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SHOWCASE ON SHOEMAKER TOURNAMENT-Surging short-handed Whitney boys advance to finals of co-hosted event in defensive battle

January 5, 2022

By Loren Kopff

When you’re down two starters because of injuries, it’s that ‘next man up’ mentality and was what was facing the Whitney High boys basketball team throughout the inaugural Showcase on Shoemaker Tournament, hosted by John Glenn High and Whitney. Still, the Wildcats battled through the adversity to advance to the finals, made possible with a tough 35-32 win over Katella High last Thursday night in one semifinal game.

Whitney, which had won four straight games, would fall to (Bluffdale, UT) Summit Academy 49-25 the next night in the finals but still sported an impressive 13-3 record entering 605 League action, which began at Glenn this past Wednesday. The 35 points scored were the fewest in the first 15 games while the 32 points allowed marked the eighth time the Wildcats have yielded 35 or fewer points, including the first three games of the tournament.

“Yeah, they were good,” said Whitney head coach Joseph Webber of Katella. “We actually thought they had a big advantage in this game. I have two starters out, so I wanted to grind it out a little bit. We went through the walk-through today and my assistant coach, Nasir Akmal, designed a fantastic defensive plan. And the boys stuck to it most of the time.”

Whitney was leading 31-24 with 3:50 left in the game before the Knights went on an 8-0 run, taking their second and last lead of the contest with 1:21 remaining on a basket from Emari Hart. But with 33.5 seconds left, junior Joseph Whitaker had an offensive rebound and found senior David Song open for the game-winning basket. Then with 3.8 seconds left, Song grabbed a defensive board and fed a pass to senior Ethan Wong for the nail in the coffin.

After Katella’s William Leapart scored the game’s first points just over two minutes into the game, Whitney scored the next seven points over the next 2:15 and held the lead until late in the game. The lead would grow to nine points on three separate occasions, the first coming with 3:46 left in the first half when Song scored on an offensive rebound as the shot clock expired to put the improving ‘Cats up 18-9. 

Although Whitney would have a lead of six to nine points for most of the game, it would go through several scoring droughts. In the first quarter, the Wildcats went through stretches of 2:58 and 3:15 without scoring, 2:11 in the second quarter, 3:00 and 4:08 in the third quarter and 2:55 and 3:16 in the final stanza.

“You know that defense is what you’re going to hang your hat on at the end of the game,” said Webber. “If we’re not scoring, we have to stop them from scoring, too. I just thought it was amazing that as much firepower as Katella has, nobody really got off. 

“We knew they would get a few putbacks; we knew they would go down on transition,” he continued. “But when we kept the ball in front of us, that was the plan we came up with. That was the part we told the boys to stick to. Without my two leading scorers, it’s hard to create scoring. It puts a heavy load back on Ethan, and I don’t want that. David has been fantastic, but our team was based off being a team. Based off [junior] Sakeef [Sekender] being in the corner for three’s. Based off [sophomore] Morgan [Marks] breaking down the offense, and instead, I don’t have them right now and it’s been a tough stretch without them.”

Whitney was up 22-16 at the half, partly because of the 10 turnovers it forced, some of them being offensive charges and the others coming in the way of steals, in which Wong had three and sophomore Kailan Hizon another two. 

The Wildcats went up 25-16 three minutes into the second half on a three-pointer from Wong, his third of the game. After that, the hosts wouldn’t score until 51.8 remained in the stanza. Then the Wildcats went on a brief 4-0 run to lead 29-22 with 5:05 left in the game. 

With Marks and Sekender not in the lineup, other players who have not gotten a lot of playing time this season stepped up in the tournament. Sophomore Christian Carreon had four second half points against Katella and had 17 points through the first three games of the tournament while sophomore Alex Cheng, who had scored 12 points through the first three games of the tournament, hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to end the first quarter to put Whitney up 12-6. And sophomore Rafael Mercado scored five points, grabbed a pair of rebounds and had an assist against the Knights.

“Christian is one of our dynamic sophomores that we brought up,” said Webber. “He’s the backbone of our team. Kailan had a giant defensive game for us, Alex had a giant defensive game for us and Christian…the whole team is based on trust, and they trust him. We know he loves to play and he will  do anything he can for this team. So, I’m very happy for him when he made those plays because it breaks down the other team.”

Wong led everyone with 14 points, had three rebounds and two assists while junior Justin Wahyodi and Whittaker each grabbed half a dozen rebounds and Song added another five boards. This was the second straight tournament in which the Wildcats won the first three games to advance to the championship game and with the loss to Summit Academy, Whitney has now gone 3-1 in all three tournaments. The 13 victories are the most since the 2012-2013 when the Wildcats went 13-14 and with at least one more victory, Whitney will have its first non-losing season since the 2011-2012 campaign when that team went 15-9. 

“It’s been a special team from the very get go,” said Webber. “Like I’ve said, our seniors last year spurred us into the spring and from there, this team has just gotten together and went on a little mission. Through spring we saw it, through summer we saw it, through fall ball we saw it and the team being able to trust off guys stepping up with all these games all this time together…I’m just very, very proud of them. And as I’ve always said, I have the best coaching staff in the state, and my coaches have these guys ultra-prepared for any challenge that comes up.

The Wildcats opened league action this past Wednesday at Glenn, easing past the Eagles 57-26 and will go to Artesia High on Friday before hosting Oxford Academy on Tuesday.