It's An Encouraging Start For Culver's Basketball Boys
January 14, 2016
By Fred Altieri
The future looks bright, tall and fast. The 2015-16 boys basketball season has been a successful launch for 9-6 Culver City High as they prepare for their Ocean League home-opener this week against Lawndale High.
After a fast and furious 96-90 win at North Torrance High last Friday, January 8, the Centaurs are suddenly drawing attention on the Westside, in the South Bay and beyond under head coach Adam Eskridge and his staff.
"This is my fourth year as the team's head coach and I've been with these players in the program from the beginning. To see how far some have come and the way they've led the program..." stated Eskridge.
"Many of our players have returned from last year and their overall games have really grown. By having nine wins and being successful so far this year I expect us to do quite well in the Ocean League. Other than one transfer our players are all home-grown."
Culver led North 21-20 after the first quarter mostly due to Centaur guard Isaiah Benson's 13 points offsetting the Saxons' pressure defense and uptempo offense. The pace increased as seven Centaurs scored in the second quarter but the team fell behind North 51-47 at the half.
Eskridge: "North is not a team you can wear down because they play the same style we do and they play more guys. I expected a high-scoring game but I didn't expect a total of 186 points scored.
"It wasn't because of a poor lack of defense. We played pretty good defense but there were so many possessions and both teams were hitting shots."
The third quarter accelerated on all levels as Culver scored 25 points but still trailed 74-72. Centaurs Isaiah Njoku, Benson, Anthony Wheatle, Kyle Johnson and Devone Yopp balanced out the scoring going into the final quarter.
The frenzied fourth quarter was a seesaw battle. There were multiple lead changes as both teams inserted multiple lineups trying to break each other. Culver made things interesting by missing seven consecutive free-throws.
North High kept themselves in the game by hitting 3-pointers as they tied the game at 83-83 for the last time with long one. But the momentum was swinging in Culver's favor.
Culver started controlling the boards while the offense kept driving to the rim. This was a welcome relief as rebounding has been an issue with the team this year.
"Team rebounding was an issue and a big focus in practice this week. The team started to get what we worked on. It was the best rebounding performance we had in a couple of weeks," said Eskridge.
"Turnovers have also been an issue. We've seem to have taken care of the rebounding. Now we need to keep on cleaning up the turnovers and we'll be all right.
"The impressive part is that North was hitting a lot of 3-pointers which are backbreaking for most teams. But our guys got the ball out quick and tried to get the points back as fast as they could. It didn't really bother them."
The free throws started falling again as Benson hit two crucial ones with a minute to go for a 92-87 lead. North hit their last three to make it 92-90. But Njoku hit two free-throws and Johnson made a layup to seal the much deserved victory.
"I'm very happy with our preseason so far," the coach added. We might have let two or three games get away from us but the good thing is this group has learned. None of the mistakes that happened in those games have repeated themselves."
The Centaurs have more depth and height than in recent memory. It also has a greater balance at all positions and the team camaraderie is visibly apparent.
Eskridge: "Our guys' skill sets are more for the open floor and fit for transition. We play fast but I'd like to play even faster. Our practices are like a track meet, sprinting up and down the floor. It's impressive to watch.
"Defensively, it's all about being aggressive. We pressed the entire game against North. There have only been a few games when we didn't press the entire game.
"We're definitely taller than we've been in the past. We legitimately have three big guys: Myles Elvington, Deven Osborne and Robert Pernell.
"Myles Elvington had the best game of his career. He was changing shots, blocking, rebounding, scored 13 points and finished around the rim. All of his teammates love him and to get fired up like that was huge for us. He's starting to get dunks during the games and his confidence is blossoming."
There was plenty of praise to go around. "Isaiah Benson scored 24 points and got us off to a great start. He's our best on-ball defender, can score from everywhere and his growth has been unbelievable.
"Isaiah Njoku's numbers were outstanding. He had 22 points, 14 assists and seven steals. He's our engine. Kyle Johnson's the same way. When those guys are really going the rest just come along. They have no choice because those two play so damn hard.
"Malik McLinn didn't suit up against North to rest an injury. He's a Swiss army knife. He does everything. I feel better about our chances when he's on the floor.
"Anthony Wheatle is a transfer from Redondo. He's a great shooter and does everything else: scores, rebounds and has fit in beautifully with our guys. He's been a great pickup for us.
"Elias Cathcart is a great shooter and ball handler. Nicky Green, a sophomore and returning varsity player has been nursing an injury but we hope to have him back very soon. He started off the year playing very well.
"Deven Osborne with his size showed that he can do it. He's got a great skill set and a multi-sport athlete. Any other year he would be starting. But that's a great situation for us to be able to pull Myles off the floor and bring in Deven.
"One of the great things about this team is that we are so deep. I feel very confident in our first 12-13 guys. The players that haven't played much have also come through when they've gotten the opportunity to shine.
"If we would have hit our free-throws we could have scored over 100 points and relaxed a little bit down the stretch. It shaved a couple of years off my life with that game," laughed Eskridge.