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NEXT STOP, THE PROS: USC forward DeMar DeRozan and UCLA guard Jrue Holiday are just two former California prep stars expected to be drafted.Â Photos by Jeff Lewis and Nick Koza for Sentinel
Harden, Jennings and DeRozan among local hopefuls called in NBA Draft
This may be the weakest NBA Draft in years but for Southern California, it will be the richest in years with four to five local players taken in the first round
Today, NBA Commisioner David Stern will call out Jrue Holiday (UCLA), DeMar DeRozan (USC), James Harden (Arizona State) and Brandon Jennings as all are projected as lottery picks or first round selections.
It feels shorter than just two years ago when Holiday and DeRozan met up at the Tournament of Champions at Huntington Beach Ocean View High School and the MaxPreps Holiday Classic as opponents with North Hollywood Campbell Hall and Compton High School.
In the eyes of this reporter, there was no better all-around guard in the state than Holiday, a walking triple-double with excellent defense that reminded some of former Santa Monica Crossroads guard Baron Davis.
Like Davis, Holiday was named the state's Mr. Basketball and the Gatorade National Player of the Year after winning three state championships in his career. There was no surprise that he'd be named to the All-Freshman Team while at UCLA
Few players in the country had the athleticism of DeRozan, whose gravity-defying dunks made him an Internet sensation in the process.
The pride of Compton helped his school briefly escape the shadow of neighborhood rivals Dominguez and Centennial as the Tarbabes won their first Moore League title in nearly three decades.
He ended his brief USC career on a high note by being named the Most Valuable Player of the Pac-10 Tournament as the Trojans reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
But one can only imagine how much publicity the city would have gotten had another native son, Brandon Jennings, stayed home for his last two years of high school.
Jennings, who played last year overseas with Lottomatica Roma, played with Compton Dominguez before transferring to powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.
His first game back in California after transferring - the 2007 Nike Extravaganza at Mater Dei High School - was filled with oohs and aahs as he racked up five assists in the first quarter, all on dazzling passes.
Now the 6-1 point guard is expected to be among the first playmakers taken in today's draft.
James Harden was a late bloomer on the national radar but those in California knew he was special in leading Artesia to back-to-back state titles, going 65-3 in the process
That 2006-07 title team, featuring a young transfer named Renardo Sidney, dominated the competition, including two wins over Mater Dei and Mr. Basketball Taylor King.
Harden made his presence felt in every game with his fluid play and the lefty brought that intensity to Arizona State where he was named an All-American after his sophomore year.
He wasn't the most athletic player on the court but he did everything well on offense (shoot, pass, run the floor) and it reminded some of another player with his skill set - former Inglewood guard Paul Pierce.
All four were McDonald's All-Americans and if former Gonzaga forward (via Irvine Woodbridge) and UCLA guard Darren Collison (via Etiwanda) join them in the first round, it would set a new record for California high school alumni.
The 1993 and 1997 drafts had five California players taken in the first round - although this draft won't top 1993's two-round total of 10 California players.
For Holiday, Harden, DeRozan and Jennings - they hope to add to their legacies and validate that the California prep scene has little peer around the country.