HomePublicationPasadenaPoly Captures CIF Title, Enters State Regionals

Poly Captures CIF Title, Enters State Regionals

As Polytechnic’s basketball players began to celebrate the Panthers’ 63-54 win over Arcadia in the CIF Southern Section Division 4AA championship game last Wednesday, a referee ran to center court and waved them off. There was still half of a second left on the clock, and Poly would need to inbound the ball one more time.
So Poly’s starting five headed back out for one final play. They had already endured a global pandemic that essentially took away over a year of their high school experience, months of uncertainty as to whether they would even play a basketball season and, finally, a furious fourth-quarter comeback from an Arcadia team that had developed a habit of thrilling finishes throughout the postseason. The Panthers could wait half a second longer.
“It feels great,” sophomore forward Justin Odibo said. “Our guys, we came and worked every day for this moment right here. No days off from practice, we kept working just for this moment right here. This is just hard work paying off.”
Soon, the entire Poly team was at midcourt, receiving the 2021 CIF-SS championship plaque that marks the school’s fifth boys’ basketball sectional title and first in 26 years. In typical Brad Hall fashion, the veteran Panthers head coach refused to emerge from the sidelines and accept the plaque himself, even when the public address announcer beckoned him to, preferring to let his players take up the spotlight.
Though Odibo, with a team-high 18 points, and junior guard Jack Williamson, who continued his stellar postseason play with 16 points, led the way offensively, Hall also praised the senior leadership of his three other starters, all seniors: point guard Dimitri Mendoza and forwards Brandon Szeto and Kareem Ammar.
“I can’t imagine going from March of my junior year of high school to two or three weeks before the season ends and not doing any high school activities,” Hall said. “So the fact that we got to play a game… we got to have a semblance of a high school memory for all these kids. You ask me what makes it special, it would be that.”
However, Wednesday also served as a testament to Hall’s impact upon Polytechnic and the Pasadena area. Of the program’s five CIF championships, Hall has now been there for four of them — as an assistant in 1978 and as the head coach in 1984, 1995 and now 2021.
Reminders of that past glory dotted the bleachers as many Poly players and families from previous years and decades, including several from those past title teams, turned out to support their alma mater and former coach. They were far from the only Panthers fans in attendance. Poly’s cheering section took up a large swath of the spacious Arcadia gym, as students, alumni, families and staff members snapped up every ticket Poly was allotted for the limited capacity available — and Hall half-jokingly estimated the school could have sold a “zillion” more. He had also received emails and texts from former players across the country in the days leading up to the game.
The longtime coach had tears in his eyes by the time he emerged from the celebration to speak with reporters, and became emotional again when talking about the outpouring of support.
“I think we sometimes lose sight that even in a private school, you have an extended community that goes back years and I don’t want to lose sight of that,” Hall said. “We had players from the 1970s that came out to support these kids. So the past [CIF titles] are theirs; this one is for these guys.”
Hall’s legacy even extended to the opposing sideline — Arcadia head coach Nick Wallace started his career as Poly’s junior varsity coach under Hall, and the two have remained close.
“Brad and [Poly athletic director] Steve Beerman gave me an opportunity to coach when I didn’t even know if I was a coach,” Wallace said. “I learned a lot from Brad. So to get to this stage, which is the peak of any coach’s career, and play in the championship game, it means a lot. It means a lot to go against the guy who hired me… This was almost meant to be.”
Though they were on the road due to a coin flip, the No. 1-seeded Panthers entered having won their first three playoff games by a combined 100 points. For three quarters, they appeared as though they were on their way to another rout. Williamson scored 10 points in the first quarter and Odibo, limited to just four points on four shot attempts in Saturday’s semifinal win over Elsinore due to a knee injury, tallied 13 points in the first half alone on 6 for 9 shooting.
Odibo’s smooth midrange game helped Poly extend the lead in the second quarter and Poly dominated the boards thanks to its trademark stifling interior defense, aided once again by junior forwards Jack Adkins and Matthias Olson off the bench. Brandon Szeto hit two three-pointers at the end of the half, including a buzzer-beater, to put Poly up 35-19 at halftime.
The Panthers maintained that 16-point lead in the third quarter then extended it to as many as 24 early in the fourth, going on an 8-0 run thanks to a corner three from freshman guard Justin Wang, a layup from Mendoza, and a three from Odibo.
But as Poly’s shots stopped falling, Arcadia finally gained some momentum, aggressively penetrating into the paint to find holes in Poly’s defense and finally getting some jumpers to fall. The Apaches stormed on a 21-2 run, capped off by a deep three-pointer in transition from Shant Chevoranian after Williamson missed the front end of a one-and-one, sending the home crowd into a frenzy and forcing Hall to call a timeout.
“You knew they weren’t gonna quit because Nick and [Arcadia assistant] Charles Carter are coaching,” Hall said. “And they were going right at us — got some ‘and ones,’ got some free throws, we got in a little bit of foul trouble. We had a few unwise shots on our part… I just tell the boys, ‘Just trust your skills.’ And I think for a while there we got a little bit rattled, we didn’t trust our skills, we had to refocus a little bit.”
With less than a minute remaining, Arcadia intentionally fouled Williamson again. As Poly’s leading postseason scorer stepped to the line and took a deep breath, his teammates shouted words of encouragement.
“I’m just trying to tune everyone out, trying to think back to when I was little in my backyard, shooting free throws, counting down, playing like it was the game on the line and I was in that situation,” Williamson said. “I just felt like I was in my backyard again.”
He drained both, giving Poly a seven-point lead. Chevoranian missed his next three-point attempt on the other end, and the game was effectively put out of reach.
For Wallace, it was a bitter pill to swallow despite a spectacular Cinderella run to the title game.
“Playing in a championship game for all the marbles is something that you can’t explain until you’ve actually experienced it,” Wallace said. “Quite frankly, the moment today was too big for us.”
For Hall, to win after so much pandemic-caused uncertainty made this delayed championship victory extra special.
“We didn’t know if we were gonna play [a season] eight weeks ago,” Hall said. “And to have this, this might be the first time we’ve had this many students together to celebrate something [since the pandemic began], and that’s part of the deal, too, that you can’t overlook.”
Last Wednesday also marked Poly’s first CIF title since Hall had returned as head coach after a hiatus in the early 2000s, and this time it was a family affair — his son Bobby is a freshman on the team and his son Buddy, a middle schooler, is the team’s scorekeeper. And Hall’s other family, the long legacy of Poly basketball greats, officially gained a new group of legendary members on Wednesday.
“I’m just super happy for him,” Mendoza, the senior point guard, said. “He does so much for Poly and for this basketball program, just to be a part of that, and there are all these former players here tonight, just to see them and be cemented as a part of that culture and history is awesome.”
That culture has made itself evident in the 2021 Panthers, a team built on hard-nosed defense on one side of the court, sharing the ball on the other, and crashing the boards on both ends.
“I’m proud of the consistency of our program over the years,” Hall said. “I think the boys play the right way; they handle themselves well. They represent the former basketball players who come back and say, ‘Hey, that’s how we played.’ I think that’s what made it so nice… I’m a happy guy.”


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