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Top Southland boys' basketball players like it hot

The rumors started on the Internet and spread to the gyms around Southern California. DeMar DeRozan of Compton was transferring to Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill to join Brandon Jennings. Then he was going to New York Lincoln, where Lance Stephenson holds court.

"I laughed at it," DeRozan said. "I figured something like that was going to come up eventually."

If only the rumormongers last summer had found DeRozan in a sporting goods store shopping for skis, then they'd really have something to talk about.

"I'm not living where there's snow," he said. "I'm not living where it's cold."

Southern California high school basketball fans will get one last season to be in awe of 6-foot-6 DeRozan, whose athleticism and gravity-defying dunks have made him a crowd favorite.

The rumors came as no surprise because other top players have been heading to prep schools back East, such as Jennings, who once played for Compton Dominguez, and Malik Story, at Oak Hill after starting at Lakewood Artesia.

But DeRozan has been loyal to Compton since he enrolled as a freshman, spurning others to stick with his neighborhood school in an attempt to build his own basketball powerhouse.

He's part of a 10-player cast of seniors and juniors in the Southland who are so talented that if one college team signed them all, an NCAA title wouldn't be a far-fetched possibility.

DeRozan is expected to sign a letter of intent today with USC and three others from the list are going to UCLA. Another is set for North Carolina, another for Tennessee and the juniors could be future McDonald's All-Americans.

While much is being made this season of the rivalry between UCLA's Kevin Love and USC's O.J. Mayo, get ready for a guard rivalry next season when DeRozan is playing for the Trojans and Jrue Holiday of North Hollywood Campbell Hall is playing for the Bruins.

DeRozan averaged close to 24 points as a junior in helping Compton surpass Dominguez and Centennial as the best high school team in the competitive city of Compton.

He has worked on becoming more aggressive, improving his defensive intensity and being more consistent as an outside shooter.

There are lots of people prepared to debate who's the best basketball player in the Southland, but Compton Coach Tony Thomas said, "I'm biased, but it's the truth. DeMar is the best."

He'll have plenty of competition.

It starts with Holiday, a 6-3 senior who averaged 23.1 points in helping Campbell Hall win the state Division IV championship. UCLA Coach Ben Howland has been enamored with Holiday for two years.

Holiday's versatility, athleticism and unselfishness have made him the No. 1 shooting guard in the nation, according to Scout.com. Besides his scoring skills, he can do so much more for a team, whether it's rebounding, making an assist or stealing a pass.

"Jrue is a kid who can play multiple positions," Coach Terry Kelly said. "He's as talented with his left hand as he is with his right hand and plays hard on both ends of the floor."

Others to watch this season:

Hollis Thompson, Loyola, 6-8, Jr.: No player rose faster among the national elite during the summer than Thompson, whose ability to shoot and rebound caught everyone's attention. He's still growing and still getting better. Georgetown and Stanford have emerged as leading candidates to land an early commitment.

Jerime Anderson, Anaheim Canyon, 6-1, Sr.: The UCLA-bound Anderson is a point guard who plays relentless defense and knows how to take charge on the court. He was considered an erratic outside shooter a year ago, so improving in that area will be one of his focus points. He averaged 17.1 points.

Malcolm Lee, Riverside North, 6-4, Sr.: Whether shooting from three-point range or driving to the basket, the UCLA-bound Lee has demonstrated he can score when he needs to. His size gives him an advantage playing the point guard position.

David Wear, Santa Ana Mater Dei, 6-10, Jr.: He was considered the better half of the twins as a sophomore, averaging 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds. He made 20 three-pointers and came on strong late in the season. Like his brother, he has improved his strength.

Travis Wear, Mater Dei, 6-10, Jr.: He has closed the small gap with his brother and seems prepared to give the Monarchs legitimate Twin Towers. Improving his rebounding and becoming more of an inside force were summer goals. "Now they're pretty much the same," Coach Gary McKnight said of the twins.

Renardo Sidney, Fairfax, 6-10, Jr.: He's the No. 1 junior center prospect in the nation, which helps explain the impact he figures to have at Fairfax. He can score inside or outside and has the potential to be an intimidating force on defense as a shot blocker. He helped Artesia win the state Division III championship as a sophomore. The question is what kind of work ethic he'll display.

Larry Drew Jr., Taft, 6-0, Sr.: Bound for North Carolina, Drew should be motivated in his senior year to try to deliver a City championship for the Toreadors. He succeeded Jordan Farmar as the point guard at Taft and has provided steady, high-level play since his freshman season.

Renaldo Woolridge, Harvard-Westlake, 6-8, Sr.: Known for his explosive offense and ability to shoot from long range, Woolridge should be a more powerful rebounder this season. He's headed to Tennessee and coming off a junior year in which he averaged 19.2 points.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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