PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Matthew Grant
is messing with Westchester (Los Angeles, Calif.)
High School's faceless attack.
The Comets charge in waves with 15 quick, athletic but unspectacular players in Ed Azzam's no-star, blue-collar system.
It's hard to distinguish Westchester players apart, which is exactly how Azzam likes it. He doesn't even keep stats.
"About 15 years ago some kids had their heads in a stat sheet at halftime," Azzam explained. "That was that. We haven't kept them since."
It's worked. He's led the Comets to six state, 11 Los Angeles City and 18 league titles.
"We pride ourselves on defense and unselfishness," Azzam said. "Intensity at the highest level. That's kind of how we've always done things."
But Grant is stepping it up and beyond the call of steady and strong. The 6-foot-2 senior guard is impossible not to marvel and gawk at — especially in Friday's impressive 70-59 MaxPreps Holiday Classic semifinal win over Harvard-Westlake
at Palm Desert High School.
Grant, a southpaw with a beautiful long-range stroke, drilled a couple early 3s leading the Comets to a 21-3 lead. He finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and four steals as Westchester (11-4) advanced to today's 7:30 p.m. final against Texas and national power Fort Bend Travis.
"He can really play," Azzam said. "He's exceptionally talented and he's really coming into his own."
Coming from Azzam, that's a major endorsement. So is this:
"He plays so hard on both sides of the floor," he said. "He's very steady in his effort. He can really shoot and drive. And he's tough."
One glance at him these days proves that.
He wears a mask to protect a broken nose sustained in the alumni game last month. The injury required surgery, but Grant didn't miss any time.
"It hurt, yes," Grant said of the injury. "The mask took some time getting used to. I felt like I had not peripheral vision. But I'm used to it now. I'll play without it soon."
The mask not only protects his nose, but seems symbolic, showing that Grant does stand out.
It's certainly nothing that he seeks, he said. He just wants the Comets to win and continue the tradition.
"We've always been balanced," Grant said. "That's how we do it at Westchester. No one is going to go for 40. It's going to be 15 here, 15 there. Someone else will have 12 or 11. As long as we're winning, everyone is happy. We're all in this together."
That's music to the ears of Azzam, who has been somewhat frustrated by his team's inconsistency. The effort is constant, but the execution has been spotty.
Friday's game was a perfect example.
After jumping to the big lead, while dominating a physically imposing team on the glass, the Comets got no offensive flow by early in the second quarter.
By the end of the third, Harvard-Westlake had actually taken a 45-42 lead on a 3-point play by Derick Newton.
But that seemed to wake up the Comets, who went on an 18-2 run, keyed by eight points from Grant, who utilized his outside shooting to drive by defenders as well.
Azzam said Grant doesn't have any college offers yet, but "I'm getting more and more coaches asking about him. He's getting more and more consistent."
As a defensive stopper to go along with his complete offensive game, Grant would seem to be a gem.
"I like to shoot outside and drive," he said. "Whatever the defense gives me."
He'll likely do a lot of work on Aaron Harrison, one part of Fort Bend Travis' twin set, who are both going to Kentucky. Each is ranked among the top five seniors in the country on every recruiting chart, but Andrew has been hampered all tournament with a hamstring injury.
Grant will likely be doing helping out with Aaron, who is three inches taller than the masked Westchester standout.
"I've seen those guys on TV and obviously live here the last couple of days," Grant said. "We really just focus on what we do well, which is play hard on defense, and it usually turns out well."