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ORANGE HOLIDAY CLASSIC Injury-plagued Whitney boys basketball team going through growing pains

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

ORANGE-Whitney High boys basketball head coach Glenn Gates had his work cut out for him when the 2018-2019 season began. With four starters lost from last season’s team, who accounted for over 75 percent of the scoring, the Wildcats were in somewhat of a rebuilding mode.

But that rebuilding process was detoured because of injuries to senior Kamron Ortiz, who tore his right ACL on Dec. 11 against San Marino High, senior Timothy Reyes and sophomore Jeffrey Fernandez, who sprained his ankle on Dec. 26 against Jordan High. It has put Gates and the Wildcats in an even a tougher situation, but not impossible.

“I’m optimistic; I just found out that one of our main guys has an ACL tear and is out for the year,” Gates said. “I think my optimism for this group is if we want to get into the playoffs, that’s where we have to get to. But looking at the opponents ahead of us, if we are able to facilitate any type of momentum, I think we have an opportunity to win one of those games [against Artesia or Cerritos].”

The Wildcats were recently in the Orange Holiday Classic, which had been at Hope International University but moved back to Orange High, where they lost the first three games. The first was a 93-39 setback to Jordan, followed by a 78-41 decision to Saddleback Valley Christian Highthe next day and 61-36 to Apple Valley High last Thursday.

Whitney never had a chance against Apple Valley, which scored the first 10 points of the game and expanded that lead to 22-5 by the end of the first quarter. In fact, the Wildcats did not score consecutive points until the final 39 seconds of the first half. Whitney shot 33 percent from the field in the half and had more turnovers (seven) than rebounds (six) in the half. For the game, the Wildcats collected only 14 rebounds with five coming from senior Ethan Xu.

“That’s just something we’ve been dealing with all year,” Gates said of the rebounding. “We’re just a smaller team and the referees today didn’t make it easier because we shy away from contact, and it’s something that we’re just still trying to develop. That’s one area we’re just struggling at.”

The Sun Devils, who at one point led by 21 points, continued to keep Whitney at bay in the second half as they held a lead that was anywhere from 14-18 points in the third quarter. The Wildcats continued to shoot 33 percent from the field in the second half and again, never scored consecutive points. Xu led the Wildcats with 13 points while junior Victor Ufondu added nine points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals.

“He’s done a really fair job with the lack of information and understanding of the game,” Gates said of Xu. “And him being one of the guys that’s really eating up the information, of getting where he’s supposed to be, he’s our leading scorer. He’s been more consistent as far as being where he’s supposed to be and understanding the process.”

Against Saddleback Valley Christian, the first half was somewhat a reverse from the Apple Valley contest. Whitney led for most of the first quarter and held a 13-9 lead before surrendering the next 15 points. The Wildcats trailed 14-13 after the first quarter, then were outscored 26-6 in the second quarter.

“We’re a slow-starting team,” Gates said. “It’s just one of those things I think the kids where they kind of size up their opponents differently. If we can just hold our water, we have an opportunity to challenge the score later in the game.”

Again, shooting was not in the cards in this game as the Wildcats were 16 of 42 from the field and only four players scored. Senior Joshua Chung led Whitney with 14 points and had four rebounds while Xu added 11 points with nine rebounds and Ufondu 10 points and seven boards.

Even though Whitney was sitting at 3-13 entering the final game of the tournament, Gates sees the slow start a good thing for most of his team, which is either new to varsity or new to the sport.

“I think it’s been really good for our young guys,” Gates said. “Gabe Lim, Victor Ufondu…a couple of guys that are trying to build the program up. I think that the motivating factor is just getting enough repetition, get minutes for these guys and get experience.”

The Wildcats visited Cerritos High on Jan. 3 and will travel to Artesia High on Saturday before hosting longtime rival Oxford Academy of the nowdefunct Academy League on Tuesday.