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605 LEAGUE BASKETBALL – Low numbers, unexpected departures, injuries sum up John Glenn basketball seasons

February 1, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Many wondered what the John Glenn High boys basketball team would do for an encore, coming off last season’s 14-13 campaign, which included a third place finish in the 605 League and a trip to the CIF-Southern Section Division 5A quarterfinals. Even though the Eagles returned four players, one of which was senior Sebastian Figueroa, this season’s team was stacked with five seniors.

But the season turned out to be a domino effect in terms of players leaving, as early as six games in. There were no more than nine players at any time last season and now, as the regular season comes to a close, the Eagles have five remaining from opening day plus two who were recently called up from the junior varsity team.

The first domino to fall was Figueroa, who tore his ACL in the third game of the season and tried to play through it the next two games. He left the team before the sixth game of the season, having scored 35 points in those five games. After that, the team wouldn’t be the same.

“The kids that come to this school have to have your heart in here,” said Glenn head coach Sam Abebe. “You can’t come to this school and expect it to be like another school. This is one school that I’ve never seen that…it’s different here. And people are going to ask me, ‘what do you mean different’? You have to be here to understand what I’m talking about. [Sebastian] never really wanted to be here. He was really here for me. When things got tough, we were on him a little bit harder and once he got hurt and couldn’t play anymore, he began to give up on the team.”

A 2-0 start was followed by five straight losses and by the time Glenn began league play on Jan. 4, it was sporting a respectable 7-8 record. Last season, the Eagles were 7-7 before playing their first league contest. But after losses to Whitney High and Oxford Academy to open the league slate, then a win over Firebaugh High, seniors Armando Arreola and Andrew Donis left the team. Two games later, it would be junior Seyharmony Somchan leaving the nest and all of a sudden, Glenn was sporting a 9-12 overall record and 1-3 in league. 

Somchan informed the team and Abebe prior to the Jan. 18 game against Artesia High that he didn’t want to be on the team anymore once Arreola left. There are unconfirmed reports that Somchan also left because of Abebe’s coaching style. Abebe said he was convinced that had Figueroa stayed, the other three would have stayed.

“I’m not going to change who I am,” said Abebe. “This isn’t the type of program where I have to make changes. They have to change to me. Last year’s team…I don’t think I appreciated them enough, and that team bought in from day one. They bought in and knew it was going to be a change of culture. They knew everything about and that’s why that banner is going to be in this gym forever.”

Prior to the season, Abebe said this season’s team was all mental and there were a lot of mental problems throughout the season. If things were able to get right, especially having a great fall league, Abebe was convinced of the team finishing in second or third place.

Last Friday, the Eagles hosted Cerritos High and with seven players suited up, including a freshman and a sophomore recently called up, they were no match for the second place Dons, who posted a 53-43 victory.

Cerritos led 7-1 after the first quarter and put the game away with a strong second quarter, scoring 21 points on seven of 13 shooting from the field. The Eagles tried to stay in the game by launching three-point shot after three-point shot. But even with that, they were true on just a pair of two-pointers in the stanza with the other six points coming from the charity stripe. Glenn missed all 13 perimeter shots it took in the first half and was five of 24 from downtown for the game.

“I’m a very big proponent of driving and kicking,” said Abebe. “But the reason why we have to adjust to this style now is because a lot of these guys are not good ball handlers. [Senior] Mike [Saucedo] is our best ball handler, and we have to put these guys in position where they’re comfortable. [Freshman] Sean [DeLeon] has gotten a lot better to become a ball handler, but he’s a better one dribble drive type of player, or a two dribble type of player or a catch and shoot player.”

Glenn (10-15, 2-6) would trail 39-19 with 3:23 left in the third quarter after a steal from junior Luke Rigor, who assisted on junior Shay Pema’s basket. But the Eagles scored consecutive points for the first time and went on a 7-0 run. With five minutes left in the game, the deficit was at 20 again before Glenn closed the game on a 15-5 run.

“At halftime, we told the guys to make the game respectable,” said Abebe. “I think once we made the task at hand a little bit easier, they made themselves believing a little bit. Maybe going to a zone stifled Cerritos a little bit because they missed a lot of open shots as well, too. 

