SANTA ANA, Calif. –
The team in the green uniforms took the floor at the Meruelo Athletic Center after opening introductions. The opening whistle blew, and those Eagles from Eisenhower (Rialto, Calif.)
played a normal game of basketball.
The coach chided and encouraged his players, the bench clapped and supported the players on the floor, and the parents in the stands did what parents normally do.
It all looked so normal.
Normalcy, or blending in, can be somewhat elusive for the Eagles these days. Their coach, Steve Johnson, was shot four times on Jan. 21 in a park and there are just as many questions as there are answers when it comes to the circumstances – at least in the public eye.
Just hours before the game, the San Bernardino Sun quoted
the San Bernardino Police Department as saying "We have reason to believe that Mr. Johnson withheld some information in his statement to us, and his failure to be completely honest did hinder our investigation of the crime he was a victim of. We will submit a case to the district attorney for review regarding Mr. Johnson's actions."
The incident allegedly took place after Johnson stopped at the park to use the restroom.
Now the Eagles' players have an assistant coach stepping in as the head man, and often a cadre of media following the story. But they are keeping it normal – as far as any outsider can tell.
Acting coach Ray Jimmerson was more than cordial when it came to discussing Friday night's 78-63 loss to Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
at the Nike Extravaganza. He had plenty to talk about when it came to the game on the floor.
When asked about anything other than that, his response was consistent.
"Anything about coach Johnson, you won't get it. I'm just gonna let you know that," he said in a postgame interview. "I won't even comment about that. Anything that is centered around him, I won't comment about."
A parent in the stands didn't have much else to say, nor did the school's football coach, and the players don't have a desire to discuss how things have changed since their award-winning coach was shot and put up at Loma Linda Hospital. The last published reports were that he is expected to live, but could face more surgeries
He began teaching math at the school in 1992 and won the California Interscholastic Federation Division II state title in 2009.
The Eagles (10-13) are just playing basketball. They are not giving in to the countless media interview requests and they're focusing on the hardwood. It helps to have a stabilizing influence leading the charge, as Jimmerson said he has been with the program off and on for about 10 years.
On Friday, Jimmerson roamed the sideline with the confidence one would expect from a coach. He taught with a soft voice at appropriate times, and when it was warranted, he yelled at his players when they made mistakes. Those players just went and played ball, following the directions of Jimmerson and assistants Redus Reed and Shon Hampton.
The Eagles started out hot against the No. 8 team in the Xcellent 25 National Basketball Rankings, holding a 22-21 lead after the first quarter. Then the perimeter shots stopped falling and the Monarchs pounced on some turnovers to take a 39-29 lead into halftime.
Eisenhower hung tough in the first part of the fourth quarter, and trailed by five points with 3:30 left before the Monarchs slammed the door with a 15-5 run to end the contest.
But they played hard up until the final seconds, as evinced by the defense forcing Mater Dei to call timeout when it couldn't inbound the ball.
"That's how we play. That's what we expect. We expect them to play the
whole game with no breaks," Jimmerson said. "Play to the last second, win or loss."
was the scoring star for the young Eagles, making 7 of his 16 3-point attempts for 21 points. Marquane Harris
added 10 points and Nate Lowery
pitched in eight rebounds.
"We were amped a little more for Mater Dei. We respect their ranking, but we played hard and showed them we weren't gonna sit down and roll over," Kearney said.
The Monarchs dominated the boards, 47-30, and held Eisenhower to 30-percent shooting.
"They were excited just because of Mater Dei. Any time you play a team with
that type of aura around them, you are interested in that game and you really want to win," Jimmerson said.
Where the Johnson situation goes from here is unknown. What appears to be known is that this year's Eagles are going to keep things as normal as possible - and just play basketball.