They’ve won two straight Central Section titles without a push and, this season, landed a Southern California Regional Division IV top seed, won a quarterfinal game at that level and finished with a school-record 30 victories.
Which leads to a natural progression of goals, right?
Win a SoCal Regional next season, right?
For Bee co-Players of the Year Colin Slater and Darrin Person Jr. and the Immanuel High boys basketball program: yes and no.
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Yes, in that the Eagles — returning 84% of their scoring, 59% of their rebounding, 87% of their assists and 81% of their steals next year from a 30-3 team — have the 2016 SoCal Regional D-IV championship already circled on their calendars.
But, no, it’s not the greatest priority.
This is: state championship.
“This year I felt we would make some noise,” says Slater, a junior point guard and national recruit. “But it’s all about taking it a step further each year. It’s all about progression.”
“Win a state championship, man,” says Person, a 6-foot-6 sophomore center. “That’s the goal.”
Hence, the stage — and a most daunting one — for Slater and Person and the Eagles’ program.
“How do we move forward?” says C.J. Haydock, The Bee’s Coach of the Year and, referring specifically to a 77-71 SoCal Regional quarterfinal loss to Campbell Hall-North Hollywood, adds: “How to turn that stinger into hunger, motivation and to chase a dream that’s even bigger next year?”
This is known:
• Chasing “dream” gold in the state for Immanuel is enormously difficult, regardless of division. Examples: Bishop Montgomery-Torrance and Orange Lutheran were D-IV programs that finished ranked Nos. 3 and 8 overall amongall divisions in the state by Cal-Hi Sports. Bishop Montgomery and Orange Lutheran were placed in the Open Division of the state playoffs — the elite class that draws the state’s top 16 teams from the North and South from all divisions. Immanuel finished ranked No. 40 in the state. And also finishing ranked ahead of the Eagles in the state overall among D-IV schools were Crespi-Encino (No. 31), Marantha-Pasadena (No. 36) and Campbell Hall (No. 39).
• But there’s no question Immanuel proved it belonged with the state’s finest in D-IV. A Slater 3-point attempt to tie Campbell Hall with 10 seconds remaining rimmed in and out before an overflow crowd of nearly 1,000 at Immanuel. Four days later, Campbell Hall lost but 58-54 to Crespi-Encino. And a week after that, Crespi beat Capital Christian-Sacramento 47-44 for the state D-IV title.
• Specifically, Slater and Person Jr. proved they can play with the state’s elite. In regional games, Slater delivered 18 points, 12 assists and six rebounds in a 77-60 win over Oaks Christian-Westlake Village and 35 points, five assists and four rebounds against Campbell Hall while going head-to-head with UCLA-bound Aaron Holiday. Person Jr. had 27 points and seven rebounds against Oaks Christian and 28 points and 11 rebounds against Campbell Hall.
Slater proved virtually unstoppable against any competition with powerful drives that usually resulted in baskets and often free throws as well — and he made 86% of those (196 of 227).
“Colin’s a special kid, obviously tremendously gifted, and I don’t know if you’ll find a worker of his caliber, his age, anywhere,” Haydock says. “And it’s everything he does. He’s in my AP history class, front row, with laser focus, dialed in and asking questions — every single day, every single assignment. Then, against Campbell Hall, he goes toe to toe with one of the best point guards in the country (Holiday), and I would contend he got the better of him. He’s as good as they come with skill and character.”
Person, a Bee All-Star in 2014 as a freshman and sculpted at 217 pounds, has progressively refined a post game that Southern Section powers Oaks Christian and Campbell Hall couldn’t handle.
“He’s a behemoth of a young man, strong and physical,” Haydock says. “And what I like most is that he’s taken time to develop his skills, progressing from just being a brute force. Also, he has embraced the role of, ‘I want to be the guy that people can count on,’ and not necessarily offense, but defense is where he speaks the loudest. He plays under control, never out in front of himself, rarely off balance. As a result, playing with pace and composure comes easily.”