Mission Prep basketball coach Terrance Harris relayed the news to his team this week that they became the state’s top-ranked basketball team in Division 5 basketball, according to calhisports.com.
But the next thing he said was, while that’s a nice honor, “we still have work to do” and that this week in practice his players should strive to take their game to the next level.
The Royals (23-7) will face Buckley High (23-6) in the CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA final Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana.
“Let’s have a great practice,” Harris said in the huddle. “But at the same time, something will go wrong for you today in practice. I want you to shake that off like it never happened and keep on going.”
Mission Prep is no stranger to deep playoff runs. The Royals made it to the semifinals the past two seasons in basketball and a CIF-Central Section final three years ago.
And their football team lost a hard-fought 28-21 Southern Section divisional championship game against Rio Hondo Prep this fall.
Six Royals who played on the football team will carry their big-game experience into the matchup against Buckley.
“I think that experience really helped us,” said Patrick Laird, a junior forward, a defense and hustle specialist. “It taught us to come in confident, but not to look past anyone.”
Harris said that he’s had a chance to look at some game tape of Buckley and said the Griffins are a long, athletic team but one that figures to be a good matchup for Mission Prep.
The Royals are the third-seeded team in the division and the Griffins are the fourth seed.
“I think we’re two very evenly matched teams,” Harris said. “We’re enjoying the moment and we’re taking it in. But at the same time, we know we have to bring it.”
The Royals have won 10 straight. Throughout the season they’ve had a variety of scoring leaders in individual games, including Connor Woolpert, Andy Rowley, Quinton Adlesh, Tyler Baty, and 6-foot-6 junior center Ian Stake.
In the playoffs, Woolpert had a team-high 22 points in the semifinal against Flintridge Prep, Adlesh led the way with 16 in the quarterfinals against Saddleback Valley Christian, and Rowley had 20 points in the second-round matchup against Webb.
“We’re really a team,” Harris said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who we can go to and that shows with all the guys who’ve led us in games this year.”
Mission Prep’s playoff final could have been scheduled any day Wednesday through Saturday, according to the CIF tournament set-up.
“We won’t be missing any school or anything and we’ll have a chance to get down there early,” Rowley said. “We have buses of parents and fans going down. I think we’ll be wearing our white jerseys. We hope it will feel kind of like a home game.”
Woolpert said that he doesn’t know much about Buckley, of Sherman Oaks, which beat the top-ranked team in the bracket, Village Christian 55-52 in the semifinals.
“I do know they play a tough zone and they have some big guys,” Woolpert said. “But I think we have a pretty good offense against the zone. We have some shooters.”
Woolpert, a 6-5 center, is by far the Royals’ tallest starter. He ran into some foul trouble in a quarterfinal game against Saddleback Valley Christian and played only 22 minutes, scoring eight points, in the 54-48 home win.
Woolpert said his goal is not to get any ticky-tack fouls in the final Saturday.
“My team needs me, so I’m trying not to pick up any dumb fouls,” Woolpert said.
Harris said at the same time he doesn’t want Woolpert to hold back or be tentative because of any fear of foul trouble.
Woolpert had an injury that kept him out of games for about a month of the season earlier this year, and the team stepped up and won most of its games, Harris pointed out.
“That just shows how we’ve come together and played as a team this year no matter the situation,” Harris said.