Coming off an opening eight game stretch full of highs and lows, the boys’ varsity basketball team heads into the Desert Heat Classic Dec. 26 eager for more consistency from its 4-4 record.
The team started its season off in dramatic fashion against Palisades Dec. 4, as the Wolverines came back from 16 points down in the fourth quarter to win 70-66 in overtime, highlighted by Derick Newton’s ’14 buzzer-beating layup to force the extra period. However, the Wolverines’ season took a wrong turn as the team lost its next three games in the Santa Monica Tournament. Newton, who scored 37 of the team’s 70 points in the first game, suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter of the team’s third game against Brentwood Dec. 6.
Newton has not played since, but is expected to return in the Desert Heat Classic. Led by veterans Michael Sheng ’14, Alex Copeland ’15 and Bryan Polan ’14, the team was able to resurge and win three straight games in the following University High School tournament. Sheng and Copeland were named to all-tournament teams with 23 and 21 points respectively against University Dec. 13, while Polan put up a career-high 30 points in the team’s 94-64 win Dec. 11 against Dorsey. Polan’s seven three-pointers in the blowout win tied a school record for most threes in a game.
“I feel like with Mike, Derick and I, we have three threats, and that, when we’re all playing, it’s really hard to stop us,” Copeland said. “With Derick out – both he and Mike have a lot of experience with injuries – I’ve just had to take on a bigger role. I think we’ve both been doing a great job. I get ready to just do whatever the coach needs me to do, whether it’s scoring a lot, or trying to get shooters involved, or getting the ball to Derick. Now that I need to score, I’m ready to score.”
The Wolverines, however, were unable to complete the undefeated streak at the University High School, falling to Windward 54-48 in the tournament finals. With Newton out, head coach Greg Hilliard has had to experiment with distributing the forward’s minutes among different lineups.
The team, as Hilliard said in November, contains several young but inexperienced players. Outside of Newton, center Sam Weintraub ’14, Sheng and Copeland, who have all played on varsity since their respective freshman years, no other Wolverines have spent more than two years on the varsity team. Weintraub, sidelined with a hip injury, has yet to play this season.
“We do have a lot of guys that don’t have much varsity experience,” Copeland said. “I think, especially early on in the Santa Monica tournament, we didn’t come to every game as focused as we could have been and knowing how intense we have to be to be successful. I think we’re starting to learn that. Even though we couldn’t pull out a win against Windward, we played really hard, and I think we’re starting to learn, starting to get better at doing what we need to win – playing defense, playing hard, getting 50-50 balls, stuff like that.”