PALM SPRINGS, Calif. –
The Westchester (Los Angeles)
basketball program has produced an endless line of star players under head coach Ed Azzam.
"Hot Sauce" Adams, Trevor Ariza, Bobby Brown, Amir Johnson and Gabe Pruitt are just a handful of the names that have helped Azzam win six state titles.
But this year's Comets are a bit of an unheralded bunch, lacking a Top 100-caliber prospect or even a major Division I recruit.
That lack of starpower didn't stop Westchester (12-4) from taking the title Saturday night at the MaxPreps Holiday Classic with a 70-62 win over national No. 18 Fort Bend Travis (Richmond, Texas)
and its talented identical twin duo of Aaron
and Andrew Harrison
"It feels great, especially against a great team like this," tournament MVP Matthew Grant
said. "It was kind of a longshot at the start, but it feels great to be holding this trophy right now."
Grant finished with 20 points, including a pair of clutch 3-pointers in the final two minutes that proved too much for the visitors from Texas to overcome. Tyler Batiste
added 13 for Westchester while junkyard dog and all-tournament selection Nick Hamilton
added eight. See how Hamilton's composure, toughness keyed victory.
"Everybody shares the ball. We don't have anybody that thinks they are superstar where they need to take 30 or 40 shots per game," said Grant, who is playing with a
protective mask due to a broken nose
suffered in November. "Everybody gets their fair share and everybody is happy."
The Comets have been denied twice in tournament finals already this season. But using 11 players in a mass substitution pattern, Westchester emerged as the bracket buster in the desert.
"I thought we would be better next year," Azzam said. "But maybe this is the year where the seniors step up and do well and the younger kids follow. I said all along we will be really good by the end of the year and I think we are getting close."
Fort Bend Travis was once again led by 6-foot-5 Kentucky-bound senior guard Aaron Harrison, who recorded a game-high 22 points. He piled up 97 points in the first three rounds of the event, but along with Andrew, was frustrated by Westchester's physicality and constant pressure.
Andrew was not himself throughout the week while battling through a nagging hamstring injury, finishing with just seven points Saturday. He sat the final six minutes in Friday's win over Loyola and didn't come out of the locker room against Westchester until late in the pregame warm-up period.
"They got frustrated and I'm not sure what it was but I guess they just thought they were going to blow us out," Azzam said. "They thought they played the best team yesterday. You never play the game to try and get under anybody's skin. You compete and you play hard. That's it."
But Westchester did get under the skin of Travis and the twins, especially after a technical foul-aided 10-1 run late in the third quarter that changed the complexion of the contest.
Fort Bend Travis coach Craig Brownson thought that run was key, but it wasn't as bad as missing 10 free throws or making what he called "silly fouls."
"They have a very good team and are very well coached," Brownson said. "We see teams that athletic but few that are that deep. None that rotate five players in and out like that. It causes problems because it takes a while to adjust. They play very tough."
Nobody was tougher than the masked Grant, who helped the Comets knock off two defending state champions (Miller Grove and Rainier Beach) and a third team in Travis that played for a state title last year en route to the MaxPreps Holiday Classic crown.
"I should be taking it off next week but I don't know, it's kind of fun wearing it," Grant said of the mask. "I've kind of adjusted to it and people have given me cool nicknames like the 'Masked Man' and stuff like that."
Fitting for a faceless team that may have found its way this week in Palm Springs.
Third Place: Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood, Calif.) 82,
Loyola (Los Angeles) 72
Behind 27 points from 6-5 junior Derick Newton
, Harvard-Westlake avenged a 19-point loss to Mission League rival Loyola back on Nov. 30 to take third place.
The two teams will meet twice more this season – Jan. 16 at Loyola and Feb. 4 at Harvard-Westlake.
"We will be playing them four times and it's tough every year," Newton said. "They beat us by 19 earlier this season, so we really wanted to get them tonight. It's a great feeling seeing all the hard work we have been putting in pay off."
The versatile and well-built Newton, who specializes in bulldozing his way into the lane and making plays, was a force throughout the four-day event. He put up 31 points in a quarterfinal win over Rainier Beach of Seattle.
Ranked No. 19 nationally by MaxPreps, Loyola suffered its second loss in as many nights after beginning the season 10-0.
In the fifth place contest, Miller Grove (Lithonia)
(13-3) returned to Georgia with a 3-1 record by beating De La Salle (Chicago)
61-51.Other division championship scoresQwixcore DivisionLa Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.)
70, Mission Viejo (Calif.)
60MVP: Jeff Van Dyke
, La Costa CanyonThe Slice DivisionDowney (Calif.)
53, Capistrano Valley (Mission Viejo, Calif.)
41MVP: Dakari Archer
, DowneyGear to the Max DivisionJW North (Riverside, Calif.)
63, Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco)
55MVP: Dorian Butler
, J.W. NorthMaxStats DivisionBrethren Christian (Huntington Beach, Calif.)
77, Canyon Crest Academy (San Diego, Calif.)Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau DivisionSutter (Calif.)
64, Marywood-Palm Valley (Rancho Mirage, Calif.)
40Fairfield Inn DivisionSantiago (Corona, Calif.)
59, Villa Park (Calif.)
56Buffalo Wild Wings DivisionBrentwood School (Los Angeles)
57, Crescenta Valley (La Crescenta, Calif.)
55IHoop Gear DivisionDe La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
56, Patriot (Riverside, Calif.)
41Desert Heat Events DivisionDana Hills (Dana Point, Calif.)
69, Cathedral City (Calif.)
43Girls MaxPreps President's DivisionLa Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.)
65, Indio (Calif.)
35Girls IHoop Gear DivisionLaguna Beach (Calif.)
54, Palm Springs (Calif.)
27 Senior writer Mitch Stephens contributed to this report.