Senior center Neal Mendoza (left) says freshman guards Kenyon Alexander and Dylan Goosen have brought a new level "of excitement" to the Northridge Academy basketball team. (Photo Courtesy of Northridge Academy)

The best sports stories are often about great teams doing great things when they’re in a position to do so. But the fun sports stories can often be about teams accomplishing feats that very few outsiders believed they were capable of doing. 

Northridge Academy might be evolving into one of those “fun” stories in this City Section 2021-22 boys’ basketball season. The Pumas have stumbled through six consecutive losing seasons, so not much of anything was initially expected from them  this year —  particularly with a new coach and a young team with two freshmen starters at guard.

Well, take another look. Northridge Academy has a record of 7-2 (going into their Dec. 9 game against Geffin Academy of Los Angeles). As for those freshmen guards — Kenyon Alexander and Dylan Goosen, both 15 — they are settling nicely into roles as team leaders and are displaying talent and moxie that goes beyond their ages.

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Alexander is proving to be a dynamic offensive and defensive presence as a scoring guard. He has so far averaged 31 points and 10.1 steals per game. That includes a 51-point outburst against Sun Valley Magnet on Nov. 17.

Goosen, averaging 11.3 points and 5.7 assists, is proving quite capable at running the offense as the point guard and keeping everyone else involved.

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Both players say the “small school” atmosphere at Northridge Academy, and Coach Dave Goosen’s uptempo approach to the game of basketball, are enabling them to thrive.

“I looked at a lot of high schools out here and in LA. And I thought, ‘what’s the best for me?’” Alexander said. “My dad had played for Coach Goosen [at Venice High School]  and he told me how Coach likes to press and play uptempo, where you’re running all the time and staying in good shape. For me, a fast-paced game, that’s the best fit.”

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Goosen, who is the coach’s son, agreed. “I knew I would make friends here. It would be great socially and it would make basketball easier. I definitely like the smaller school,” he said.

Dave Goosen may be in his first year at Northridge Academy but, as a basketball coach, he has been around the block several times, starting out in 1993 as an unpaid volunteer for the junior varsity at University High in Los Angeles (his alma mater) and taking his first paid head coaching position at Venice High four years later.

He’s seen and been through a lot, and it’s not always been in smooth and supportive surroundings. But he said he’s not looking for any other opportunities beyond Northridge Academy.

Especially now, having a chance to coach Alexander and his son. 

“In terms of a pure athlete, I’d say [Alexander] is definitely one of the best I’ve seen in terms of somebody who has the three things I look for in a great athlete — strength, speed, and quickness,” Dave Goosen said. “Sometimes people think speed and quickness are the same things. But quickness is how quickly you react to things, where speed is more just about pure speed. And he has it all.

“He also has really good basketball instincts; a really good feel for the game, a high basketball IQ. And very coachable — he has a strong will of wanting to improve and get better. A lot of times through my career I’ve had good players who are not always hard workers or coachable. But he has it all…but in terms of pure athletes I’ve seen, he’s in the top 10.”

Coaching his son presents a different dynamic. The scrutiny will come from all sides: other players, their parents, the administration. Any perception of “special treatment” for Goosen (and perhaps even Alexander) could easily destroy the new basketball culture the coach wants to create.

“One thing that has helped to make it work is that I was a coach long before I was a dad,” Dave Goosen said. “It’s not like some dads who coach a ‘recreation’ league or a travel team, who may be bankers and lawyers who have thrown a team together but aren’t a legitimate, professional coach. This is something I do for a living, something I’ve always done.

“I will say I wouldn’t want to be in [Dylan’s] shoes because I’m definitely harder on him than anybody else. I’ve set a high standard for him and have higher expectations for him. And we’ve talked before that — because he’s my son — he needs to not only earn everything he gets but go above and beyond that. Luckily for me, Dylan is the kind of kid who doesn’t want anything given to him. He wants to earn everything….[and] his teammates see he is a hard worker.”

Goosen admitted feeling “some pressure,” regarding the kind of outside attention that comes from being the coach’s son playing a critical position on the team. “I feel I have to work twice as hard to earn my stars,” he said. “But I still wanted to play [for his dad]. I like the high tempo game — that’s where I play my best — and other schools I looked at didn’t seem to have that. So I came here.”

Neal Mendoza, a senior who plays center for the Pumas, said the team “recognizes” the talents of the two freshmen, and the excitement they are bringing to the school.

“We’ve been more competitive. Not just me, but the whole team, too,” said Mendoza, 18, who is averaging nine points and nine rebounds.

“It’s my last year, and I’m hoping we have a chance to [win a championship]. We’re looking good so far and we have a good chemistry. The hard part of the season is ahead, so [the veteran players on the team] have to show responsibility. Me and [fellow senior] Jorge [Bejar], if we see someone messing around in practice, we remind them to take it serious. We have to be ready in the practices so we can be ready in the games.”

What the Pumas must also get ready for is more defensive attention from opponents to try and stop the two freshmen — or at least keep the ball out of their hands as much as possible.

Alexander and Goosen say they are prepared.

“I feel like running the offense will be harder,” Goosen said. “But everyone else does a great job of carrying out their role. When I pass the ball it’s not as if I’m scared they will just turn it over. They can score and make plays.”

Alexander agrees.

“On this team, we trust each other fully. If I or Dylan can’t get a bucket, Neal can or (forward) Brandon (Candelario) can,” he said. “We all work together.”