Melody Chang lifts Arcadia to new heights

By Keith Lair Staff Writer
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ARCADIA – The changing of the guard in the Pacific League started long before Arcadia High School’s Melody Chang made her 36-point statement in a 64-42 win over perennial league power Muir earlier this season.
No, the changing of the guard began two years ago in a regular-season ending game against Crescenta Valley when she scored 21 points. Or maybe it was her freshman year, when in her first and only varsity appearance, she scored five points in a CIF-Southern Section first-round playoff loss to eventual champion Santa Monica.

“I always felt it was not my place to be the scorer,” Chang recalled of that Crescenta Valley game. “They were really focused on stopping our leading scorers. I had my open shots and I had to take them. It was the first time I scored over 20 points.

“My biggest problem has always been confidence. I’ve learned not to think about it and just play.”

The 5-foot-6 senior guard is averaging a school-record 23.7 points per game this season. She has helped put the Apaches in rarified air.

Arcadia is on the cusp of its first Pacific League title in 35 years. The Apaches last won the title in 1979. The Apaches are tied for first with Burroughs, both with 10-1 records. The teams meet Tuesday night at Arcadia.

“I’ve been blessed to have a player like her,” Arcadia coach Don Young said. “She’s a program-changer. She is this high school’s best-ever player, by far. It’s her work ethic. She’s never content. She’s always working harder.”
The Apaches (20-3 overall) play host to Hoover tonight and will finish regular season play at Crescenta Valley.

One of the major changing points this season may have been that 22-point victory at Muir. Surprisingly, it was the first time Chang had played in the Mustangs’ gym.

“To everyone, even myself, it is completely surprising,” she said of the team’s 10-1 start in league. “Everyone expects Muir to always be in first place or undefeated. The biggest thing was getting that first win over them. It was huge mentally. Here we are used to being in last place in league and not being able to get past that. We have to believe in ourselves that we can be the team to beat.”

But the Apaches then lost to Glendale in the next game.

“We cannot take teams for granted,” Young said. “This may be a once-in-a-lifetime deal where everything has fallen in place.

“Mel has been a big part of all this. As the best player, she sets the tone. She constantly works to improve. The other girls look up to her.”

In Young’s first three years as coach of Arcadia, the Apaches went 23-51. In his three years with Chang on the team, Arcadia is 48-25.

The Apaches won their first CIF-SS playoff game in school history, in 2011, the game after Chang had 21 against Crescenta Valley, and this year’s team is the first to surpass 20 victories in a season.

Chang, last year’s co-league MVP, will hold nine school records by the time the season ends. She has scored 1,190 points in her career, holds the single-game scoring record (36, three times), has made 10 3-pointers in a game twice, has made 69 3-pointers this year, has 149 career 3-pointers and will finish with all three steals records.

“I never come out thinking I’ll be doing whatever,” she said. “I focus on what I have to do. To get my teammates the ball. To assert myself. At the end of the game I’m surprised I scored that much. I feel like my stats are lying to me.”

She has had to take on another role of late. Point guard Christina Huynh broke her hand six games ago and will not return until the playoffs. Instead of rolling off screens to get her shots, Chang has had to find her offense from the point.

She has averaged 20 points in those games, including a pair of 27-poin efforts.

“With Mel, that’s her,” Young said. “That 27? She does it in so many different ways.”

It has opened up options for teammates. Sophomore Caira Benton is averaging 12 points per game.

The changes have also forced Chang to work on her game.

“My tone has changed a lot,” she said. “The confidence level has gone way up. I’ve been working hard to improve and to not limit myself.”

She has added the dribble to her shot, which has stopped teams from using a zone defense against her on 3-pointers.

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Pasadena names Doug Bledsoe as its next varsity football head coach …

PASADENA — Pasadena High School finally has its man.

The school named Doug Bledsoe its new varsity football head coach on Thursday afternoon ending what’s been an interesting search for a replacement to Randy Horton, who resigned in December after three seasons at the school.

“For me, this is an investment,” Bledsoe said. “It’s an investment in the community and for my family. I have a son right now who’s in the fourth grade and he’s going to be a linebacker.

“A dream of mine is to coach him right here at Pasadena High School, so I’m definitely in it for the long haul.”

Bledsoe was most recently the head coach at North Hollywood High where he turned around a program that was 1-9 the season before he took over and went 6-5 last season and reached the playoffs.

