By Jack Davis
Hall of Fame basketball coach Pat Riley once said that after a team wins a championship, the “disease of more” takes over. That is, with the ultimate goal now achieved, players become less willing to sacrifice themselves and their own personal stats in order to benefit the team. Riley summarized his argument by saying that “success is often the first step toward disaster.”
Normally the disease of more isnât found in high school, because most successful high school teams are loaded with seniors who graduate before that disease has a chance to settle in.
However, with no key seniors leaving, 10 returning players, and five returning starters, the boysâ basketball team will be bringing back every key component of last yearâs CIF Championship team.
“All that a coach can do is warn the players of that possibility and point out any signs,” Head Coach Greg Hilliard said.Â “Ultimately, the players need to find an important reason to do it all over again.”
So with last yearâs CIF championship and run to the semifinals of the state championship a thing of the past, the basketball team hit Taper Gymnasium this summer focused, with the goal of repeating in 2010.
“Weâve got to stay focused, no question,” team captain Erik Swoope â10 said.
“We were able to accomplish something great last year but that doesnât mean anything now,” he said. “We have to still practice hard every single day, play hard every single day if we want to accomplish our goal.”
Swoope, who plays power forward, along with center Damiene Cain â11, forward Nate Bulluck â10, guard Austin Kelly â10, and point guard Michael Attanasio â10 make up the starting lineup for a second consecutive year.
Guards Chris Barnum â10 and Nicky Firestone â11 anchor the bench once again, with forwards David Burton â11 and Zena Edosomwan â12 providing depth in the frontcourt.
Hilliard has tried to ward off the potential complacency that comes with winning a CIF Championship by reemphasizing fitness and training during summer and fall workouts.
“The team is in superior condition compared to last season, and we were able to begin the fall at a much more advanced starting point over past seasons,” Hilliard said.
“I think the key to repeating will be to bring the same attitude we did last year,” Kelly said. “Last year, we were in better physical shape than our opponents and just wore them out over the course of the game. If we keep up our work ethic and energy over the off-season we can start the season out right away implementing our full court press and running game and just wear teams down.”
Despite the strong commitment the team has made, there have been momentary lapses and complacency during practices.
However, these moments have been brief and havenât permeated into the teamâs mind set, something Hilliard credits to the teamâs strong leadership.
“There have been moments of complacency, but the senior leadership has done a great job of re-directing the energies,” Hilliard said.
And therein lies a built-in advantage the 2009-2010 boysâ basketball team has that the 2008-2009 CIF Champions did not: the maturation of last yearâs core.
“One of the biggest questions we faced last year was everybody saying we were too young,” Barnum said. “Now weâve all gotten a year older, a year more advanced as players. And I mean the biggest thing is we know what to expect from each other out there.”
“We should be better and the young guys will benefit from the level of competition at practice,” Hilliard said. “Being better will not assure our advancement past last seasonâs success, but it should lead to lots of exciting basketball for all involved.”
Despite the maturation of last yearâs starting five and the addition of young talent, there are potential signs for caution as the team prepares to begin their season in December.
Kelly tore his meniscus tendon in an October practice, forcing him to have surgery and sideline him through the final weeks of training.
While the Wolverines did not move up a division even though they won a CIF championship, other tough teams like Junipero Serra and Campbell Hall have moved into the Wolverines division, setting up a potentially more difficult playoff schedule.
“Our division will be much tougher due to the teams that moved up or moved down to our division this season,” Hilliard said.
In the end, no amount of speculation can predict how the Wolverines will fare.
But if one thing is certain, it is that this group of basketball players are poised to win back to back CIF titles and put themselves in the lore of all time great Harvard-Westlake basketball teams.
“We are actually playing a very high level of selfless basketball.Â Our team should be even better at sharing the basketball than last year. The team is determined to exceed last season and has the strong leadership to make that happen.”
Â The team opens their season Nov. 23 at Valencia High School, in a scrimmage with Valencia.