Never Too Small to Break the Rules

Andrea Loring got tired of seeing private high schools recruit star basketball players. But she had no idea busting them would bring her such grief.

On the sidelines Pujol excoriates his Eagles to play smarter. In the style of so many basketball coaches, he screams and yells at his players, his bearded face contorting in grimaces of rage. When he disagrees with a referee's ruling, he throws his hands in the air in a theatrical display of disgust. Sometimes he uses props. After receiving a technical foul for arguing with a referee, Pujol throws a pen from his hands, the plastic disposable Bic sliding across the wooden floor until it crashes against a concrete wall.

Gaston Rodriguez leads the Champagnat Lions his own way. The rookie coach looks as young as his coaching résumé. He sports Gap khakis and a blue-cotton dress shirt the exact color of his tie. Instead of chewing out his players, he pats them on the back or holds out his hands in exaggerated applause. He is friendly, upbeat. His team also happens to be winning, by a lot.

The height of the Champagnat players amazes. Three of them at out nearly seven feet in the air. Not one of these giants appears gangly or awkward as a teenager might. They are strong young men. Smaller Lions players, such as both six-foot two-inch starting guards, dazzle with extraordinary athleticism. This could be the best team in the state.

The Country Day gym is modern and clean, though not so clean that they won't let you eat pizza or drink a soda during the game. Three small boys play with a red-and-white pompon loaned by a Champagnat cheerleader. For a stretch in the second half, two preteen Lions fans scream to create a distraction before every Northwest Christian shot. On a Saturday night in this gym, the game is played with a passion that can't be found at, say, a Heat-Pacers contest at the American Airlines Arena. While the quality of play is not as good as it could be, the sport is lean and pure. At least on the court.

It will be the last game of the year for Northwest Christian. Within a week David Christ and the Eagles will be removed from the playoffs. More disciplinary action may follow. Champagnat remains under scrutiny, though the team has been allowed to participate in the playoffs. Right now, in this gym, there is none of that. Following Champagnat's convincing win there are only strong young boys, their faces split with smiles, hoisting aloft the district championship trophy. Their parents and girlfriends break into applause. For tonight, for now, they are the champions. It's a seductive illusion, conjured by making seven-foot power forwards from foreign lands magically appear.

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