The hard fought, physically intense battle between Van Nuys High and King/Drew High of Los Angeles on March 2 for the City Section boys’ basketball Division II championship was down to its last seconds.
The Wolves had tied the game, 60-60, on a three-pointer by their superlative scoring guard Tyree Winborn with 22.5 seconds left in regulation. But King/Drew had the ball one final time. After calling a timeout to set up a final shot, the Golden Eagles did what they had done all evening — drive to the basket to force the ball inside against the smaller Van Nuys defense. A shot went up with less than four seconds. It missed.
But King/Drew guard Ethelbert Anum got the rebound and threw the ball almost blindly back toward the basket. The ball bounced twice along the rim, then slowly fell through the net as the buzzer sounded to end the game.
Just like that, the Golden Eagles (18-15) were the champions, 62-60. It was the first City boys’ basketball title for a program that began varsity play in 2008.
Bedlam ensued as exuberant King/Drew fans rushed onto the court at Roybal Learning Center, engulfing their team and celebrating while the stunned Wolves slowly made their way back to their bench.
Anum, a senior, finished with 17 points for King/Drew.
“(Anum) is one of the most underrated players in the City,” said jubilant Golden Eagles Coach Lloyd Webster. “He’s got the heart of a lion…got a 4.3 GPA. He’s a real student-athlete — not a recruit. He’s been at King/Drew from Day One, ninth through 12th grade.”
Wolves Coach Evan Porter did his best to contain his and his team’s disappointment. That meant keeping his postgame answers short.
“One possession, man,” said Porter, in summing up the contest. “A little bit of defense, and one rebound needed. That was it.”
The loss denied Winborn and Van Nuys (21-12) a chance to join Sylmar and Bernstein of Hollywood as City teams that had won a championship in a lower division the previous season, and won a title in a higher division the next season. Van Nuys won the City Division III championship in 2017.
The game was a contrast in styles. King/Drew had length and height on Van Nuys, and constantly worked at trying to get the ball inside to forwards Billy Clark (20 points), a 6-5 junior, and Fidelis Okereke (12 points), a 6-6 sophomore, where they could dominate.
The Wolves were faster, always pushing the pace and trying to beat the Golden Eagles to open spots on the floor where they could take relatively uncontested shots.
Van Nuys’ approach worked better in the beginning. The Wolves opened a 22-15 lead in the first quarter, and expanded it to 29-19 early in the second quarter. Winborn — who finished with a game-high 25 points — was hounded and harassed by two and sometimes three defenders, but shook free enough to have 17 points in the first half.
“We threw everybody at him. We had to — we had no choice,” Webster said of Winborn. “He’s an awesome player, another kid with the heart of a lion.”
But the Wolves were also getting production from Ethan Quiambao, who had nine points, and Matthew Sykes, who had eight points before fouling out, which made Winborn’s offensive burden a bit lighter.
“We’ve been a group all season,” Porter said. “You take one guy away and another will step up.”
Still, King/Drew narrowed the gap to 35-29 at halftime and finished the third quarter leading 44-43. It seemed the Golden Eagles were now imposing their physical will on the Wolves.
“We thought we had worn them down. But we also knew they’re a scrappy team, and it would be a fight to the end,” Webster said. “But we did have an advantage on the offensive and defensive glass.”
Porter, meanwhile, was pushing his team for one final decisive spurt.
“Every team makes a run. We had a run in the first half; gotta do it in the second half, too,” the coach said.
There was no breakaway run by either team in the final quarter. Instead there were two ties and three lead changes. King/Drew had the biggest advantage at 58-54. But Van Nuys would catch up, at 60-60.
And set up the momentous conclusion.