By Dennis J. Freeman
Santa Ana-The great thing about sports is that on any given day even greatness can be toppled. The New England Patriots knows a little something about that. For that matter, even the Boston Celtics can attest to it after choking up Game 7 of the NBA Finals to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers last year.
The Nike Extravaganza XVI Tournament, which was held a couple of days ago at Santa Ana Mater Dei High School, is not on the level of professional sports biggest games. But what the two-day, high school basketball tournament did offer up was a reminder that great teams like Long Beach Poly High School can have their own slip up moments. For Poly, it was a good thing that their worst game of the season didn’t occur during the CIF playoffs or state tournament.
For now, the Jackrabbits’ 58-53 defeat to Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School in an ESPN2 nationally-televised contest should serve as nothing more than a speed bump enroute to possible CIF and state titles if they regain their focus. It’s probably a safe bet that Poly coach Sharrief Metoyer has already gotten the attention of his team after the Jackrabbits first loss of the season.
Poly, which has long been one of the top high school sports programs in the country, has a reputation of being the best among the best when it comes to hoops. The tradition of Poly basketball is one that the Jackrabbits snap up championships much the same way banks deposits cash.
Heading into its game against Bishop Gorman, Poly had its tradition of good coaching and a great collection of players on its side, including Boston College committee Ryan Anderson. Poly entered the game against Bishop Gorman as the top-ranked team in the state of California. They were ranked as high as number three in the country, according to USA Today. They were undefeated through their first 22 games of the season.
It’s too bad that Bishop Gorman didn’t get the memo. And they brought their own star player with them. Shabazz Muhammad is only a junior. Yet Muhammad is probably one of the most sought after high school basketball recruits in the nation. The 6-foot-6, 207 pound Muhammad is already fielding recruiting offers from Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Memphis, UCLA and USC.
Muhammad didn’t disappoint the standing room crowd in attendance. Muhammad scored 31 points, most of his total coming in the second half to help Bishop Gorman hand Poly its lone setback. Muhammad and his Bishop Gorman teammates overcame an early fourth-quarter deficit and rallied to win by forcing the tempo offensively and ratcheting up its defensive play.
Poly, known for its own defensive prowess, wasn’t able to seal the deal on the win, thanks in part to ill-advised turnovers and porous shooting from the field, especially from the perimeter. As high school basketball games go, the nonleague contest between Poly and Bishop Gorman lived up to its billing.
Although they fell short of the victory, the Jackrabbits will nevertheless rebound from the defeat and turn it into a blip on their radar screen as they propel themselves for another championship run. That’s what champions do.