“But tonight, it was the second chance points that killed us,” Abebe continued. “In the first half, they really didn’t get a lot of second chance points. In the second half, they got a lot.”

Saucedo led all players with 15 points while DeLeon added 14 points. Junior Justin Rodriguez grabbed eight rebounds as Cerritos dominated the glass to the tune of 43 rebounds to Glenn’s 21. The Dons (11-15, 6-2) were paced by sophomore Benson Cho (12 points, six rebounds), Pema (eight points) and junior Osinachi Agaranna (11 rebounds).

It’s a similar story with the Glenn girls, who were to have played Cerritos prior to the boys contest. But earlier in the afternoon, Glenn head coach Eric Peterson had to cancel the contest because he was down to five players, and couldn’t call up any junior varsity players because they were already at Cerritos for their game. The Eagles began this season with eight players, then called up one more during league season. But injuries have plagued the team, which has already exceeded last season’s 0-21 performance.

Peterson said he would rather forfeit a game than to run five players out there to play, adding that it wouldn’t be fair to them to go out there and play. Plus, one of those five was already injured and would not have made it through the end the game.

Glenn, which hasn’t made the playoffs since 2011, lost one starter, Ruby Chavez, from last season’s team of 11 players. As of the Jan. 20 game at Whitney two weeks ago, the team had nine players but was sporting a 5-8 mark before league began. Since then, the Eagles have lost all eight league games, scoring no more than 18 points in any of them.

“A lot of my players are still young,” said Peterson. “I still have no seniors, so they are still not that experienced, even though they are returning players. I know our league is tough; I didn’t have high expectations as far as league. But I have better expectations for our non-league games, and we were able to deliver a few wins there.

“But I still like the future of this team,” he continued. “It’s promising. I like the [junior varsity] squad. I think I have some nice, young talent on that squad. The fact that I don’t have any seniors still, there’s a lot of room for growth on this squad. I’m still excited about the future of this team.”

Some of the same problems from last season still carried over to this season-turnovers and a lack of scoring. The most Glenn has scored has been 38 points, and that came in the first game of the season. Only one other time has the team reached 30 points and the Eagles have been held to single digits six times and under 20 points another five times. Still, Peterson is adamant that this season has not been taxing.

“Not at all,” said Peterson. “I don’t have any problem with it-circumstances beyond my control. My players get hurt or injured and there’s nothing I can do about that. Unforeseen emergencies such as one of them is in the hospital right now because of her parent. Those are things I have no control over. I just go along with the flow. It’s not taxing, though. I still enjoy coaching this team and we’re going to make it through it.

“Our passing game is just not that great,” he later said. “We just turn the ball over quite a bit, which helps the other team get easy buckets. That’s something we just have to work on and just try to get better at. It’s definitely one of our weaknesses.”

One bright spot this season has been the play of junior Rose Felix, who has scored 76 points, which is tops on the squad. She also leads the Eagles with three games of double-digit scoring. Next in the scoring department is sophomore Aaliyah Ramirez (69 points), sophomore Maritza Corona (55 points). The other seven players have combined to score 81 points.

“Rose is still a first-year player, so she has a lot of raw talent,” said Peterson. “I try to make adjustments with her talent and trying to use them to the best. I was just getting to the point where I was getting the best out of her before she got hurt. I still think she has a lot of promise and I have some plans for her in the offseason, during the spring league and possibly getting her on a travel ball squad.”

Both Glenn teams began the last week of the regular season hosting Pioneer High with the boys edging the Titans 56-53 to improve to 11-15 overall, 3-6 in the circuit. The Eagles visited Artesia on Feb. 2 while Cerritos hosted Whitney this past Tuesday and came away with a split. 

The boys had no problems in a 58-46 victory, improving to 12-15, 7-2 and securing second place. Senior Dominic DelaCruz had a team-high 14 points and pulled down four rebounds while junior Tobeana Ozoagu added 14 points and six rebounds. Before the game, the girls were trounced by Whitney 63-33 for their sixth loss in the past eight games. Cerritos (11-15, 5-4) was paced by senior Kaitlyn Sugita and junior Mia Rivera, who each had six points. Both Cerritos teams hosted Oxford Academy on Feb. 2.