When the packed stands surrounding Cowitz Court erupted with cheers that signified the Mission Prep boys basketball team’s advancement to today’s CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA title game against top-seeded Crespi, the echo reverberated throughout San Luis Obispo County.
From junior forward Max Basile’s hometown of Cambria to senior guard Brandon Jones’ Nipomo roots, the reach of the Royals’ championship run has extended the county’s boundaries.
“I definitely have enjoyed seeing the support from the community,” coach Terrance Harris said. “Just seeing people out and about, maybe at a Cal Poly game or around town, and them being so complimentary of our boys and the efforts they put in, I definitely have enjoyed that we’re representing not only Mission Prep but this area, this region, the PAC 8.”
Mission Prep expanded its student section for last week’s semifinal win, with nearly the entire enrollment of 286 students coming out to watch the 77-75 victory over Chaminade.
Even student-athletes from other schools in the area, such as Arroyo Grande, Templeton and Coast Union, could be seen in the 1,000-plus crowd as the Royals advanced to their second divisional final in three years.
“We’re lucky to play at a school that’s been successful like that,” said Jones, who saw some action in the 2013 title game loss to Buckley. “There’s a little bit of pressure because we don’t want letdowns, but it’s pressure we put on ourselves. It’s our goal, but we’re just playing game-by-game.”
The multitude of hometowns has expanded the team’s impact, and it also sheds light on the Royals’ ability to come together and grow chemistry quickly within a window no greater than four years.
“We’re so close on and off the court, which is a major factor,” said sophomore forward Kyle Stewart, who grew up in Oklahoma until the sixth grade. “There’s no problems within the team, and then with Terrance as our coach, he knows where to put the pieces so everything falls into place.”
Jones said the majority of the squad played club basketball together with the local 3Ball Academy, but the Mission Prep’s varsity melting pot doesn’t have the years of familiarity that comes with kids moving through the public school system together.
“We’re a family on the team,” said senior Quinton Adlesh, an Arroyo Grande native, “so maybe we haven’t known each other as long, but everyone has the same love for the game, so everyone’s on the same page.”
Harris, in his ninth year at the helm, has guided Mission Prep to at least the semifinal stage of CIF-Southern Section playoffs each year since it re-joined the section in 2010.
The Royals won the last Southern Section boys hoops title in the county, but that came back in 1989.
“I’m competitive. I want to win,” Harris said. “I’m well aware that as a head coach, I have not been part of a CIF championship team. Definitely aware of that. But I’m also aware that it’s not about me. It’s about these kids and their experience.
“Every team is different. What happened two years ago doesn’t have a bearing on what happens today. If anything, as a coach, I hope I learned from my successes and my mistakes and find ways to help our team progress and not make the same mistakes that we made in the past.”
Adlesh remembers watching his older brother, Ryan, win a division crown with St. Joseph in 2004, and the senior point guard just as vividly remembers the feeling of losing 54-46 to Buckley despite his game-high 24 points.
“Two years ago, we weren’t making shots and we struggled to get easy looks, so we need to learn how to cope with the jitters of the championship game and stay in the game,” he said. “Find something to keep us in the game when shots aren’t falling.”
Added Jones: “Looking back on that, we had some regrets that we could have gone harder in practices, so I know (Adlesh), the coaches and I have been preaching having good practices this week, because we can’t have any letdowns come game time.”
There won’t be a letdown in the stands, as school officials posted on Twitter that four busses have been deployed to bring a caravan of parents and students down to Azusa Pacific’s Felix Event Center. The student body also held a pep rally in which bleachers full of kids practiced synchronized chants in preparation for game day.
“There’s definitely an energy in school, you can feel it,” Adlesh said of the build up. “Kids talking about the game and asking about the next game, but the team has really been focused on what’s next because we don’t want to get too caught up in the past. We know we’ve got a task to take care of.”