Bledsoe inherits a Bulldogs program that went 1-9 last season and hasn’t been competitive in The Turkey Tussle against rival Muir. Beating the Mustangs is at the top of his to-do list.

“Our objective is definitely to ring the bell at the end of the season,” Bledsoe said. “We feel that we have the pieces here to get it done. It’s a matter of getting the kids to believe.

“I know it’s been too long since we rang the bell. It’s been 16 or 17 years and that’s much too long. It’s not a rivalry unless both teams are winning. By the end of the year, it will be a big-time rivalry.”

The Bulldogs reportedly thought they had their next head coach earlier this month when it was reported by another local newspaper/website that former UCLA assistant coach Eric Scott had been hired to replace Horton, according to a unnamed school source.

The story later changed, citing Pasadena Unified School District Director of Communication Adam Wolfson, who said Scott was not hired after the school completed a background check.

Before Bledsoe can think about achieving one of his stated goals of winning a state championship, he must first figure out how to keep the local talent home and away from private schools that have been bankrolling their programs by looting the area of its top players.

“We believe that some of the best talent in the state of California is right here in Pasadena,” Bledsoe said. “We want to be able to keep that talent home. Of course, winning solves everything. When you’re winning, everyone loves you. We’re going to get that going this season.

“What we want to show all these parents and student athletes is that your child can be developed here and moved on to the next level.”

Bledsoe already has a staff in mind and is just awaiting principal’s approval. Several members of the staff will consist of former head coaches.

Bledsoe grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from Dorsey High in 1987. He began his coaching career in 1995 as an assistant at Marshall High in Portland, Ore. He later moved on the junior college ranks and had stops at Pierce, West L.A., Compton and Pasadena City College before winding up at his alma mater Glendale College in 2009.

Bledsoe lives in Chatsworth with his wife and three children. He will be a walk-on coach at Pasadena, which did not offer a full-time teaching job with the position. He’s currently working toward a masters’ degree in special education.

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Alhambra names Chuck Leonardis new varsity football head coach …

This may be old news to some of you, but for those who didn’t know, hopefully this ties up that loose end.

Leonardis had previous coaching stints at Hoover, Arcadia, El Rancho and Monrovia. The district approved him on Jan. 8. He replaces Joe Kanach, who lasted one season before being let go.

Aram’s take:
Hopefully he breathes lift into the program. I have to beleive there’s talent to work with, but putting it all together has been another story.

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Boys hoops: Alhambra moves into first-place tie in Almont after beating Keppel …

ALHAMBRA – There will be no runaway champion in the Almont League this season.

Instead, the Alhambra High School boys basketball team ensured on Tuesday the title race will be close to the very end.

The Moors rode the inside play of Carlos Barrios and Miles Ford to a 49-42 win over Keppel, which previously was unbeaten in league.

The win moved the Moors (14-7, 6-1) into a first-place tie with the Aztecs (17-8, 6-1).

“We knew we had the talent, but we just had to take care of the ball,” Moors coach Robert Blanchard said.

“We’re a senior-strong team. All our guys, we’ve been telling them all year that this is their year. We can’t let up. If we lose one of the last three games, that takes away what we did tonight.”

Everything was going Alhambra’s way Tuesday. Guard Aaron Cosme banked in a long-distance 3-pointer to beat the third-quarter buzzer and give Alhambra a 37-29 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Ford’s jumper to start the fourth gave the Moors a 39-29 lead. That’s when Keppel went to work and chipped away at the lead until ultimately getting within five points at 43-38 with 2:40 left.

Alhambra answered by getting the ball inside to Barrios, who scored from under the basket for a 45-38 lead.

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Workman beats Duarte (again) in Montview League classic …

DUARTE — After ending Duarte’s Montview League win streak at 39 games last Friday night, the Workman High School girls basketball game was out to prove the victory was no joke … and maybe start a prolonged league winning streak of its own.

Mission accomplished on the both ends.

Freshman guard Leslie Rivera score 25 points, including several clutch 3-pointers in the second half, as Workman took another giant step toward the Montview League title with a 74-68 victory over host Duarte on Monday night.

Workman (18-4, 10-0) led 57-47 late in the third quarter, but Duarte (17-2, 7-2) rallied behind standout Imari Brown to forge a 64-63 lead with 2:50 to play. That’s when things got a little too crazy in the stands as a packed house of Lobos and Falcons fans mixed it up enough to the point that the game was delayed a few minutes while sherriff’s deputies calmed things down.

