The group that stayed together won a title together at Bishop Montgomery
David Singleton leads Bishop Montgomery players in celebrating CIF state Open Division championship on Saturday. (Nick Koza)
Among the crowd of some 9,000 at Golden 1 Center on Saturday night watching the CIF state Open Division boys’ basketball championship game was Stephen Thompson Sr., one of the best players in City Section history. He used to fly through the air on his way to a dunk while leading Crenshaw to consecutive state titles in 1985 and 1986.
An assistant coach at Oregon State, Thompson finally got to enjoy watching his second son, Ethan, play for the title. At the end, the father was smiling and marveling at the accomplishments of his son and his Torrance Bishop Montgomery teammates.
The Knights defeated Roseville Woodcreek, 74-67, to conclude a 31-2 season.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I can’t explain the feeling right now. I’m so happy for this team and this program. A lot of people didn’t think they could do what they did. They’ve done it the right way. Guys have been together since freshman year. For all their hard work, this is their reward.”
There’s probably no prep basketball expert in California who would have predicted that Bishop Montgomery could beat five nationally ranked teams in March and take down teams with centers who were 6-11, 7-2, 6-9 and 6-11 despite having no players taller than 6-6 on its roster.
It was a tribute to Coach Doug Mitchell, who won his fourth state title in his 28th season with the Knights.
“They’re all real sweet but what made this one special was the quality of opponents,” he said of the title. “That says a lot about these guys.”
Thompson scored 26 points, Jordan Schakel 20, David Singleton 14 and Gianni Hunt 10. They had to survive 6-11 Jordan Brown, who finished with 35 points and 17 rebounds.
Stephen Thompson Sr. provided insight into how a small team can prevail against one with a giant.
“What this team has — and it comes from the coach — they have a lot of heart,” he said. “They play hard. They’re fearless. It doesn’t matter what the size is. They play great team defense. They’re always helping each other. People look at their height but they can’t judge the heart of this team.”
What a season it was. Fans came out en masse, whether it was to enjoy the show put on by Chino Hills and the Ball brothers or to catch a glimpse of the immense individual talent featuring the likes of Thompson, Marvin Bagley III, Bol Bol, LaMelo Ball, Devante Doutrive, KZ Okpala and Matt Mitchell.
There were so many dunks this season that if someone offered free coffee for every dunk, fans would be drinking until Christmas.
There were also lots of three-point shots and 100-point games became almost routine.
The good news is that in the era of transfers, Bishop Montgomery proved that if you stick together, good things possibly can happen. There were no transfers in a starting lineup that has been the same for two years. Their chemistry and trust in each other became their greatest strength.
And the Knights weren’t alone. Anaheim Esperanza won a Division II state title with players who have known each other since elementary school. Eastvale Roosevelt won a Division I state title because its star guard, Jemarl Baker, decided to stay with his neighborhood team.
Many of the same teams should be back in prominence next season. Santa Ana Mater Dei, Bishop Montgomery, Fairfax, Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, Oak Park, Studio City Harvard-Westlake and Pasadena come to mind.
Of course, that’s before we know where the transfers are headed. But for one shining moment, the team that stuck together is the champion.