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Written by Mike Terry   
Thursday, 27 December 2012 01:55

The Alemany Boys' Basketball Team Surprised many By Winning The State Division Championship Last Season But Now The Warriors Have To Learn How To Handle Their New Level Of Success


Can't Stop Now - Returning Alemany basketball players Bear Henderson (left) and Brandon Boyd are figuring ways to build on the championship legacy the Warriors built in the 2011-12 season.

You can pardon the Alemany Warriors for wishing that their 2011-12 boys' basketball season had never ended.

And you could call the 2011-12 season for the Warriors, with an overall record of 33-4, a breakthrough season. But it bordered more on magical.

Winning the Mission League, the team's first league championship since 1999, by itself would have been a big step forward. But Alemany kept on rolling, winning the school's first Southern Section 3-A title, its first state regional finial (stunning Bellflower St. John Bosco with a three-pointer at the buzzer) and, finally, the state Division 3 championship against San Francisco Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Just as impressive, the Warriors didn't lose a game on the road.

"All season we talked about God honoring hard work, so we just kept working hard," head coach Tray Meeks said. Three players from that team – Max Guercy, Marqueze Coleman and Jerico Richardson – earned Division I athletic scholarships. Guercy is at Rice. Coleman is Nevada. So is Richardson, although he is playing football.

"In regards to what the state championship did for the school, it energized us as a community – and not just from an athletic standpoint," noted Meeks.

"It was 'everyone's' state championship, not just boys' basketball. It was for the administrators, the teachers, as well as athletics. It was a school championship – the first state championship in school history in any sport. So infused us with spirit."

It also helped shift the sporting culture somewhat at Alemany.

Football remains king there, as far as student and alumni loyalties go. But the basketball program – which has had a parade of college Division I coaches and scouts coming by to watch practice – now has a level of prestige the football program doesn't have, and the effect is noticeable to the players.

"It changed everything," said returning 6-5 guard Bear Henderson. "We used to be just called a football school, but now we're a football and basketball school. I'm very proud of that."

Point guard Brandon Boyd, another returning starter, also plays safety on the football team. He said the basketball championship has created a new level of respect for that sport.

"Like Bear said, we weren't known as a basketball school," Boyd said "And I play football, so I'd heard them talking how basketball didn't have a big reputation, winningwise. I took offense to that. Now that we've won…."

But it is a new season and, one that outsiders will use to determine if Alemany can build upon its roundball success. Meeks and his staff had three returning starters in Boyd, Henderson and K.J. Moffett, as well as "one other player with some varsity experience" to build the 2012-13 team around. Through the halfway point of the nonleague schedule the Warriors' record was 5-2, not far at all from the 6-1 start of last season. And in some ways, Meeks said, this team "could be more talented" than its predecessor. "Last year we pretty much went 6-7 deep," the coach said. "This year I can go 9-10 deep."

But not right now. There is learning curve to negotiate; not so much with the starters, but with the plethora of new faces Meeks is trying to incorporate into the program.

"We have a good core, but we a pretty young team after that," Meeks said. "(After the returning players) everyone is new, either coming up from JV, two are true freshmen, and two are transfers who came in but they hadn't played varsity.

"I'm doing more teaching, because these guys are still learning and we're still learning them. We're still trying to fill out rotations, who can do what and where, what they excel at. So it has changed in that instance. Last year the seniors could come and talk to me about in-game adjustments, where as now these guys, I'm talking to them about how they can adjust. Last year they were giving me suggestions; this year I'm giving them directions. So it's a little different."

The players are also learning about what it means to be a defending champion.

"Last year nobody knew who we were," said Henderson, 18, a junior. "This year we have a huge target on our back. Every game has been pretty much like championship game.

Everybody knows who we are; we have to compete at all times because when we don't, we get stepped on. It's a huge adjustment to not take plays off, and have a champion's mentality of competing versus the other team."

The first lesson on that subject came early. Alemany played El Camino Real recently in the Santa Monica tournament. The Conquistadors are defending champions too, having won the Los Angeles City Section Division II title. The Dec. 7 meeting wasn't much of a contest, as ECR hammered the Warriors, 90-44.

"One, we're a very young team," Henderson said. "El Camino has been building ever since (those player's) freshman year. We're pretty much in the same position as they were then as we speak. We were also very tired, and at that point we forgot we were defending state champions. And a team like them, they're very talented. They wanted to beat us and that's what they did.

"It was a great wakeup call." Meeks hopes the players got the message. He also gave them one as well.

"I did talk to the guys about last year. We have a documentary about last year, and I let them watch it – not to be braggadocios about what we did, but I wanted them to understand what they inherited. They inherited a target on their back," he said."

"(The opponents) don't care that the other guys have gone. They just know we won state last year; we're defending champions, and let's go. The El Camino game was really good for us in so many ways. It wasn't a 'good loss' – people use that term, but it hurt, it stung, it was embarrassing – but it was needed. There are a lot of nutrients in humble pie. And we needed it. These guys are talented. So they needed that [ECR game] to understand that 'team' is bigger than the individual."

The Warriors don't start Mission League play until Jan. 4. It still may be too soon to know if they are able make another deep playoff run this season, or how well they can protect the new legacy provided by the 2011-12 team. For Meeks, the fun is in the finding out.

My own expectations, they are always high," Meeks said. "Even when we weren't winning back in the day they didn't change.

"Defensively we need to be better. We need to improve every day, especially in the halfcourt. Our transition defense is getting better. Offensively, we need more cohesiveness. That just comes with playing. I can do it all day in practice, but until they're going against someone else, it really doesn't work.

"I want them to be 'nail' tough by (league). … They are a close-knit group already and that really helps. We don't have to gel that way. Now we just have to get a little closer, and fight for one another."

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 December 2012 02:02

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