To get a sense of how popular Penn guard Miles Cartwright is in Southern California, consider this:
When the Quakers travel to Anaheim to play UCLA on Saturday, the sophomore — though wary of making a “huge assumption” — said, “I feel like there might be more Penn fans than UCLA fans.”
A native of Van Nuys, Cartwright is doing his best to make sure his homecoming doesn’t turn into a distraction. But the overload of phone calls, emails, texts and Twitter messages has made that difficult.
As has the fact that, like most L.A. ballplayers, Cartwright dreamed of going to UCLA as a child.
“I can’t even downplay it and say that it’s not a big game,” he admitted.
Among those in attendance will be Cartwright’s younger brother Parker, considered the best California prospect in the Class of 2014 and a much-desired UCLA target.
Like Parker, Miles’ Amateur Athletic Union coach Gary Franklin is “torn” over who to root for this weekend. That’s because starting in the Bruins’ backcourt will be sophomore Tyler Lamb, Miles’ close friend and AAU teammate.
Franklin can attest to the Cartwrights’ ability to “pack” gyms around L.A. with the help of Loyola High School teammates and followers.
“Oh yeah, Miles is well-liked,” Franklin said. “The Cartwrights are a great family.”
Living in a hoops hotbed has more perks than just favorable crowds. This past summer, Miles and Parker worked out at a rec center on UCLA’s campus alongside a star-studded cast of alumni, including NBA All-Stars Baron Davis, Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook.
“With L.A. being so much defined by pro basketball, I think UCLA has made its mark in such a big city,” Cartwright said. “They might be a little down right now, but the history and the success that they have is a huge staple in L.A.”
The powerhouse’s impact extended 80-plus miles away to Carlsbad, where Penn senior Tyler Bernardini grew up. Freshman Camryn Crocker from nearby Cypress rounds out Penn’s trio of Cali guards.
“You think of Southern California basketball, you think of UCLA,” Bernardini said.
Bernardini should have a solid fan section himself at the Honda Center. In fact, he said his return to the Golden State will allow his grandparents to watch him play in person for the first time.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” said Bernardini, who played against Bruins alums like Love, Jordan Farmar and Malcolm Lee during his Francis Parker High School career. “It’s going to be really, really fun.”
The only downside is the dogfight awaiting them in the physical Bruins, who break from the stereotypical finesse, laid-back West Coast flair.
“They play a different type of basketball than you normally see in California,” Bernardini said. “We’re ready to battle for 40 minutes, walk away with some bruises and bumps.”