The 2014-15 season has primarily been an educational one for Grant, whose best players are mostly underclassmen.
And those young Lancers got a hard lesson about playoff basketball from Hamilton High of Los Angeles. The Yankees turned Grant every which way but loose in dominating the City Section boys’ Division II championship game, and won 65-47 at Cal State University, Domingue Hills on March 7.
The victory was complete and unarguable. Hamilton (13-16) took the lead for good in the first quarter, 16-13, then steadily and methodically pulled away the rest of the game, outscoring Grant in every quarter.
No matter what Grant (17-14) tried to do — from running, driving to the basket, shooting threes’ — Hamilton blunted it with long arms and quick feet. And whatever the Yankees wanted to do on offense, the Lancers seemed perplexed about how to stop them.
Hamilton forward Louis Walker, who had 21 points, both dunked and shot three-pointers over whoever was guarding him. Other Yankees front court players Justin Griffin and Kiza Sekiyoba, with 14 and 13 points respectively, were equally effective scoring on the inside or outside.
“Our defense is to be disruptive and close out hard,” Hamilton Coach Mark Mizuno said. “Take away the shooters, make them put the ball on the ground. We have good help defense. And on offense, we push the ball. If we don’t have anything, be smart, set it up and run our offense.”
It was also apparent that Hamilton, despite a sub-.500 overall record, had been toughened for the playoffs from battling Division I monsters Fairfax, Westchester and Palisades in the Western League. It possessed an overall game intensity that Grant couldn’t equal.
“It comes together when we start playoffs,” Mizuno said. “We play in the toughest [City] league; we get beat up and beat up and we know we’re playing top teams. So whoever we face in playoffs we’ll compete and never give up. That is the heart of our kids.”
Grant Coach Howard Levine said afterward Hamilton did “ a very good job” of exposing the Lancers’ weaknesses.
“Because they had enough outside shooting, we had to play them honestly on defense — we couldn’t ‘double-down’ as much as we wanted to,” Levine said. “We were a little hesitant and they hurt us on the baseline. They also got some boards … we’ll have to do a better job the next time we get into a game like this.”
It might have helped. Levine said, if Grant had made some layups early and gained the confidence to challenge the Yankees on the inside. But they missed several attempts, got a couple others blocked, and eventually did most of their shooting from the outside.
“Their length was an issue,” Levine said. “And we missed some easy shots. We got some ‘threes’ early and got off to a decent start. But when they expanded [their zone] and we got a little more inside, we weren’t capitalizing enough. We knew they were very good on the baseline and they do a very good job of protecting the hoop.”
Grant forward Tal Gonen was the Lancer’s most consistent shooting threat, making three three-point shots and scoring 16 points. No other Lancer scored more than eight.
So what was the lesson Levine hoped his team learned, since most of them will be back next season to try again?
“They have to play harder along the baseline,” he said. “They can’t play as soft as they were playing. At times we were the ones standing around, looking. And we can’t afford to do that.”