Once the game resumed, Rivera made sure her team wasn’t going to blow its coming-out party. Rivera hit a 3-pointer to make it 66-64. Seconds later, she hit another to make 69-64. Brown got Duarte back to within 69-68 with 50 seconds to play, but Essence Pineda, the only senior in the Lobos’ starting line up hit a 3-pointer for the dagger.

“I just kept playing, I didn’t give up,” Rivera said. “The score’s always 0-0. Those 3s really helped us and I was really happy they were going in.”

Workman won 77-68 on Friday to give itself a one-game lead in the Montview standings heading into Monday’s rematch. The Lobos also ended Duarte’s air of invincibility and now look so set for the future with so many talented youngsters that another long league win streak looks to the in the offing.

Brown, who scored a game-high 39 points, is a senior and without her around, the Montview looks to be Workman’s for the taking for years to come.

“That’s how the ball bounces,” Duarte coach Mark Smith said. “You fight at practice to make your layups and free throws, and the ball didn’t roll our way tonight.

“Imari can have a game like that every single night. That’s a dream player. We have other players beside Imari, who normally all year long have been putting up 17 points a game. We don’t want to call it ‘The Imari Show’, but sometimes the girls get caught looking. I tell the girls to stop looking like they do with Kobe (Bryant). Sometimes they just watch her play and you can’t do that.”

Rivera started the second half by hitting three 3-pointers to help turn a tied game at halftime into decent cushion. Brown wouldn’t let her team falter, though, and scored 12 points in the fourth quarter to eventually get her team a late lead.

Workman spent the first and second quarters building small leads only to see Brown lead her team back and make it a one-possession game either way.

Pineda added 16 points for Workman and freshman post player Alize Williams had 12. Kathy McKiernan had 15 points for Duarte.

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The week ahead … for live scoring updates, follow me or Keith Lair on Twitter @aramtolegian and @keithllair

MONDAY: Duarte hosts Workman in girls hoops in a rematch of last Friday’s win by the Lobos. Hopefully, the refs let Imari Brown play the entire game.

TUESDAY: Alhambra visits Keppel in boys hoops and if the Almont League doesn’t want the Aztecs running away with the league title, they’d better do something about it quick. Perhaps Alhambra can … but on the road … dicey.

WEDNESDAY:
Arroyo visits Gabrielino in boys hoops in a game that has Mission Valley League title implications.

THURSDAY: Taco, combo burrito, med. drink for $8.75 at Taco Lita.

FRIDAY: HUGE NIGHT!!! First, Temple City goes for the season sweep of La Canada (has that ever happened?). The Rams will be looking good in the RHL if that happens. Speaking of RHL, monumental girls game when South Pas hosts rival San Marino San Marino hosts South Pas in a key game with league title implications. SM edged SouPas first time they met. Also, Flintridge Prep visits Rio Hondo prep in a huge Prep League game.

Twitter: @aramtolegian @keithllair

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Legends collide when La Canada’s Tom Hofman takes on Glendora’s Mike LeDuc in SoCal Shootout on Sat. at APU …

It seems nobody knows for sure when the last time was that the storied Glendora and La Canada high school boys basketball programs played each other.

Spartans legendary head coach Tom Hofman speculated it was in the early 1990s, but didn’t know the exact year for sure. Tartans legendary head coach Mike LeDuc said he had it in a book somewhere, but didn’t seem in a rush to find it.

The fact is that it hasn’t happened nearly enough, according to this fan/writer and most area hoops fans. But that will change, at least for one year anyway, on Saturday when La Canada takes on Glendora in the Southern California Shootout at Azusa Pacific University. Tipoff is at 1:30p.m.

Saturday’s game figures to be one of those rare events in which the score of the game or talent on the court may not matter as much as the spectacle of seeing two of the best coaches not only in Valley history, but state history as well, square off against each other.

LeDuc has won a staggering 779 games in his 33 years as a head coach. Hofman has won 587 games in 27 years.

LeDuc has four CIF-SS championships. Hofman has two.

A big reason for those impressive numbers is that both men have mastered the art of maximizing the talent they have to work with, whether it be players who went on to the NBA, blue-chip recruits or the kid whose career ended after the 12th grade.

