It was one of the most astonishing sports stories in Westside history.
Crossroads, which had been dominant in basketball during the 15 years Daryl Roper was coach, won only two games last season and lost 16, several by embarrassing scores.
When the season ended Roper weighed his options and decided on a career change, saying he would continue to teach at the school and cheer on his daughter, who is a Roadrunner volleyball player.
But athletic director Chuck Ice knew the school – which doesn’t field a football team – and is identified with strong basketball, needed a new coach who would bring enthusiasm and, hopefully, would restore the school’s basketball reputation.
Ice received 25 applications and interviewed 11 candidates, then reduced the number to three finalists.
The choice was Kevin Brown, who brought a strong resume – a former Culver City High player, former Beverly Hills High head coach, a man with seven years as a college assistant, including jobs in Texas and Kentucky and an assistant at Santa Monica College last season.
Brown is a positive person. He looks at the school’s state-of-the-art campus gymnasium and sees an opportunity. He’s guiding the team through a heavy summer league schedule to give players the experience they lacked last season.
He won’t predict anything about wins and losses but is providing a favorable environment.
“My goal is that every basketball player here will go on to college and learn lessons that will make him a success in whatever field he chooses,” he said. “We stress teamwork, caring as much about others as yourself.
“The basketball is going well this summer too. I’m pleased with the contributions, commitment and attitude of every player on the team.”
Summer basketball isn’t the same as league games that will begin in a few months, but it’s a plus for a team coming off a sub-standard season to have some success in order to build confidence and belief in the program. Crossroads won the Loyola Marymount summer league and last weekend moved on to a new setting by playing in a tournament at Concordia University in Irvine.
Brown moved around on the college level, as many assistants do, to gain knowledge from different head coaches. Having done that, he can incorporate different philosophies.
“I learned from every experience and made the most of every situation,” he said.
It could be a long climb back, however, for Crossroads. Once Baron Davis and Austin Croshere played on Roper’s teams. Now they’re in the NBA and there aren’t players anywhere close to their caliber on the Roadrunner squad. Campbell Hall, Harvard-Westlake and Montclair Prep are powers now and Crossroads lost by 40 points last season to local rival Brentwood.
But Brown speaks favorably about the nucleus of his team, which includes all-conference Michael Ojo (6-4). Chris Allen (6-5), Solomon Hainna (6-5), Conrad Lebowitz (6-7) and a talented 6-2 freshman, Meric Legoce.
“I’m very encouraged about this team,” said Brown.
The new coach is a credentialed teacher and will be in a position to teach more classes if openings occur. At first he’ll teach only a few.
Brown would like Crossroads to host a season-opening tournament involving primarily Westside teams, as St. Monica did for many years. Since next season’s schedules are set it can’t happen until 2007.
Ironically, the Crossroads basketball program began to unravel shortly after the new gymnasium was built. During most of Roper’s glory years Crossroads played wherever it could get gym space and it was hard to know where a Roadrunner game was scheduled.
The best place to see Davis in a Roadrunner uniform, prior to his UCLA years, was at West LA College or Loyola Marymount U. The first time I saw him was at the Beverly Hills Tournament and UCLA Coach Jim Harrick was there too, to see a guard who easily penetrated an opponent’s defense. It was the beginning of Davis’ career that now includes NBA all-star status.
Crossroads won a CIF championship and was on the basketball map. A dominant center, Isaiah Fox, became the biggest star to play in the new gym. He then advanced to Division 1 basketball, playing for Coach Lute Olson at Arizona.
Norm Nixon, Jr., the son of ex-Laker and Clipper Norm Nixon, was an all-league guard at Crossroads after the new gym opened.
But last season, the losses mounted and Roper took a month off during the season to rest and evaluate his position. He returned to complete the season but then resigned.
Crossroads now has a coach who has been elsewhere but has returned to the level he prefers – working with high school youngsters – and is quite happy to have the job.
Ultimately, though, the wins and losses will matter a lot. That’s just the way it is.