The emotions started tumbling out of Tyree Winborn seconds after the final buzzer. Watery eyes turned into tears, a quivering bottom lip, a mixture of exhaustion, disbelief and triumph visibly radiating through his body.
Like Winborn, who scored 41 points — 25 in the second half — to lead Van Nuys to the City Section boys’ basketball Division III championship with a 73-56 victory over Sotomayor Learning Academy in Los Angeles, those emotions could not be contained.
It was wonderful that a sold out North Hollywood gymnasium, where the game was played on Thursday, March 2 was equally divided between screaming fans for both teams, had so many witnesses to a performance that carried Van Nuys to its second City boys’ basketball championship and first since 1996.
“Tyree Winborn can flat-out score,” Van Nuys Coach Evan Porter said. “If he hadn’t had some pregame jitters he could have scored 60. Every team we’ve played in City, he has put up big numbers against them. I wasn’t surprised at all.”
But few could truly understand what the game in terms of redemption meant to Winborn, a junior who had a brilliant season for Van Nuys (23-9) and who will probably be the Division III player of the year when the season ends.
He had transferred to Van Nuys from Arleta after his freshman year. But the transfer was contested so long before City officials finally approved it, it robbed Winborn of his sophomore season.
Finally resuming his high school career this season and winning a championship was a bit overwhelming, he admitted.
“I didn’t play last year, so this was really an emotional ride for me,” Winborn said after composing himself. “We finally did it. Thanks to God, my family and my teammates who supported me.”
Porter suspected Winborn’s reaction to winning would be emotional.
“I’ve known him since he was an eighth-grader,” the coach said. “He’s overcome a lot of details to get to where he is. He has grown tremendously in his time with us. I’m very proud of him. He doesn’t express himself very often, but when he does (the expression is) right on.”
It was proper that both teams are called the Wolves, because the game was very much a dogfight until midway through the fourth quarter.
Sotomayor (20-4) likes to play fast, though not as fast as Van Nuys. But despite a 30-23 lead at halftime, Van Nuys looked out of rhythm at times because Sotomayor — especially the guards John Batchine (20 points) and Ethan Maldonado — had fast and sticky hands on defense, coming up with timely steals. And Van Nuys wasn’t playing enough defense to force the action.
“[At halftime] we said we had to handle the adversity the other team was giving us,” said Van Nuys guard Kevin Hurlic, a senior. “We came out soft, which we normally don’t do but this was a championship game and we were nervous.”
Ethan Quiambao, who starts alongside Winborn in the Van Nuys’ backcourt, echoed that assessment.
“We were fighting ourselves, we weren’t battling the other team,” Quiambao said. “We had to shy away from our offense and play more defense. That’s where we had to step it up.”
Van Nuys tried to re-establish control immediately, as Hurlic hit a three-pointer at the start of the third quarter to push the lead to 33-23. But Sotomayor, which got strong inside scoring from forwards Angel Covarrubias (15 points) and his brother Daniel Covarrubias (13 points), kept charging and eventually took leads of 44-43, and 46-45. But Sotomayor could never extend the advantage, and Van Nuys was back on top, 47-46, by the end of the third.
Winborn basically took over from there, pumping in two three-pointers and a layup to move Van Nuys back ahead by double digits, 58-48. Sotomayor, now spent emotionally and physically, didn’t mount another serious rally.
“The game just came to me, like it’s done all year,” Winborn said. “I trust my teammates; they know when to give me the ball, and they just gave me the ball and let me go out the second half.”
Winborn will be back next season. So is Quiambao, who’s already anticipating how it could go.
“If [Winborn] has another trick in the bag,” said Quiambao, “we’re in for another crazy ride next year.”