Video: Bishop Montgomery vs. Sierra Canyon
See all of Bishop Montgomery's unsung bunch at their best in a Southern Section semifinal win.
The Grand Prix of high school basketball this season, better known as the CIF Southern Section Open Division Championship, was captured Saturday by a surprisingly high performance four-door sedan, also recognized as the Bishop Montgomery (Torrance, Calif.)
Everyone knew the Knights, ranked seventh nationally by MaxPreps heading into last week, possessed quality parts, efficient power and was superbly tuned by 28-year head coach Doug Mitchell.
But they were lined up against the Ferraris of the prep game, fellow Top 10 squads
and the Ball brothers, Mater Dei (Santa Ana)
and 7-foot-2 spectacle Bol Bol
, along with Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth)
and its 6-foot-11 nameplate Marvin Bagley III
, the nation's top-rated junior.
When the checkered flag dropped, however, Bishop Montgomery crossed first, having smoked Sierra Canyon (70-63) in the semifinals and Mater Dei (70-55) in the championship.
"I think everyone sort of forgot about us," Mitchell said. "We snuck in and now we're back in the conversation."
Now that all parties are back at the starting line in the form of the CIF State Open Division playoffs, the big question is can the Knights possibly recharge to claim the Southern California championship to face the Northern California representative for the state crown March 25 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento?
Most everyone expects Bishop Montgomery (27-2) to get past San Diego Section runner-up Torrey Pines (28-4) Friday in the first round to set up a probable date with defending national champion Chino Hills, which ended the Knights' 2015-16 season.
If that works out favorably for Bishop Montgomery, then likely Mater Dei or Sierra Canyon will be waiting in the finals.
Few figure that a team with no player taller than 6-foot-6 or boasting a five-star ranking, a team that prides itself on defense and blue-collar traits, could possibly pull off that tall order.
To that, Mitchell simply smiles. He's won six section and three state titles relying on old-school grit and principles. Capturing last week's title during Southern California's glitziest, most glamorous era — it has never boasted four Top 10 national teams at once — might have been his program's crowning jewel.
"We've been laughing lately because we're sort of seen as the poor stepchild around here," he said. "This is an exciting time around Southern California basketball. We sold out the Galen Center (against Mater Dei) and could have sold it out at an even bigger arena. Mater Dei, Sierra Canyon – we've all had big national wins. Add in the Chino Hills phenomenon and Lonzo Ball and all the success at UCLA and it all leads to this perfect storm."
Mitchell prefers things calm, cool and slightly breezy, just like the town of Torrance he grew up in and now coaches.
"Personally, I don't get all wrapped up in all the rankings and press stuff," he said. "We like to think all the hard work and defense will lead to good results. It's worked pretty well over the last 28 years."
Clearly, he's not working with a bunch of glue guys and worker bees this season.
The best of the bunch is 6-4 senior guard Ethan Thompson
, who averages around 22 points per game. The Oregon State signee had 23 against Mater Dei, including a crossover dribble and dunk right over Bol, which sent the Bishop Montgomery fans into a tizzy. It ignited a 13-0 run during an almost perfect fourth quarter that saw the Knights outscore Mater Dei 32-11.
So much for blue collar.
Mitchell, not one for hyperbole, said he was going to wait until the end of the season to say it but instead spilled the beans this week.
"Ethan is the best player I've coached in 28 years," he said. "He really doesn't have a flaw. He's a point guard, but a very good rebounder. He can score for us and shut down opponents' best player. The best part about him he's such a humble kid. He always has time for people."
Mitchell wanted to make one thing clear: "Through all that humility, he also has a killer instinct when we need him most."
The rest of stepchildren: Jordan Schakel:
The 6-6 senior forward was the team's leading scorer last year (19 ppg) and top rebounder this year. A knee injury messed with his rhythm and confidence most of the year, but the San Diego State-bound standout has hit his stride at precisely the right time. "What separates him is his court sense," Mitchell said. "He has a great feel for the game."
The 6-4 junior guard was also injured to start the season. He broke his foot in the fall. A natural scorer, he's the No. 14 ranked shooting guard for his class in the country. "He can really shoot the ball," Mitchell said. "He can finish. He's a strong, physical kid." Like other co-captains Schakel and Thompson, Singleton is nearly a 4.0 student. "You hear David a little more than Jordan and Ethan," Mitchell said.
The 6-5 junior started as a sophomore and largely gives up his offensive game to help in all other areas. At sections, he covered both Bol Bol and Sierra Canyon's 6-8, 240-pound Cody Riley. "He's very skilled, good with the ball and a fine distributor," Mitchell said. "On the other end, he wrestles with the monsters."Gianni Hunt:
The 6-1 sophomore is the youngest and smallest of the group, but perhaps most confidant. He started as a freshman. "He just keeps getting better and better," Mitchell said.
The Knights go eight deep, with sophomores Will Crawford
(6-5, 235) and Josh Vazquez
(6-1) and junior Cyrus Johnson
(6-5), son of former NBA and UCLA standout Marques Johnson, logging important minutes.
Mitchell admits the Knights have received a lot of attention since Saturday's victory. "I don't necessarily like or need it, but it's wonderful for the kids."
Here is a quick rundown of the four Southern California Open first-round games Friday, all which start at 7 p.m. local time:
No. 8 seed Torrey Pines (San Diego) (28-4) at No. 1 Bishop Montgomery
Coached by former NBA player John Olive, Torrey Pines is led by 6-9, 235-pound Jacob Gilliam
(15.9 points, 10.9 rebounds per game). Tynen will be assigned to him. The Falcons had won 18 straight before losing 47-44 in the San Diego Section finals to St. Augustine.
No. 5 Birmingham (Lake Balboa, Calif.) (27-3) vs. No. 4 Chino Hills (29-2) at Colony HS
Birmingham has scored at least 80 in 16 of its last 17 wins, including 100 three times. The Patriots average 85.9 points per game compared to 102.1 for Chino Hills, which has busted the century mark 16 times including a 146-123 win over Los Osos (Rancho Cucamonga). Many are expecting a similar score. Four Birmingham players average in double figure scoring, led by 6-5 senior shooting guard Devante Doutrive
(22.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists per game) and his younger brother Devonaire Doutrive
(18.5, 7.2, 6.0). Chino Hills, which hasn't played for two weeks, is led by UCLA-bound brothers LiAngelo Ball
and LaMelo Ball
, who scored 92 points in a game this season when his brother was injured.
No. 6 St. Augustine (San Diego) (27-4) at No. 3 Sierra Canyon (27-2)
San Diego Section St. Augustine is led by 6-9 forward Taeshon Cherry, ranked the No. 8 junior in the state. He'll have to contend with both Riley and Bagley. Good luck.
No. 7 Westchester (Los Angeles) (24-9) at No. 2 Mater Dei (31-2)
Westchester, coached by Ed Azzam, who has piled up more the 800 victories, lost to Birmingham 85-80 in the Los Angeles City Section final. Mater Dei is coached by the state winningest coach Gary McKnight. Besides Bol (17.3 ppg), the son of the late NBA player Manute Bol, Mater Dei features Justice Sueing
(17.1) and point guard Spencer Freedman