The Parrots’ Game is Taking Flight

M. Terry / SFVS

Flocking Together — A commitment to team play, led by captains Quadre Johnson, Angel Verduzco and Joshua Gregorio (l-r) has made Poly High a contender in City Section Division II.

There’s a small, single poster attached to the wall of the Poly High School gymnasium as the Parrots’ boys took to the floor for their boys’ basketball game against Monroe High.

Two simple but declarative sentences adorn the poster.

“Believe in your dreams. U R Poly’s Dream Team 2019-20.”

The poster was hung at the beginning of the 2019-20 season by a fan known as “Grandpa.” The Parrots players have left it there.

For one thing, they’ve yet to lose at home so far — why mess with the Karma?

“I don’t know if he’s an alum of Poly, but he’s a supporter of all Poly athletics,” Coach Alex Pladevega said. “He goes to all the games and puts up motivational posters everywhere. We’re a community, as in if people want to come back and support us, we don’t say ‘no’ to anybody.”

For another reason, Poly is enjoying an excellent season.

After rolling up Monroe High, 73-46, on Jan. 17, and defeating Garfield High of Los Angeles on Jan. 20, 56-44, the Parrots’ overall record stood at 15-6. (Results from the Jan. 22 game against Chavez High were unavailable at press time.) Besides being undefeated at home, Poly was also unbeaten in league play and aiming for its first East Valley League championship since 2015. And when the regular season concludes in early February, the Parrots will be considered a definite contender for the City Section’s Division II title.

And yes, they saw this coming.

“Coming in my freshman year I knew some of the players. But I feel we became a united group my sophomore year,” said center Angel Verduzco, 18, a senior. “And the brotherhood grew. Basketball became fun, playing with each other. And the coach, believing in us as a unit, allows us to play freely and have fun.”

He admits the Roybal loss “stayed with me a little bit. But everything we’ve done since then — [studying] the game film, the hard practices — has prepared us for this season.”

Guard Quadre Johnson, 17, a senior, believes the team has figured some things out — in particular, playing together.

“(The Garfield win) is an example,” Johnson said. “It showed that we’re able to win against a team really trying to beat us. Those teams always come out hard and [get] the lead. But now we’re able to put our foot down and say, ‘we got you.’ Last year, we weren’t able to do that.”

“This year we’re going by a different mindset,” adds guard Joshua Gregorio, 17, a junior. “We’re trying to take it one game at a time and go 1-0. Not focus too much on the future, hopefully make it to the end and this time finish it off.”   

Poly does have two City championships on its resume. The first was 1961, when future UCLA and Los Angeles Lakers star Gail Goodrich was a student here. The other was in 1999: An Invitational title that few remember because of a title — “Invitational” — that nobody liked.

Pladevega’s history doesn’t go that far back. His first coaching stint was with the boys’ freshmen team in 2012-13. He has worked his way up to varsity coach, replacing Alan Wosakian in 2018. Last season, he helped the Parrots reach the City Division III championship game, where they lost to Roybal High of Los Angeles.

The core group of players from last year came back. Pladevega said the team continues to work hard in practice, continues to play selflessly and not selfishly in the games, and is motivated — but not obsessed — with last year’s title loss.

“I believe last year, they needed that comfort of knowing ‘they belonged,’” Pladevega said. “Making it to the championship game showed them ‘we can do this.’ Once the season ended, the core guys and everyone else on the team knew they belonged and they had a team coming back, and we just worked. I put them in a couple of spring leagues and team camp at Cal State San Marcos. And they rolled with it.

“We had a little motto after we lost the championship game that ‘next year is unfinished business.’ They’ve taken it upon themselves to do the conditioning on their own, it was a mindset that they wanted to come back and show they are ready to finish.”

There is also a level of calm, a matter-of-factness in watching Poly play the game.

“There’s talent at every position,” Johnson said. “Everybody can play more than one and is willing to do so. We just have to make sure we don’t come out flat. That was our biggest problem last year. You can’t do that every game and expect to win.

“We’ve become a more disciplined team,” Gregorio said. “We play with more poise, more smarts. This year we’re making each other better, as opposed to last year.”

It’s another way the players take their cue from their coach.

“I don’t want to speak for other coaches. I grew up in a different era, when coaching and parenting, and anything along those lines, was stern,” Pladevega said. “But with the generation I see now, if you do yell I feel that — especially if they’re tired — they are not listening to you. It’s not that they are ‘not’ listening to you. I think they’re trying to get their breath and trying to compose themselves.

“At the end of the day, why am I going to yell at you in a minute-long time out, when I know that you’re still going to run [the plays that] we run in practice. So, I just sit there. If, in a time out, I have to give them a ‘look,’ they’ll see that. And behind closed doors I will stop a practice for a three-minute tirade. But once the game starts, I’ve told myself not to yell during a game because people are there to watch the kids, not watch me yell.”

Like “Grandpa” and the other Poly fans who are hoping that this is, indeed, a dream team. 

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