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Darryl Dickson, head coach of Central Valley High School's varsity boys basketball team, addressed a glaring need when he promoted Keymonte Wooten.

Blessed with exceptional ball-handling skills and ridiculous speed, the 5-foot-3, 125-pound freshman point guard has done more than hold his own against bigger, stronger and more experienced opponents.

"Players of his ability don't come around too often," Dickson said. "He's got a gift and passion for it. He's dedicated. He's done a remarkable job for us. He's only going to get better each year."

Wooten attributed part of his success to Hawk teammate and third-year starter Trevor Mew.

"He's helped me a lot," Keymonte said. "We talk about the plays. He tells me what to do and not to do. I listen to him because he's a great player himself."

Wooten and the Hawks completed the first half of the Valley Oak League season last week.

Central Valley posted a respectable 3-4 record thanks in large part to Keymonte's stellar play.

He averaged 11.7 points per game, which ranks second on the team behind Mew. Wooten also buried 15 3-pointers.

"He's not afraid to be a star player," Dickson said. "He wants the ball in the clutch."

Keymonte had a career-high 23 points, including five 3-pointers, in a 77-73 overtime loss to Weston Ranch on Jan. 16 in Ceres. The Hawks battled back from a 19-point halftime deficit as Wooten scored 14 points and hit four 3s in the fourth quarter.

"It felt real good knowing that every time I got the ball, I could shoot, and it was going to go in," he said.

Against visiting Ceres High on Friday, Jan. 23, Keymonte tallied 12 of his 15 points in the second half to propel Central Valley to a thrilling 52-45 comeback victory. The Hawks trailed by 14 at intermission.

"Something got into me where I just had to go to work," Wooten said.

"He showed his poise and tenacity," Dickson added.

Keymonte totaled 25 points and five treys in wins over East Union and Oakdale.

Dickson promoted Wooten prior to the start of VOL play.

"I saw him in our open gym before the season and it was obvious he could play ball," Darryl said. "In our first two scrimmages, he showed he wasn't afraid to compete at the varsity level."

Keymonte scored in double figures in six of 11 non-conference games.

He netted 10 points and two 3s in his debut, a 75-57 loss to Enochs on Nov. 25 in Modesto.

Wooten finished with 10 or more points against Ceres High (16), Pitman (13), Livingston (13), Grace Davis (11) and Johansen (11) as well.

"It's a challenge," Wooten said. "A lot of the other players are bigger than me. It's hard because they push you around. They're physical."

Competing against two older brothers, Kiwi and Mikael, and playing on the AAU-circuit with the 3D Ballers served as preparation.

Kiwi, a 5-foot-7 sophomore point guard for Manteca High School's varsity squad, earned VOL second-team honors as a freshman last year. He averaged 14.0 points, 3.5 assists and 2.8 steals per game.

Mikael played football for Clark Atlanta University last fall. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior wide receiver attended Skyline High School in Oakland.

"This is all just normal for him (Keymonte)," Dickson said. "He's grown up playing against older kids because of his brothers. He doesn't get intimidated."

"I always got bullied around by my two older brothers," Wooten said. "It really helped me mentally."

Keymonte has proven to be a giant on the hardwood despite his diminutive size and age. Wooten celebrated his 14th birthday in December.

"Most freshmen don't get a chance to do this," said Keymonte, who'd still be in the eighth grade if he didn't start school early. "It's been really fun and a good experience so far. I'm not getting ate up or nothing."

"I'm not surprised he's doing as well as he is," Dickson said. "He has very good poise in clutch situations. You usually don't see that from freshmen."