Destiny King hits a jump shot over Valencia. Photo by Ken Brooks
Just when the rest of Division I thought it was safe to capture a championship, they’re back. Despite preseason reports and an unranked status that suggested Long Beach Poly girls basketball (No. 19 nationally) was just mediocre, sheer winning quickly forced critics to once again acknowledge its national prominence. The Jackrabbits 26-2 record and No 1 playoff seed is typical, but to a degree unexpected considering their usually rigid non-league schedule combined with the loss of six college bound seniors.
Making their earliest playoff exit since 2000 also factored into questionable predictions leading into the 2011-12 campaign. Poly has set the bar extremely high for itself since its tear of four sectional, five regional, and four consecutive state championships in five appearances. The run created an expectation that naturally draws comparisons to the rosters of past teams that won it all. Having only one remaining player with a state championship ring and two others with state finals experience, this season’s roster led by Destiny King has had to prove itself perhaps more than any other in recent history.
The incredible title run lasted through 2009, and should fulfill the Jackrabbit nation for a while. Poly can take a breath during the rebuilding years, which are a universal, inevitable reality, right? Not really. Head coach Carl Buggs maintains that outside of his own drive, the pressure to win at Poly is as relentless as his patented full court defense.
“It’s historical, it’s always there”, Buggs said. “Parents know tradition and pass it on to their kids. When you look up on the wall, parents let you know they helped put up that banner. If a team beats us in league, they might remember it forever, but here they only remember Championships.
“It’s a big responsibility. Poly is not for everybody,” added Buggs. “Not every student can handle it. Some people want promises, but I can only promise an opportunity to compete for a position.”
Sometimes however, Poly’s image is misrepresented in that capable players are told they are not good enough or would not get playing time at Poly. According to Buggs, his entire roster heard it at some point. Fortunately for the program, the parents are making the decisions.
While coming up short is not an option, a third round loss made for miserable ending last season.
“I can’t explain the feeling of emptiness,” said assistant coach Art Thompson III.
The one-point defeat to Santa Monica serves as a reminder that one bad game can be catastrophic. Winning Division IAA is a tall enough order. However, it also means inevitably facing three McDonalds All Americans – one of which is at Victorville Silverado – Poly’s second round opponent.
Buggs is satisfied with the Jackrabbits’ progress “from a record standpoint.” Their only losses came against Winward (No. 5 nationally) and La Jolla country Day (No. 10 nationally), which Poly met again and beat.
“We find a way to win, but we’re working harder than we should have to,” Buggs said. “But we’re still playing and getting better every day.”
Regarding another state title, Buggs added, “I like our chances. We just have to play our game.”
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