HONORING LEGACY: Leuzinger head coach Reggie Morris honored
his past by retiring the jersey of former standout and Oklahoma City
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook. Two days later, his current squad won
the school’s first ever CIF sectional Championship (Evan Barnes for
11TH HEAVEN: Westchester’s Dwayne Polee celebrates with his
teammates after the Comets defeated Taft for the school’s 11th City
Section championship, only five behind Crenshaw’s record. (Nick Koza
JUBILATION: Inglewood head coach Tony Scott, far left, leads
his team’s celebration after the Sentinels won the school’s first ever
CIF sectional championship, defeating previously unbeaten Agoura (Nick
Koza for Sentinel)
WE’RE NUMBER ONE: Carson guard Chante Miles (5) and her team
celebrate the school’s first City Section championship after defeating
Narbonne in overtime. The Colts had to make a late rally in the final
two minutes in regulation to force overtime. (Nick Koza for Sentinel)
JUMPING FOR JOY: Serra coach Dwan Hurt and his staff
celebrate the school’s first CIF boys basketball championship since
2006. It was a double sweep for the Cavaliers as the girls also won a
CIF sectional title (Scott Kurtz for Sentinel)
Leuzinger coach Reggie Morris adds CIF title to program legacy.
By Evan Barnes
Sentinel Sports Editor
When Leuzinger head coach Reggie Morris Jr. took over eight years ago, he knew the challenge wouldn’t just be taking over a team with little tradition.
It was following in the footsteps of his father, Reggie Morris, Sr. who won two City Section championships (1977 and 1981) and a state title in 1988 with Manual Arts. The elder Morris, now at L.A. Southwest Junior College, has won over 600 games in his coaching career, including stops at Locke and Cal State San Bernardino.
“When I came here, I had a lot to live up to as far as coaching,” Morris Jr. said, “I thought that I was going to attempt bring Leuzinger up to have some type of legacy and tradition and I used all the things I’ve learned from my father and my high school coaches.”
Last week showed the progress of that vision. Leuzinger won the school’s first CIF Southern Section championship in boys basketball, a 58-39 win over Santa Monica at the Honda Center in Anaheim. The win came two days after the school retiring the jersey of former standout Russell Westbrook.
Morris and his staff embraced in a long hug after the win and as he discussed with humility and appreciation for the players around him, he reflected on getting to this point.
In his tenure at Leuzinger he’s already sent two players to the NBA as first-round picks – Westbrook and Dorrell Wright – and several to Division I schools. Now he has a championship to match his father – joining a select company of father-son coaching combos in state history with CIF hardware.
“Words can’t describe how I feel about what’s happened,” he added, “I’m so blessed to be around these great young men.”
Last year, Leuzinger fell short in the title game to Thousand Oaks. But with most of his players coming back, they showed a hunger against Santa Monica by storming out to a 22-5 lead in the first quarter and never looking back.
Now comes the challenge of moving up to the Division I bracket for the state regional tournament, loaded with Taft, Mater Dei and Westchester – the latter being where Morris played for three seasons before finishing at Locke.
“It’s going to be fun,” Morris said, chuckling like someone who knows the odds his team faces. In his eyes, the mission was accomplished and anything else will just be extra icing on their cake.
“We got what we came to get,” he said, referring to the sectional title, “Now it’s time to see where we stack up,” he said…
WESTCHESTER WINS CITY ONCE AGAIN
If you want to know why Westchester won their 11th City Section title, just review the third quarter of their game against Taft.
They outscored Taft 25-12. They outhustled them to every loose ball. They stepped on the gas and turned a halftime tie into a blowout.
There’s a reason why the Comets have only lost once in 12 appearances in the City Section championships. It’s not just luck or talent, they just know how to finish.
Over the last two seasons, they haven’t lost a game in California. And with another City title in tow, there’s no reason to think why despite being the No. 2 seed in the Southern California state regional tournament to Mater Dei, they are the team to beat.
