M. Terry / SFVS

Working Out Well — (l-r) Dimitri Honorn, Kevin Barajas, Cristian Arana and Nestor Sanchez are key to Lakeview Charter repeating as North Valley League champs.

It was apparent early this blustery afternoon in Sylmar on Jan. 27 that the Lakeview Charter High boys’ basketball team was going to have some difficulty extending their winning streak to 12 games. They were missing their two main point guards — Demitri Honorn, a senior, and Samuel Asencio, a freshman, both with excused absences — and Valor forward Kameron Anderson was on his way to a big night, scoring 25 points from inside the paint and from the perimeter.

But even though the offense looked scattered and unfocused at times against Valor, and Lakeview trailed their Van Nuys visitors at halftime, 33-24, the Lions were deftly applying continuous pressure by running at every opportunity and strategically employing a full-court defense, banking on the belief their larger roster of 16 players could wear down Valor’s roster of seven players. 

The decisive turnaround came when the Lions scored the last 11 points of the third quarter to surge into the lead, 45-37. They held off Valor the rest of the way, winning 61-54 to push their record to 15-2 overall. They also stayed unbeaten in the North Valley League at 12-0, and could wrap up a second straight league title with one win in their remaining four league games.

Lakeview Coach Reid Anderson was relatively calm throughout the game on the bench, watching and directing the action. On the inside, however, he was excited by what he was seeing.

“They have grown up in maturity,” Anderson said. “They’re understanding the game better, and game situations, and leadership. They are leaps and bounds from where they started.”

You could also say that about the Lions basketball program.

Lakeview is emblematic of the charter school explosion in the Los Angeles Unified School District. It is part of Partnership to Uplift Communities (PUC), sharing the campus with Triumph Charter High School and Triumph Charter Academy, and one of 10 PUC schools in the Northeast Valley.

Lakeview, which was established in 2010, began playing varsity basketball in 2013-14, winning two of 12 games. Two years ago they were 11-11, and last year they were 19-1. The only loss was to Middle College High School of Los Angeles in the City Section Division V playoffs.

The 2015-16 Lions squad was senior heavy in its rotation. The 2016-17 team, with only two seniors on the entire roster, is a reshuffled deck needing contributions from all positions at all grade levels — and so far getting those contributions.

“We lost most of our starters, and for most people that’s a big thing,” said Honorn, 17. “But when we play our brand of basketball…things just seem to fall into place. I’m not gonna lie, it’s been pretty tough. [The record] is what they see on the outside. On the inside, it’s much hard work, blood and sweat into the game. [The results have] been something to be proud of.”

Lakeview is not loaded with obvious Division I college players. They’re not overly gifted with height or already seasoned through years of travel ball. Some players are experiencing organized sports for the first time.

 It’s one reason why Anderson is strict about fundamentals regarding footwork, ball movement and team play. But he also has every player shoot the ‘three,’ and he has drilled in them to shoot layups with either hand.

“You have to finish with both hands in basketball if you are going to be successful,” said Anderson, who played Division I college basketball at Albany State University in New York. “As for shooting threes, the game is changing. And even in practice if we have guys who had been told never to shoot that shot they would be limited. Getting better at that skill makes us more versatile.

“My high school coach only has his guys shoot threes and layups. My philosophy doesn’t go that far; it depends on personnel. But if your big guy can shoot the three, that won’t hurt.”

It is the ideals of collaboration and togetherness, though, that have made the deepest impact on  players like Nestor Sanchez, a junior in his second year on varsity.

“Last year it was like getting to know the sport,” said Nestor, 16. “It’s the first time I’m playing organized basketball. But it’s been fun. It’s been a new experience because I’ve never seen that ‘family’ atmosphere. Playing (neighborhood) soccer it was like ‘oh I know you on the field’ and that’s about it. The sense of family the basketball team has brought is different. I really like to see that, because it’s not just on the court but off the court. They support you.”

Kevin Barajas, a senior, is also new to the team. It is his first year on varsity. A transfer from Valencia High, Barajas didn’t play last year. But Anderson was his classroom English teacher and, along with other people, encouraged him to come out.

Barajas said the team was very embracing.

“It’s been great,” said Barajas, 17. “It’s been my first time on a team for awhile. With them it’s a good experience.” He added how Anderson “teaches us things like not being selfish. He makes us better everyday…He’s very helpful.”

Meanwhile, the confidence continues to grow. But the Lions understand these playoffs will have a greater sense of uncertainty because they haven’t seen that many Division IV teams so far. That unknown factor means they will have to keep improving if they want to go far in the postseason. They can’t depend on facing any lesser talented team that poses little or no challenge.

“We can be better than we are now,” said sophomore Cris Arana, 15. “We gotta keep practicing, keep talking, and working on what we’re not the best at.”

In Anderson’s mind the 2016-17 Lions have already made an important stride.

“We wanted this new team to have a new identity. And they have stepped up into the role of ‘it’s their team,’” Anderson said.

“They have created their own culture.”