The Culver City High School boys’ basketball team has reached a new level. They put the school on the Southern California basketball map as one of the best teams in the area after they made it all the way to the State Division III Regional final a few weeks ago. One more victory they would made the trip to Sacramento to play in the State Final. Now they have a target on their backs.
“It feels great especially for the kids,” said Culver City head coach Michael Cooper in a telephone interview last Tuesday. “As a coaching staff we gave them a lot. The kids brought into our system and our late success had a lot to do with our early season games. We played some very tough teams. One team had three 6’10” players. We went out and put it to the test.”
Cooper said that was the main reason the Centaurs had a losing record at the beginning of the season.
“It was never about trying to win every game it was about competing against tough teams at a high level. We were 6-11 early in the season and I made some adjustments in the line up and moved some things around and really, the players started to buy in. We redid our defense a little bit and it all came into fruition. When it clicked the kids were right on point. I give all the credit to them. They are the ones that made it happen. I kept telling them to keep playing together.”
Their togetherness put them in a position to win six out of eight playoff games. Their two losses were in the CIF semifinal, a 68-65 overtime loss to Tesoro and in the State Regional Final, an 82-79 triple overtime loss to Buena. “I was not surprised that we made to the CIF semifinal because I expected that,” said Cooper, who is one of the best players in Los Angeles Lakers history. “Once we qualified for State, that surprised me but I was not surprised about what the team was going to do once we got to State. Being in State really energized our team and the kids just kept going.”
Now can they keep the momentum going? According to Cooper the best is yet to come. He may be right because several key players are returning from a team that finish the season rated as one of the best in Southern California. The leading returning players are Achebe Thompson, Braylon Singleton, Myles Singleton, Raymond Wlliams and Brycen Matthews. Other players that Cooper expects to see more action next season is Dorian Lawson, Henry Herrbach, and Keishawn Ross.
One player that is graduating that will really be missed is Connor Scales. Scales came a live at the end of the season and was one of the key factors in Culver City’s improbable run through the play-offs. Other seniors leaving are Jonathan Plater, Jason Cowan, Chukuwa Anuluoha and Ayman Suliman.
According to Cooper Thompson and Braylon Singleton were probably the team’s most valuable players mainly because they used their physicality to be able to rebound against taller players.
“Thompson is a very humble individual, and he was excepting the challenge to play big,’ said Cooper. “A lot of times he was overmatched against taller players but we structured our defense so that he always had help. We told him he was never going to be alone. He is also a great perimeter shooter, and he can move around the low post. He has a great upside, and a lot of colleges are looking at him and we are looking to develop him even more.”
Cooper feels the same way about Braylon Singleton who was always one of the quicker players on the court, but he was also one of the toughest. “Braylon was also very instrumental in rebounding and playing down low with the taller players. Both he and Achebe did a manly job considering their size.” Thompson was listed at 6’3’ and Braylon at 6’2”.
Culver City ran what Cooper calls an open offense with emphasis on spreading the court and letting the players create plays using their own natural ability. “We had a team full of guards so the only problem I had was having the kids buy into rebounding,” said Cooper. “We had to rebound by committee knowing that who ever gets the ball they had the green light to bring the ball up the court. I think that helped our rebounding because they knew who ever got the rebound had the ability to bring it up the floor.”
Another reason for their late season success was the assistant coaches, DJ Vincent and Ray Singleton according to Cooper. They scouted teams and individual players, and they even ran some of the practices.
“DJ is the reason I came to Culver City,” said Cooper. “I have known him for many years, and I watched him coach my son when he was at Culver City Middle School. I have always admired him. He does a great job of balancing the life of a student athlete. Coach Ray is a defensive minded coach who does a great job of working with his two sons within the frame work of the team. Both of them have been great.”
Cooper thinks the basketball program at Culver High School has a bright future. “Culver City has been known as a football school but I think we changed peoples minds going forward. Hopefully Culver City can be called a basketball school too. This is just the beginning of what this team is going to do in the future. They feel it now that a championship is coming.”