited other aspects of his game that make him special. He dominated the interior in the second half, against two McDonalds All-Americans, with his rebounding prowess and shot-blocking ability. Mater Dei did a solid job of not giving him open looks and cutting off his penetration, but he did drop in a couple of runners that were impressive. In addition to his rebounding and defense, the most impressive aspect of his game might have been his savvy. He rarely forced the issue and deferred to his teammates on numerous occasions. Overall, Leonard will be a nightmare match up for the next level. With his length, strength, and improving perimeter skills, the San Diego State recruit might be the top newcomer in the Mountain West Conference next season.

Miles Cartwright (6-3, 160)
Junior, Los Angeles/ Loyola

Cartwright, who may remind some of a poor man's Gabe Pruit (Boston Celtics), is an up-and-coming Division I prospect for the mid or high-major levels. He has extremely long arms and overall great length, but his frame is quite frail. In addition, he doesn't have great quickness or speed, but he is quite slick with the ball. He can weave his way through traffic effectively and has a tremendous knack to score. His strength is his jump-shooting ability. Cartwright has a prolific stroke out to 21 feet, and his midrange pull-up. Despite his slight frame, he can finish effectively inside with either hand. At this stage, Cartwright is a bit of a 'tweener. He has a prototypical point guard body, but his decision-making must improve to play the 1 at the next level. He has a tendency to overpenetrate and leaves his feet every time he passes the ball, which is a very bad habit. In addition, he must improve his left hand because he pushes the ball right almost every possession.

Andrew Bock (6-1, 160)

Senior, Rialto, Calif./ Eisenhower

Bock has grown considerably both in skill and savvy since his junior campaign. He doesn't possess great quickness, but he changes speeds effectively and has a very tight handle that he keeps very low off the ground. He is a rhythm shooter who likes to let it go off the dribble. His patented move is a crossover dribble into a step-back jump shot. He manages the game and doesn't ever force a shot or pass. He is pure point guard who knows how to run the offense and get his teammates involved. In transition, he makes good decisions and had a couple of assists that were brilliant. He'll need to fill out his wiry frame, but he is one of the top point guard prospects on the West Coast.

Alex Tiffin (6-7, 195)

Junior, Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Tiffin is a low or mid-major power forward for the next level. He has a decent frame with fairly long arms but only limited bounce. However, he is an extremely polished basketball player. His fundamentals and savvy for the game are high level and he possesses a solid all-around offensive game. His strength is his feathery shooting touch which extends out to the stripe. He has a high release that makes his shot difficult to block and he is always on balance. He is very potent in a pick-and-pop set and he can deliver the nifty assist. Although he needs to get considerably stronger, he knows how to position himself in the paint area and finish. Furthermore, he can handle the ball in the open court and generally makes good decisions. He needs to continue to develop his post game (a jump hook would be nice), but overall, Tiffin should be a solid face-up 4-man for the Big West or Big Sky conferences.

Chris Manresa (6-8, 240)
Senior, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif./ Tesoro

Manresa plays the game like a NBA seasoned veteran. His size, skill and mobility are impressive. He has a great frame with broad shoulders and long arms, and he is deceptively bouncy. His footwork is impeccable in the paint area, and he is quite allusive, despite his thick frame. He has a feathery shooting touch out to the stripe and is remarkably agile off the dribble -- Manresa had a number of nice drives to the basket. Despite his skill and savvy, he needs to pick up the intensity; there were a quite a few possessions in the first half during which he had it in cruise control. Manresa has the talent to make an immediate impact in the WCC if he puts his mind to it.

David Wear (6-9, 220)
Senior, Santa Ana, Calif./ Mater Dei

Wear wasn't spectacular by any stretch, but he displayed his all-around game in the championship. His frame has filled out nicely over the years, and he now has the strength to battle at the Division I level. However, his lack of bounce was evident throughout the championship game; he struggled to score in the paint area -- the length of Tony Snell and Kawhi Leonard caused the Wear twins problems all night. On the other hand, he can be quite effective when utilizing his face-up game. He has solid range on his jump shot and is one of the few players in this day and age to use the glass. In addition, his post skills have improved, including a pretty nifty jump hook. He runs decent for a big and he can finish with a dunk if he has the proper momentum. David is a tad further along than his brother (Travis) at this stage, but it will be interesting to see how much impact they have as freshmen at North Carolina. The Tar Heels have a bevy of frontcourt talent returning, not to mention one of the top in-coming recruits in the country in 6-10 John Henson (Tampa, FL/ Sickles).

