After winning two tournaments, going 3-3 in the Mission League and finishing the regular season 20-6, the varsity basketball team began what head coach Damaine Powell described as a “third season”: the playoffs.
The Cubs entered the CIF Division 1 Playoffs as the 14th seed, knocking off 11th-seeded Fountain Valley 56-48 in the first round behind senior guard Jalen Cox’s 29 points and forward Parker Jones’ 12. They went on to play the 3rd-seed, Etiwanda, in front of a roaring home crowd on Feb. 15, winning 51-42 to advance to the quarterfinals. Cox and sophomore guard Jonas de Krassel had 11 points each.
In the quarterfinals, the Cubs played the St. John Bosco Braves, and, despite a spirited fourth-quarter rally that saw a 17-point deficit trimmed to six in the final minute, they lost 73-64. Cox led the way with 19 points, while Jones had 18.
Jones said, “All things considered, I’m very happy with the way we played. Going from 8-10 to 22-7, that’s a hell of a flip-around. That’s in large part because of our coaching staff…Honestly, the energy was very different this year, and I’m just very happy with how it turned out.”
Cox added, “We definitely surprised a lot of people considering we didn’t have anyone over 6’5” as compared to last year when we had two people [at]6’8.”
Powell mentioned the lessons he taught the team at the start of the season and said, “The lessons and habits I tried to teach the guys were being resilient, sacrificing for the greater good, and looking for a competitive advantage. We worked on those things constantly, trying to play for our brother, thinking about what’s best for the team, and never quitting no matter what the circumstance.” He continued, “Slowly, those habits, we built them and built them and they started to play off towards the end of the year.”
Jones noted that the Providence tournament and continued improvement were bright spots for the team this season. He acknowledged that they struggled in the Mission League due to a lack of practice time, but were able to pick it up just in time for playoffs.
“When we went into the playoffs, we got a couple weeks of practice, and guys really stepped up. We started playing really well as a team,” he said.
Jones’ favorite memory was winning the Providence tournament, his first one in his two years on varsity. Cox and Powell both said that upsetting Etiwanda was their favorite.
Powell added, “That shocked the whole high school community and the state of California. I got so many calls and texts. People couldn’t believe we beat them and they wanted to know how we did it. That was a big moment.”
Powell also mentioned the challenges of this season, which included their lack of height, particularly against taller teams.
“That’s why towards the end of the year, we started pressing to try to level the playing field against those bigger teams so they couldn’t just dominate us,” he said. “And then there were challenges of trying to get everybody bought into the culture I was trying to create. Over time, I think we got everybody on board.”
Cox and Jones both learned valuable lessons over the course of this season.
Cox said, “The biggest lesson for me is to give 100 percent of your effort regardless of the score because you never know what can happen.”
Jones noted, “The biggest lesson I can give, personally, is just enjoying the moment that you’re in, because you never know how long it’s going to last. Loyola Basketball went by in a second. I remember watching my brother [CJ Jones ‘19] play, I remember having the interview with you [Jordan Pagkalinawan] in preseason. I literally blinked and the season is over.”
He continued, “Loyola was a great experience, I wouldn’t trade any guys or anything about it. So wherever I’m at next, I’m gonna enjoy that moment.”
Powell’s biggest takeaway from this season was “[laying]a solid foundation, hopefully for better things to come.” He continued, “We wanted to establish a championship culture with championship habits, a type of atmosphere where we serve one another and we use our talents not for ourselves but for the team…There’s going to be a culture of discipline, of hard work, of accountability no matter who you are, and I think we can build from there.”
Regarding lessons he hoped the team learned, Powell said, “If you work really hard, and you believe, you have a chance. We were two plays away from being in the semifinals of the state tournament, coming off a team that [had]eight wins [last season]. Nobody thought we could go that far. As the season went on, guys started to believe that we could beat Etiwanda, Fountain Valley and Bosco. And I think that was the biggest challenge: getting guys to believe in themselves and putting in the work, so when the moment came, they could be successful.”
Cox and Jones, seniors with three and two years of varsity experience, respectively, had key pieces of advice for the players returning to the team next season.
Cox mentioned succinctly, “Buy into the system.”
Jones said, “Just enjoy the moment, just go have fun. Don’t be nervous. If there’s one thing I wish I would take back, it was probably my whole junior year. I was so nervous all the time. To the sophomores and juniors coming up, just go have fun and enjoy it. You never know how long you’re gonna play basketball for, you never know how long you’re gonna know these guys. Just enjoy the ride.”