After 19 years, the Crenshaw Cougars boys’ basketball team became the 2016 CIF City Section Champions. This was the team’s first championship title since the retirement of the legendary head coach Willie West.
The Cougars battled against the Hamilton Yankees (12-17 overall, 6-6 Western League) in the title match. Many alumni, including former Crenshaw basketball players, attended the game.
“The atmosphere was outrageous, especially [on] our side of the crowd,” said junior guard Chris Kendrick. “It was people talking and trying to talk to you, tell you what to do, but you have to stay in tune to the game.”
The main gymnasium (The Willie West Pavilion) is decorated with 16 City Section banners won by the team. The banners chronicle the team’s wins from the 70’s through the 90’s.
“I come in here every single day, I see all these banners,” said sophomore forward Kevin Ebiriekwe. “It was mind blowing that we did it. Now we’re a part of history. Now when I come in here next year, mine will be up here too,”
The cougars vanquished the Yankees 61-52. The behavior and attitude of the team made freshman center Udochukwu Ebiriekwe confident the cougars would win.
“We got into a huddle and I remember Chris [Kendrick] was in the center and we was talking about how we’re gonna get pressure from the start and we’re gonna pressure the team and have hard, hard defense and get every rebound and box out,” Udochukwu said.
In order to win, the cougars had to understand the gameplay of the Yankees and adjust to playing in the gymnasium at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
“The court was different, everything was different,” said senior Shane Seymore. “It was more spaced out, it wasn’t really like a high school gym and we just had to get the feel of the court.”
A big match up during their playoff run was Crenshaw’s game against the Freemont Pathfinders (22-10 overall, 10-2 Coliseum League) during the semi-finals.
“We had to break down their defensive weaknesses,” said junior Aaron Buckley.
The cougars lost to the Pathfinders twice during the season, this motivated Crenshaw to win in the matchup.
“Those two loses in the season where both very close games,” said junior guard Ramone Wagner “I feel like we could have easily not have lost to them the first two times,”
Leading up to the game, members of both teams exchanged trash talk on social media.
“They were talking a lot about beating us and that everyone was talking about how our season was going to be over,” said junior center Lamar Harris. “When we came to the third time to playing Freemont, I just wanted to beat them.”
This was a favorite game for assistant coach Gary Locke.
“You can see the growth in that game,” Locke said about the cougars. “Whenever you can see growth in a game, it just becomes such a relevant, important game.”
Crenshaw began their playoff run against the University High School Wildcats; the cougars defeated them 99-91, according to Maxpreps. The wildcats were small and aggressive, Crenshaw countered with offensive rebounds in the first half of the game, noted Kevin.
“We all came together, we all really wanted to win because we all really wanted to get a banner for Crenshaw because we all knew we had a chance,” said junior forward Raykwan Williams.
The Cougars play at a fast pace, it’s considered to be a great style of basketball by senior Ryan Campbell.
“High energy brings dunks, dunks bring out the crowd,” Campbell said. “The up tempo style of basketball is used for athletic players and people who get up court very well.”
Crenshaw advanced to the Division III State competition, losing to the Hart High School Indians 51-61, Max Preps reports.
“Our turnovers, mistakes led to their victory,” said senior Tyral Garrett.
The team only had two players with previous Varsity experience: Kendrick and Campbell. Kendrick grew up in the Crenshaw community, having two brothers who attended the high school. Campbell had to acclimate, having transferred to Crenshaw last fall semester.
“Ryan ended up being our scorer with about 15 a game and Chris ended up being our point guard, averaging about 14 a game,” said head coach Edward Waters. “I personally met with them and told them that you two have to learn to play together and every team has the one-two punch, you guys gonna figure out how that works.”
Traveling to play in a tournament in Sacramento brought the team together off court. Playing in tournaments through the winter break help the players understand their roles.
“The whole year, we worked very hard for something like this to happen,” said Garrett. “It finally happened so I just felt good. I think I owed it to my mom.”