“I would hope that my impressions (of him) are the same as anybody’s in the coaching community, he’s an incredible coach,” LeDuc said of Hofman. “He gets the most out of his players every single year. Sometimes, they win CIF titles when their players are a little bit better than other years. Then, other years, they maybe win 20 games and win the league. He maximizes his talent, and every kid who’s ever played for him has had a great experience.”

The feeling was mutual when Hofman was asked his thoughts on LeDuc.

“He’s a great coach, an outstanding coach,” Hofman said. “He really knows how to coach offense. When I get a chance to watch them play, I’m studying the game more than I’m being a fan. I’m more of a student when I watch those guys play.”

In an era in which most of the top coaches are out hustling for talent on the travel ball circuit, Hofman and LeDuc are throwbacks. They prefer to let their record and expertise be the selling point for their programs. And if that doesn’t lure the next big prospect in the area, then so be it.

Because of those reasons, true championship-caliber teams are becoming fewer and far between for both programs. The road to success at both schools now relies more heavily than ever on the brand of basketball being taught. It’s the being in the right place, the making the right pass, the taking the right shot, that’s winning games for the Spartans and Tartans.

“As a program, the thing that allows you to be successful all the time is getting your players to play as a team,” said Bishop Amat girls basketball coach Richard Wiard, who is a legend himself after winning five CIF-SS championships and two state titles. “Coach Hofman and Coach LeDuc’s teams always do that. You can learn a lot about basketball by watching those two guys. The kids will be fundamentally sound, they’ll share the ball and be great teams.”

Hofman grew up in Pasadena and played at Pasadena High for George Terzian, who he says he modeled much of his coaching philosophy after. LeDuc grew up in Riverside and came up with his own strategies, mostly by recalling what worked and what didn’t when he was a player.

The easy explanation of LeDuc’s system is that he’s content with having four players pave the way with screens and picks so that his leading scorer can put up 40 points a night. But that assertion seems to only apply to the years in which LeDuc has had a dynamic scorer.

Hofman’s motion offense likes to swing the ball around until a good shot is found and hopefully buried. And as different as it might look, both coaches said there are similarities.

“We run a different offense, but I do think our philosophies are the same,” LeDuc said. “We both still play basketball by the old-school method. We both are trying to screen. We’re both passing and cutting.

“In today’s day and age, and culture of basketball, there’s a lot of one-on-one being played. I think Coach Hofman and myself are still living in the old school and saying it’s a five-man game and five people need to be a part of the offense.”

As both coaches near the 30-year mark of their careers, the question about how much longer they’ll roll out the balls and patrol the sidelines linger.

For Hofman, who will retire from teaching after this year, it’s all about whether the fire still burns as bright now as it always has.

“I still love the practices and love the games,” Hofman said. “The paperwork is getting old. This will be my last year of teaching, and my goal is to coach three or four more years, at least. Then, we’ll see how it goes day to day. One day I’ll be out there on the golf course and I won’t want to come back. Who knows?”

LeDuc’s outlook appears to be a bit longer, with no number of years attached to his projections of how much longer he’ll coach. Although he also says that he evaluates things on a yearly basis.

“I still enjoy it a lot,” LeDuc said. “I’m going to do the best that I can for as long as I can, and when I don’t think the time is right anymore, I will say that’s enough.

“I like our kids. They try as hard as they possibly can. I don’t enjoy the losses, like anybody else, but I enjoy the competition and the kids. Yeah, I still love it.”

Given that it’s been 20 years, give or take one or two, since the last time these two coaches and teams played, area hoops aficionados had better consider Saturday’s meeting a rare and worthwhile happening.

Go to the game and let your mind wander back to each program’s glory years. Go to the game and root for this year’s editions of the Spartans and Tartans. But most of all, go to the game and cherish that there will likely never be two greats like Hofman and LeDuc coaching simultaneously at opposite ends of the Valley ever again.

Follow me on Twitter @aramtolegian

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Monrovia’s Mason Bryant picks Penn …

Monrovia receiver/defensive back/kicker Mason Bryant will play at Penn, according to a tweet by his father on Thursday morning.

Bryant had offers from Army, Air Force and a host of other Ivy League schools.

Aram’s take: I stand by it, in 15 years Dr. Bryant will be telling me I have to get my blood pressure and cholesterol down.

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