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Wallenberg rises behind LaRay Crossley’s quiet excellence

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As a junior, LaRay Crossley has led Wallenberg High School’s emergence in AAA’s Neff Division. (Ethan Kassel/Special to S.F. Examiner)

In a dimly lit gym where the players nearly outnumber the fans, one of the brightest and most talented young basketball players in San Francisco gets to work. With little spectacle and fanfare, LaRay Crossley, who two years ago became the first freshman named to an all-city team in a decade, took the court and quietly went about his business.

With little extravagance but tons of determination, the Wallenberg star collected 11 points and eight assists in a 75-62 win over Leadership on Monday, a victory that pulled the Bulldogs into a tie for second place in the AAA’s Neff Division.

In a game that exemplified the league’s frantic pace and wild play, Crossley was the standout. He needed no outlandish numbers or eye-popping highlights to take over in a game where his Bulldogs raced out to a 10-0 lead and held a 20-point advantage in the third quarter. When the game turned into a free-for-all, Crossley was able to control the flow of the game, limiting his team’s turnovers and constantly hitting the open man.

Wallenberg looked like a runaway train as soon as LaRay started connecting with Issac Singleton and Jeremiah Batteau on the perimeter, finding space despite the confines of the gym at James Denman Middle School, which Leadership uses for home games. The court, which is dotted with numbers for P.E. classes, runs approximately 74 feet, well less than the typical regulation length, but those dimensions wouldn’t stop the Wallenberg offense from getting open looks.

Any time the host Griffins would get on a run, Crossley was there to take care of business, whether it was with one of his signature baseline drives or one of his five assists in the fourth quarter, which helped the Bulldogs close away after leading just 48-35 through three periods.

“When we get going, everybody starts picking up off of everyone else,” he said. “We just knock ’em down.”

Crossley has managed to stay under the radar despite his accolades as both a freshman and sophomore. Even though Wallenberg went 2-12 in the Lang Division last season, the higher division of the AAA, he still earned second-team honors.

As a junior, he’s taken on a huge leadership role, one that’s made a time of transition at Wallenberg much easier. Pat Mulligan, who served as head coach for 26 seasons, left over the summer to take the role of Director of Player Development at Seattle University and handed the reins to Dean Wilson. Having a strong leader at the point has made Wilson’s first year a smooth one so far, with the Bulldogs sitting at 13-6.

“I want my point guard to be an extension of me,” said Wilson, a 2003 graduate of Pacifica’s Oceana High. “I’m comfortable with the ball in his hands.”

Wallenberg has won 11 of 13 games, a streak that started with a pair of wins over opponents from the Lang Division with back-to-back victories over Burton and Galileo. In Friday’s win over Jordan, which forced a tie for second place in the Neff standings, Crossley scored 18.

A self-described distributor, Crossley’s performance against Jordan showcased his ability as both a scorer and a passer. He’s also a sharp defender with a great sense of where he is on the court, as shown by his three deflections and pair of steals against Leadership.

The Bulldogs play their final home game of the season at Kezar Pavilion on Thursday at 5:30 against O’Connell. Next Thursday, they’ll travel to Marshall, and the regular season concludes on Jan. 20 with a game against first-place KIPP at the Willie Mays Boys & Girls Club.

Prep Focus writer Ethan Kassel covers high school sports throughout the Bay Area. If you have a story tip, game to watch or player to track, email him at ethankassel@gmail.com.

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