Surprise Players

Erik Swoope (6-5, 220)
Junior, North Hollywood, Calif./Harvard-Westlake

Swoope is an undersized 5-man, but he is an absolute beast at this level. He has limited skills, but he knows how to finish in the paint area -- usually with a thunderous dunk. He has a thick frame that is quite chiseled and very strong hands -- anything within reach he snatches. His post skills are limited, but he has a strong drop-step move. He gets most of his points off of offensive put-backs or dunks in transition. Defensively, he has outstanding timing and is one of the more gifted shot-blockers in the state due to his explosiveness. Swoope could be that blue-collar type 5-man for the Big West Conference.

Bernard Ireland (6-3, 165)

Sophomore, Rialto, Calif./ Eisenhower
Ireland has a high ceiling for the next level due to his sinewy frame and soft shooting touch. He possesses many of the intangibles -- length and athleticism -- coaches look for in a high-level 2-guard. His overall game is still quite raw, particularly his handle, but his shooting touch is impressive and he has range beyond the stripe. He is most comfortable in a catch-and-shoot situation, but his game will really expand if he develops a midrange jumper. He can finish in traffic and has excellent body control. Defensively, Ireland slides his feet very well and he has quick hands. Ireland is an outstanding prospect, and if he addresses the underdeveloped aspects of his game, he could be a high-major prospect down the road.

Tony Snell (6-7, 190)

Senior, Riverside, Calif./ Martin Luther King

Snell displayed the skills that make him one of the top sleepers on the West Coast. He has a terrific frame with long arms and he's very bouncy. Although he excels in an up-tempo pace, he allows the game to come to him. He's a high-level athlete and can finish above the rim on a regular basis. He has a smooth touch out to the stripe and his release is tight. He is more comfortable in a catch-and-shoot situation, but if his ball handling skills improve, he may be a 3 someday. Overall, Snell is a diamond in the rough. With continued skill development and coaching, he should be playing at the Division 1 level sooner rather than later.

Tyler Lamb (6-5, 180)
Junior, Santa Ana, Calif./ Mater Dei

Lamb has improved different aspects of his game, particularly his jump shot, but he tried to do too much in the championship game. His jump shot has improved over the course of the season, but his decision making was troublesome to say the least -- there were many times when he left his feet while passing. King's defenders gave him fits, repeatedly cut his path off going to the basket. Lamb -- think former UCLA standout Aaron Afflalo -- is not a one-on-one talent and he doesn't have the bounce or quickness to break down quick defenders. He can be quite effective in a structured situation in which he can create off screens to get his shot off, but he doesn't possess that highly coveted second gear to separate from his opponents. However, he does have a nice pull-up off the dribble. He utilizes the pump fake very well to get his shot off or create space. On the other hand, he is quite good on the defensive end. He plays the passing lanes as well as any high school recruit. He has a real knack for reading opponents and making steals. In addition, he is a gifted help-side defender and tremendous shot-blocker in transition.

Southern Section Notes

Jordan Gathers, a 6-3 junior out of Los Angeles/ Loyola, struggled from the field, but he demonstrated the type of skill (nifty passer) and defensive intensity to warrant Division 1 interest.

Austin Kelly, a 6-2 junior out of North Hollywood, Calif./ Harvard-Westlake, has a legitimate pull-up jump shot out to 3-point range. However, his ball handling and decision making need to improve immensely to attract Division I interest.

• One of the top sleepers on the West Coast in the class of 2010 will be 6-8 Tony Wroblicky (Los Angeles/ Loyola). He possesses a very nice frame, has deceptive bounce, and can knock down the jump shot at the elbow.

• His decision-making needs to improve, but 5-8 sophomore Javonte Sales (Cerritos, Calif./ Gahr) is a true point guard with excellent speed and quickness. He plays bigger than his size due to his long arms and he has quite the burst off the dribble.

Jerry Evans, a 6-7 senior out of Lawndale, Calif./ Leuzinger, is a high-major prospect for the Division 1 level. This lefty is a versatile 3-man with a vast amount of offensive skills. He has 3-point range on his shot, is a very good passer, and can break down defenders off the bounce.

Travis Wear, a 6-9 senior out of Santa Ana, Calif./ Mater Dei, turned in a solid second half performance, including two highly skilled turn-around jump shots along the baseline.

• One of the better spot-up shooters in the Class of 2011 out West is 6-4 Ryan Oliver (Los Angeles/ Loyola). He needs to develop other areas of his game, but he has a solid frame and a definite soft touch.

• One of the better-looking sophomores in the West is 6-7 Jarion Henry (Cerritos, Calif./ Gahr). He has that prototypical wing-type frame and the skills to match. He's a fluid ball handler, tremendous passer, and will rebound.

• One of the key players in Martin Luther King's stunning defeat of Mater Dei was 5-11 senior Taylor Cunningham. His quickness and decision making caused the Monarchs to gamble on defense and freed up shooters.