A few hours before a Sierra Canyon-hosted Division I regional basketball opener that turned into a party for a road Taft crowd in Chatsworth, Toreadors coach Derrick Taylor picked up the phone, exasperated.
Some kid on campus, he explained, was buying tickets for Tuesday night’s clash against the Trailblazers and selling them for $25. By tipoff against Sierra Canyon, he had found out it was a freshman on his team.
“What can I say?” Taylor said. “Capitalism at its best.”
Everyone on campus was excited, as evidenced by the roars that went through Sierra Canyon’s gym after Bishop Brooks hit a three-pointer to open the game. Everyone was over the top. Taylor was not. This was a decorated coach with the benefit of hindsight at the time when he and Sierra Canyon coach Andre Chevalier had their battles in the City Section, he and former Cleveland coach Chevalier competed to attract the best kids in the San Fernando Valley.
So everyone walks into the gym against Sierra Canyon, Taylor said, and gets intimidated. Not him on this night. Not his reigning City Section-champion Toreadors. They would muck it up if the Trailblazers tried to play gritty or run with them if they tried to play fast.
“I’m just going to play it by ear, see which ever one of the styles that work,” Taylor said. “Now, if neither one of them works, yeah, s—, call 911. There’s an assault.”
After a back-and-forth first quarter, the sirens came in the second as Taft just couldn’t run with Sierra Canyon in transition, the Trailblazers shooting the lights out and dominating the paint en route to an 84-47 win.
Senior Jimmy Oladokun led the way with 16 points, with his future University of San Diego coach, Steve Lavin, sitting courtside, Ashton Hardaway added 15 points with a few deep threes, and Noah Williams had 14 points and Bronny James 13.
Twenty years ago, when the high school basketball landscape ran through the City Section, the tables were turned. Chevalier was a young coach trying to knock off Taft, his Cleveland program brimming with talent such as future NBA player Nick Young, and Taylor had a full cupboard of future Division I athletes.
Twenty years later, Chevalier has ascended through the private-school ranks. It’s now his turn to guide a full roster of future college talent as private and prep schools reign. And with the exception of a brief stint at St. John Bosco, Taylor has remained in the City, seeing the talent cupboard run sparse.
“You think back on it, you always wonder – what if it stayed the same?” Taylor said of the changing game. “I don’t cry about none of it. … You either adjust to it or you get consumed by it and you get bitter.”
In front of a packed Valley crowd — hometown kids such as Taft alumnus and “Last Chance U: S2” star Demetrius Calip II in attendance — Taft came out bombing away with zero hesitation, playing the Trailblazers tough in a 26-20 first quarter. But James yo-yoed into a stepback three-pointer to push the lead to 10 points during the second quarter, and the Trailblazers were off, Taft simply didn’t close out quickly enough to shooters in transition and the halfcourt.
Chevalier patrolled the sidelines in a suit and tie, a noticeable change in outfit from his usual Sierra Canyon tracksuit. In a final stretch of the season and during a Southern Section playoff run decimated by injury and inconsistency, Sierra Canyon had gone 3-7 over its last 10 games, in need of a palate cleanser in the state bracket.
The mentality, Chevalier said after the game of his outfit change, was all business.
“Change the mojo,” he smiled. “Do something different.”
In handshake lines after an eventual blowout win, Taylor pulled his former rival aside, the two exchanging final words on the day after a conversation earlier reflecting on “where we come from,” Chevalier said.
“Obviously, it’s the changing of the guard — the private schools have taken over a bit,” Chevalier said of Taylor. “So, it’s a bit different. But I still respect him for what he’s done. It’s not easy to win a championship, and he did that this year.”
Sierra Canyon will advance to the second round of the DI bracket to play Etiwanda on Thursday.
In other games, top-seeded Sherman Oaks Notre Dame took control in the second half to defeat Fairfax 84-68. Dusty Stromer scored 21 points, and Caleb Foster and Mercy Miller added 20 apiece. Dante Ogbu contributed 13 points. Darius Carr scored 27 points for Fairfax. Notre Dame will host Manhattan Beach Mira Costa on Thursday. Mira Costa defeated San Diego Montgomery 49-45.
The biggest upset of the night belonged to King/Drew of the City Section. The No. 16 seed in Division II, King/Drew defeated top-seeded Anaheim Canyon 73-65. No. 2-seeded Tesoro received 26 points from Carson Brown in a 60-51 win over Bakersfield Centennial.
In Division IV, Van Nuys Grant defeated Newport Harbor Sage Hill 59-57 on a three-pointer by DJ Gains with 5.6 seconds left.
In girls Division I, Orange Lutheran rallied for a 62-59 road victory over City Section Open Division champion Westchester. Granada Hills defeated Torrance Bishop Montgomery 59-57 behind Marianne Boco’s 25 points. No. 16 West Hills Chaminade upset No. 1 Ontario Christian 88-65.
Marina 2, Bakersfield Centennial 0: Samantha Esparza and Sarah Sumrall each had goals in a Division III opener.
Hart 2, El Camino Real 0: The top-seeded Indians became the first team to score on City champion ECR after 15 consecutive shutouts to win their Division II regional opener. Gianna Costello and Macey Edemann each scored goals.
Bishop Amat 4, Cleveland 1: Lenea Guerrero scored three goals in Bishop Amat’s Division III victory.
Birmingham 2, Montclair 1: Tony Macedo and Oscar Vargas scored goals in the Division I game.
St. John Bosco 2, Lakewood 1: The Braves improved to 4-2. Colin Caycedo struck out six and gave up five hits in 6 2/3 innings. Zach Woodson had both RBIs.
Harvard-Westlake 6, St. Francis 1: The Wolverines (4-1) opened Mission League play with a road victory. Thomas Bridges struck out 10 in 4 2/3 innings. Eli Weinbach had a two-run double.
Arcadia 4, Claremont 2: Gabe Lopez improved to 3-0 with 4 1/3 innings of work. Ian Hoffstetter struck out five in 1 2/3 innings. Jerry Carlos had two hits and two RBIs.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.