“This group of kids have a tremendous amount of poise,” Westchester coach Ed Azzam said, “They don’t get rattled and nothing seems to bother them. Sometimes it bothers me that they are so unfazed but they just keep going.”
It’s that poise that separates them from everybody else in the state. I’m already anticipating a great matchup tonight and a possible semifinal Saturday against a surging Etiwanda team.
The T-Shirts they wore after the game said it all. “The City is Ours” and we’ll see if they add to that in two weeks….
SERRA ADDS MORE HARDWARE
Serra added to the CIF and state football titles with their girls’ and boys’ teams winning CIF titles this past weekend.
It was doubly good for the several football players on the boys team as juniors Marquise Lee (13 points) and George Farmer contributed to the Cavaliers’ 62-58 win over Compton Centennial.
Lee scored Serra’s final three points, including a lay-up with 27 seconds left to make it 61-58.
The Cavaliers have a wealth of talented athletes but Farmer said after the game that it’s their drive that helps make winning part of the culture.
“Me and Marquis want to help bring Serra up,” said Farmer.
The two along with seniors Bene Benwickere and Irving Lewis join a select club with two CIF titles in the same school year. Now they’re looking to join an even more exclusive one with two different state titles
But the best moment of their win - and maybe the day – was the raw emotion of senior guard Vaughn Autry. After the buzzer sounded, he leaped over press row to the Serra crowd but was escorted back to the court.
Autry said later that he was looking to hug and comfort his mother – both emotional after the sudden passing of his father Stephen before the playoffs.
It reminded me of last year when Riverside King forward Kawhi Leonard found and embraced his mother after King defeated Mater Dei to win the Division IA championship. Leonard’s father was shot and killed in 2008 at a Compton car wash.
Serra dedicated their postseason play to Autry’s memory and to see his son immediately look for his family showed why sometimes, this is more than a game…
PRICE’S YOUNG STARS COME OUT
Price has been carried all year by guard Allen Crabbe and center Richard Solomon but in the Division IV-AA championship final against Orange Lutheran, it was their young stars that made the biggest plays.
Junior Askia Booker has 15 points while 6-7 sophomore Skylar Spencer had eight points and seven rebounds to go along with four blocks and being a force in the middle while Solomon battled foul trouble.
“I just go on the feel of the game and try to help my team win,” Booker said.
Their play was a big reason the Knights won their 10th CIF title since 1999 and it’s why they’re heavily favored to win the Division IV state regional tournament.
“They’ve been doing it all year long, Price head coach Mychal Lynch said, “Skylar and Ski have been invaluable for us. “
If you ask Inglewood girls head coach Tony Scott, winning the school’s first CIF title was the biggest moment in program history – bigger than winning the Division III state regional tournament last year.
“My chest is a bit puffed out more,” Scott said, “There’s just something about winning a CIF championship that gives you a sense of pride.”
It didn’t take long for his team to shift their focus to the regional tournament. He said players were begging to practice on Sunday and early Monday morning for Tuesday’s first round game against Tulare.
“This team is on a mission and they want it as much, if not as more as the coaches do,” Scott said…
Carson’s thrilling overtime victory over Narbonne in the City Section girls championship was almost too much for head coach Marcel Sanders to handle. Sanders had to leave the game right before overtime after complaining of shortness of breath and chest pains.
It’s hard not to see why after the Colts went on a 7-0 run in the final two minutes to send the game in overtime.
“This was about heart and the confidence of our team,” junior guard Chante Miles said. “We knew it was ours.”
When it came down to it, Carson made the bigger plays. Sophomore Jasmine Barrnett made two layups in under 30 seconds to give them a late lead and in overtime, they outscored Narbonne 9-3 to clinch the school’s first City title.
Carson spent most of the last two decades in the shadow of Narbonne. It’s been a long path to gaining respect but last week’s title may have signaled the beginning of a new shift in their rivalry.
“We’re starting our own tradition,” Sanders said after the game.
Narbonne played without leading scorer Atoe Jackson, Tori Paschal and Jamasha Hudson who were suspended for disciplinary reasons. But their young players stepped up, showing why next season could see a rematch in the finals.