Wasn't the Chino Hills basketball program supposed to veer into the ditch this season? A crash-and-burn exclamation point following the departure of Sir Talk-a-Lot LaVar Ball and his sons?
Someone forgot to tell the Huskies of San Bernardino County. They are back in a CIF State championship game in Sacramento, facing Las Lomas of Walnut Creek on Friday night in the Division I final at Golden 1 Center.
Chino Hills went 35-0 and finished No. 1 in the land in 2016 with a championship celebration at Arco Arena. The team was led by brothers Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball, who scored 92 in a game last season as a junior. Their proud, if a bit opinionated, father, LaVar, sat in the NBA venue, beaming.
But LaVar was fuming earlier this academic year when he yanked LaMelo out of Chino Hills, not at all pleased with the direction of new coach Dennis Latimore.
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He told ESPN in October, "I'm not dealing with the coach. ... So therefore, I'm going to home-school (LaMelo) and make him the best basketball player ever."
LaVar also said of the coach, "Let's see how you do without my tutelage. Get along with me, guess what? You go 35-0. When you try and do it your way, goodbye."
Latimore stood his ground and insisted he would not let a parent dictate his program.
Even LaMelo pounced earlier in the season before signing with the Lithuanian Basketball League, posting on his Twitter, "Somebody need to make a 30 for 30 on Chino Hills. How it went from the best to the worst."
Not exactly. The Huskies (25-11) showed remarkable staying power, winning the Southern California Division I regional final 67-51 over Bosco of Bellflower. Said 6-foot-9 Huskies forward Ofure Ujadughele to the Los Angeles Times, "Everybody doubted us with LaMelo leaving. No one believed in us. We proved them wrong.”
Some other CIF State storylines:
Pinewood of Los Altos Hills has 210 students, tiny by any measure. But the girls team has a knack for knocking off giants, including unbeaten national No. 1 Mitty of San Jose in triple overtime to vault them into Saturday's Open Division final against Windward of Los Angeles.
The secret is Doc's orders. Coach Doc Scheppler's ability to inspire and to teach 3-point shooting form has resulted in six small-school state titles and 604 victories over 23 seasons.
"We don't play like the Warriors – they play like us," Stanford-bound star Hanna Jump said with a laugh.
When asked about Windward, Scheppler cracked, "I feel sorry for them. They have to guard us. Being the smaller school, playing the giant, skill wins, effort wins, cohesion wins."
Windward is coached by former WNBA players Vanessa Nygaard and Ebony Hoffman, and their top player is Charisma Osborne, one of the nation's top guards.
PV double dip
The teams in the Northern Section don't often dance on this big stage, and check out what Chico is sending to Golden 1 on Saturday. The Pleasant Valley girls play Redondo Union at 2 p.m. for D-II honors, followed by the PV boys against Notre Dame of Riverside.
It is the first time the North Section has sent a girls and boys team from the same school to the finals. The last North section boys team to win a state title was Enterprise of Redding in 1998.
The girls needed a dramatic 38-foot, buzzer-beating 3-pointer from junior guard Chloe Mayer to beat 16th-seeded Sacramento in a NorCal opener, 47-46, and the Vikings later celebrated their first NorCal trophy in 33 years. They last won state in 1985.
Las Lomas is coached by Brian Dietschy, a sophomore in 1988 when the Knights last reached a NorCal final. The school's all-time scoring leader said his cell phone blew up from old running mates, each insisting the current edition is the best Las Lomas team of them all.
"I love them for that," he said.
The Sacred Heart Cathedral girls are coached by LyRyan Russell, a star for the boys teams. He leads the Fightin' Irish against Serra of Gardena for the D-I title on Friday. About being an alum, coach? "And I'm a Hall of Famer from the school," he said with a laugh, surrounded by giggling players. "Just wanted to throw that in there. When you coach at your school, there's that extra sense of pride. You take it personal. These girls drive me crazy, but I love them."
CIF State Basketball Championships schedule
At Golden 1 Center
Friday, March 23
10 a.m. – Division IV girls, Rolling Hills Prep vs. Priory
Noon – Division IV boys, View Park vs. Stuart Hall
2 p.m. – Division III girls, West Campus vs. Sunny Hills
4 p.m. – Division II boys, Crossroads vs. Alameda
6 p.m. – Division I girls, Serra vs. Sacred Heart Cathedral
8 p.m. – Division I boys, Chino Hills vs. Las Lomas
Saturday, March 24
10 a.m. – Division V girls, Sierra Pacific vs. Lowell
12 p.m. – Division V boys, Santa Clarita vs. Argonaut
2 p.m. – Division II girls, Redondo Union vs. Pleasant Valley
4 p.m. – Division III boys, Notre Dame (Riverside) vs. Pleasant Valley
6 p.m. – Open Division girls, Windward vs. Pinewood
8 p.m. – Open Division boys, Sierra Canyon vs. Sheldon