First published in the Dec. 10 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
After South Pasadena High School’s varsity boys’ basketball team finished as runner-up to La Cañada last season, Tigers’ third-year head coach Ernest Baskerville has his eyes on the Rio Hondo League title.
Granted, it will be no easy task in a tough league featuring La Cañada, San Marino and Temple City. However, Baskerville’s aspirations for this group go beyond league and he truly believes the Tigers can bring home the program’s first CIF title since 1967.
“We plan on winning league and we want to win CIF,” Baskerville said. “This is year three; things are always supposed to happen in year three.”
SPHS has enjoyed a fine start to the season, posting a 4-2 record and opening with a four-game win streak by defeating Woodland Hills El Camino Real (56-33), Pasadena (56-55), Eagle Rock (75-42) and West Covina South Hills (68-43). The Tigers’ two most recent losses were against higher division teams in Oak Park (70-64) and Studio City Harvard-Westlake (78-42) during the Rose City Classic tournament last week, where SPHS finished fourth.
“[Oak Park] is going to be an Open Division team and [Harvard-Westlake] is a Division I team, and we just got to Division 3A. Each year I’ve been here, we’ve moved up half a division,” Baskerville said. “It helps our team get ready for league. No one else in our league is a Division I team. The highest two teams are La Cañada and us.”
The CIF-SS Boys Basketball Advisory Committee recently ranked South Pasadena No. 3 in Division 3A, just one spot behind No. 2 La Cañada.
Senior Sage Wayans, a 6-foot-7-inch strong forward, has been nearly unstoppable to start the season, recording team-high point totals in each of the Tigers’ four tournament games. He scored 21 points against Oak Park, 18 against Harvard-Westlake, 20 against El Camino Real and 28 against Pasadena.
“Sage has been a huge factor in our success,” Baskerville said. “He’s a strong player. He can play a few different positions so he’s hard to guard. I always tell people when someone is game planning for you, you must be the best player or the big factor for the other team. Against Pasadena, he had 28 points and 14 rebounds and if you can get that kind of production out of someone every night, it’s a big help.”
The narrow victory over Pasadena featured a clutch, game-tying 3-pointer by senior shooting guard Ezekiel Pannell to force overtime before Wayans scored a game-winning field goal.
Pannell played well in the recent tournament, scoring 14 and nine points against El Camino Real and Harvard-Westlake, respectively.
“We’re all underdogs,” Pannell said. “Nobody knows South Pasadena and I think we’re all trying to make a name for ourselves, and that’s what this season is about — it’s our last dance and we’re trying not just to make a name for ourselves and the team but also for our city.”
Senior point guard Dillon Akers also enjoyed a fine tournament outing, registering 20 points against Oak Park, nine against Harvard-Westlake and 16 against El Camino Real.
“You have to respect us,” Akers said. “Don’t expect just to come in here and blow us out. It’s going to be a fight all the time and don’t be surprised if we catch a lot of people off guard.”
The Tigers’ roster features 19 players, including 10 seniors, and Baskerville said this group loves playing together. The coach especially praised senior strong forward Jaequon Santos, who emulates everything a South Pasadena student-athlete stands for.
“He exudes what we want a Tiger basketball player to be,” Baskerville said. “Great student, hard worker, always at practice, always staying late; he’s just one of those guys where you ask him to do something and he does it. No questions asked.”