Boys Look to Turn Things Around Before League Tips Off

Back row, from left: Michel Wrinkeler, Louis Jamerson, Alan Quan, Jeremy Wong, Ryan Chuang, and JJ Kim. Front row, from left: Matthew Mayemura, Kyle Tashiro, Jack Gordon, Kai Jones and Sebastian Au-Rivera. Photos by Harry Yadav

Time is running out for So Pas High varsity boys basketball team to put everything together and play to its potential. Rio Hondo League play begins Jan. 5 in an away game at San Marino High School, the Tigers’ biggest rival, and head coach Ryan Lee knows that his players need to enter league with confidence if they have any hope of challenging for a league championship.

At 1-9, the good news for So Pas is that, with the exception of defending champions La Cañada, their competition in league will be less formidable than what the Tigers have faced so far. For the most part, however, the boys are focused on how to improve from within. More specifically, the team is still trying to nail down its identity. According to Lee, the Tigers need to become more of a blue-collar team. “We’re undersized entering almost every game,” said the coach, “so we’ve got to be gritty, we’ve got to scrap.”

So Pas plays a fast-paced style of basketball and takes lots of three-point shots, and unfortunately, thus far this season the team has been in a bit of a shooting slump. However, Lee says shooting is one of his team’s strengths. “If and when we get it together, we’re going to be a tough out for every team in league,” he said before the team’s home game against Flintridge Prep last week. “We lost six seniors –and all of our starters– from last year’s team,” Lee continued. “So, we have a lot of growth to make during the season and I believe we’re close to turning things around.”

Coach Ryan Lee leads a team huddle during a recent Tigers home game. The second-year head coach wants his team to embrace their identity as a blue-collar team.

Leading the Tigers at point guard is senior Kai Jones, a shifty scorer who is a constant threat to get to the basket. Jones spent a good part of the offseason working on his midrange jump shot, an area of his game that is much improved this year. Joining Jones in the backcourt is another senior, Louis Jamerson, who has returned to South Pas High after transferring to a Fresno-area school for his sophomore and junior seasons. A lefty with a lanky build, Jamerson is primarily a shooter with the potential to be a great defender, his coach says. “When he really engages on defense, its impressive,” Lee said, “and we’re going to need that from Louis every game when we get to league.”

South Pasadena’s lineup isn’t composed of traditional position players; rather than featuring a true center or power forward, every player can handle the ball and shoot from the perimeter. The Tigers’ small forward, senior Ryan Chuang, exemplifies that perfectly. Chuang often brings up the ball and initiates the offense, especially in pressure situations. He certainly has his coach’s trust. “Ryan always steps up to the plate,” Lee said. “He never gets too down on himself, he’s very coachable and very unselfish.”

Slotted in the power forward position is senior Sebastian Au-Rivera. After struggling at points last season, Au-Rivera has become one of the Tigers’ emotional leaders and most dynamic scorers. Lee describes him as “a slasher, a scorer who goes to the rack, one of our better rebounders” and one the coach can count on to bring energy every game. “Sebastian has shown a phenomenal amount of growth over the past year and has become an advocate for his teammates, even when he’s not in the game,” Lee added.

The only non-senior in the Tigers’ lineup is also the backbone of their team. Lee calls junior Alan Quan, who is listed at center but plays more like a combo guard/forward, “a coach’s dream.”

“Alan is always the first in the gym, the last to leave,” Lee said. “He’s our best rebounder and he strokes the three. He fits in with us perfectly because he can play up-tempo and pressure the ball all game long.”

Lee recalled a recent practice in which he admonished Quan for a mistake. Afterwards, Lee said to Quan, “I think that was the first time in three years I’ve ever had to get on you in practice.” Quan responded, “no, it was the second.” In other words, Quan is one who can be counted on.

In addition to the projected starting five, South Pasadena will look to a number of players on their bench to play heavy minutes due to the Tigers’ fast pace of play. Lee said their sixth man will likely be senior Matthew Mayemura. Mayemura is a tenacious defender and a relentless presence on the court who can also hit from the perimeter. South Pas might even look to their lone freshman, JJ Kim, to provide some crucial minutes. Lee speaks highly of Kim, who, despite being the youngest player, is one of the Tigers’ stronger bodies.

So Pas plays Burbank High School away tonight at 7 p.m. in one of its final matchups before traveling to La Verne beginning December 26 for a five-day tournament hosted by Damien High School.