By Bob Dickson
The SCCS varsity boys basketball team knew coming into the season that it had big shoes to fill. Last year’s team went 21-7, advanced to the CIF-Southern Section Division VA title game, and made it into the second round of the CIF state tournament.
This year’s team more than knew it. It was haunted by it.
Losing that championship game has stuck with returning players for a year. They want the taste of the loss out of their mouths, and for them, that means winning it all in 2015.
“We had a team meeting to discuss our goals,” said Cardinal forward/center Chris Collins. “We definitely all think about last year. We want to get back to that stage. We want to make up for last year.”
The Cardinals faced a steep climb in their return to greatness. Last year’s starting point guard (Kamron Carroll) and its 6-foot-8 center (Philip Webb) both graduated. Points, rebounds and blocked shots would have to come from somewhere else.
But the team has remade itself.
Collins, who is 6-foot-5, shed 20 pounds since last year and has become a force under the basket, averaging 12.5 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. Guard Cameron Lewis (9.4 ppg) is the spearhead of the team’s harassing, pressing defense (2.4 steals per game). Point guard Alik Airapetyan (8.9 ppg, 5.5 assists per game, 2.4 steal per game) runs the offense and is the team’s most dangerous threat from beyond the 3-point line.
What separates this team from last year’s team is its balance and its depth.
“We’re a lot deeper 1 through 10,” Collins said. “Last year had a really good six, but we couldn’t fill in the pieces. This year, if someone gets in foul trouble we can pick up.”
Players like sharpshooter Kenji Sampson (6 ppg), 6-foot-4 forward Bryce Wilkinson (14.4 ppg), Jackie Saucer (9.4 ppg), Maynor Brooks (4.7 ppg) and Chris Catalano (10.3 ppg) fill in the blanks for a team that has made a habit of wearing out the opposition.
The Cardinals are 13-2 and have outscored opponents 793-422 so far this year. Its two losses, to Saddleback Christian (64-58) and Royal (68-65), have been by narrow margins.
Over the summer we realized we’d have to play a lot faster than everyone else. Picking up our tempo was a huge goal. Also realized we had to pick up our defensive intensity,” Collins said. “We try to jump on teams right away. That’s our goal.”
Their other goal is redemption; they have unfinished business.
“We don’t want to be one of those teams that fades away because we didn’t win the big game,” Collins said. “Our main goal is to win a CIF championship.”