Not many California high school basketball followers expected
Redondo Union (Redondo Beach, Calif.)
to reach the CIF Division II state championship game. Anyone familiar with first-year Sea Hawks head coach Reggie Morris Jr., though, shouldn't be too surprised.
Over the last four seasons Morris has led three different schools to section crowns and two of them to state finals, leaving many of his contemporaries to wonder: What's his secret?
"There is really no secret, other than the kids buying into the system," said Morris, who is preparing the Sea Hawks for Saturday's Division II title game against College Park (Pleasant Hill) in Sacramento. "It's all about defense first. That's our identity."
Morris piloted Leuzinger (Lawndale) to the Southern Section Division I-A title in 2010, then led St. Bernard (Playa del Rey) to the state Division V final in 2011 and the Southern Section Division V-AA crown last season. Now, he is one win away from winning the sectional, regional and state championships all in the same year at Redondo Union.
View the MaxPreps boys state title game previews
Even more impressive is the fact that Redondo finished 10-17 last winter and longtime coach Tom Mair was not retained. Enter Morris... and the rest is history.
The Sea Hawks (27-8) are riding a 20-game winning streak. They last tasted defeat Jan. 5 with a narrow 60-58 road loss to Bishop Montgomery (Torrance) -- then the third-ranked team in California and undeafeated. Morris wanted to test his young team early and often against top-notch competition and that strategy has paid dividends in the postseason. Redondo upset top-seeded Westlake (Westlake Village) in the section II-A title game in Anaheim and knocked off top-seeded JW North (Riverside), the Southern Section II-AA winner, decisively in last week's regional final in Ontario.
Redondo held North's high-powered offense to 48 points and junior Deshon Taylor, the Huskies' best scorer, was held to 11 points -- well below his season average of 20 -- and the Sea Hawks' zone defense and stifling full-court press made it 32 minutes of frustration for the opposition. Sixty has been Redondo's 'magic number' all season long: When the Sea Hawks hold the other team less than 60 points, they are 25-2.
"Defense is our calling card. We like to win ugly," Morris said. "If we hold our opponents to that amount I like our chances."
Count JW North's veteran head coach Mike Bartee among the new wave of believers in Redondo.
"Give them credit. They did a great job of forcing turnovers, containing us on the perimeter and keeping the ball out of the paint," he said. "We have a lot of efficient scorers, but Redondo defended well and didn't let us get into any kind of rhythm."
One of the factors that has made Redondo's turnaround under Morris so stunning is that younger players on the roster, who normally wouldn't play a lot of minutes or contribute much on the stat sheets, have significant roles there, particularly freshman shooting guard
, sophomore point guard Cameron High
and sophomore forward Jeremiah Headley
The leadership has been provided by junior guard Ian Fox
and a trio of senior captains -- guard Derek Biale
and forwards Sebastian Lindner
and Chris Henderson
-- who have benefited most from Morris' philosophy.
"He has made a huge difference, he's made us all better and that's what a good coach does," said Biale, who scored a team-high 19 points in the section final against Westlake, a game that was tied with six minutes left. "Coach Morris expects a lot but we know if we do what he says, we'll win. He believes in us and I love playing for him."
Morris got a feel for what the state finals are like two years ago when St. Bernard rebounded from its loss in the section semifinals to reach the state championship game, only to fall by three points to St. Joseph Notre Dame (Alameda) when the Vikings missed a last-second 3-pointer that would have forced overtime.
This time around, he hopes the outcome will be different. Win or lose on Saturday, however, Morris expects Redondo to be a long-term assignment.
"That's the plan," Morris said.
Sea Hawks fans should be breathing a sigh of relief about that.Watch more videos of Redondo Union basketball