If there’s one thing Immanuel High boys basketball coach Nate McClurg doesn’t have to worry about at this pressure-packed time of the season, it’s another road trip – the Eagles’ third in a week and the longest yet.
“Our guys know the routine,” he says. “The driving. The hotel. The time for shootaround. The time to eat. They’ve got the routine down. And it’s fun.”
What a blast, indeed, it has been so far in the CIF Southern California Regional for the fifth-seeded and 23-8 Eagles, one of the state’s most compelling stories among all divisions, boys and girls. Next up is Saturday’s 6 p.m. game at Helix-La Mesa, a 330-mile trip to east of San Diego for the Division IV championship.
Consider the trials to get here:
▪ Advancing this far following the loss to graduation of point guard Colin Slater, a two-time Fresno Bee Player of the Year who played considerable minutes off the bench this season for Tulane.
▪ Beginning the regional March 8 with a home-court 64-53 win over Hesperia, a Southern Section Division 3A semifinalist that arrived at Reedley with a 23-6 record.
Our guys know the routine. The travel. The hotel. The time for shootaround. The time to eat. They’ve got the routine down. And it’s fun.
Immanuel coach Nate McClurg
▪ Traveling 320 miles last Saturday to east San Bernardino County to play Twentynine Palms. And Immanuel won that one against the No. 4 and 28-4 Wildcats 73-59.
▪ Then, 200 miles to Burbank on Tuesday for a 58-57 conquest of the 25-10 and top-seeded Bulldogs on Darrin Person Jr.’s inside basket with 6.3 seconds remaining.
That punctuated a 34-point performance for the 6-foot-6 forward who clearly is not ready to close one of the most accomplished careers in Central Section history.
Signed with Cal State Bakersfield, he’s played in all of Immanuel’s 125 games in four varsity seasons while delivering 2,285 points and 1,332 rebounds – ranked eighth and sixth in section annals, according to historian Bob Barnett.
His scoring and rebounding averages have been remarkably consistent for four section-winning teams – 20.2 and 15.3 as a freshman, 16.4 and 8.8 as a sophomore, 16.7 and 8.7 as a junior and 20.0 and 10.1 as a senior.
And those teams have gone a collective 101-24.
“There’s not anybody around tougher than Darrin,” says McClurg. “He’s fighting through an ankle injury and he doesn’t want to be done yet.”
3,617 Combined career points and rebounds for Immanuel’s Darrin Person Jr.
Win or lose at Burbank, it was going to be Person taking the last shot.
“No matter what, we were getting the ball to Darrin Person,” says McClurg. “If we were going to win, he was going to make the basket.”
After the coach called a timeout, Carson Verhoeven inbounded the ball to Nate Kendricks, who passed left to Dario Aluisi, who passed left to Michael Odom, who made a nice entry pass to Person, who had established strong position to the left of the basket. He made an aggressive post move and banked it in.
The Bulldogs had to be concerned, also, with Kendricks, who has elevated his game considerably this season while assuming Slater’s role at the point. The 6-1 junior and nephew of NFL linebackers Mychal and Eric Kendricks is averaging 20.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.1 steals.
“He’s so fast, so strong, and he can shoot,” says McClurg. “He’s gotten better and better in learning how to run a team. He’s been great.”
Aluisi, without statistics to compare with Person and Kendricks, is hardly any less valuable as a four-year varsity player.
“Every coach who watches him knows he’s pretty special,” says McClurg. “He’s always in the right spot, sets great screens and has taken more charges than anybody I’ve ever seen. The trust I have in him is pretty unmatched.”
Helix (30-5) and Immanuel are ranked second and fourth in the state’s D-IV by Cal-Hi Sports.
Helix played D-II in the San Diego Section playoffs and won that championship.
Even with Person’s presence, the Highlanders are going to be difficult to defend inside with 6-9 Miles Norris and 6-4 Jaylen Arnold.
Norris, recruited from UCLA to Duke, North Carolina and Georgetown, had 15 rebounds, 10 blocks and seven points in Helix’s 56-53 win over Carson Tuesday night. Arnold scored 24 points as the Highlanders won their 21st straight while improving to 15-0 in a home gym that is expected to sell out Saturday with a capacity of only 1,100.
The winner will play either the state’s D-IV top-ranked Palma-Salinas or St. Patrick-St. Vincent-Vallejo for the state title March 25 at noon at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center.