The San Marino High School varsity boys’ basketball team finished 1-2 last week, splitting its first two Rio Hondo League games and then suffering a 65-59 nonleague loss against visiting La Habra Whittier Christian on Saturday.
The Titans have a solid overall record of 12-6, but SMHS head coach Mihail Papadopulos knows his squad needs to continue to work to reach its potential.
“I love my team,” he said. “They’re really good guys and there’s a genuine love and brotherhood in the locker room. I know they’re going to show up and get better. We haven’t peaked yet, and it will stem from our defense. Once we clean things up defensively, we’ll be better. A lot of it is just trust. We just need to make the right play.”
San Marino traveled to La Cañada and was defeated by the Spartans, 78-50, in the teams’ league opener last Wednesday. The Titans trailed by six points in the first quarter and LC exploded for 26 points in the second to build a 41-27 lead at the half.
“It comes down to how together you are on the court and how well you execute,” Papadopulos said. “Unfortunately at La Cañada, we didn’t execute against a good team. Despite their record, they’re still a good team, and they’ll make you pay for your mistakes.”
The Titans had better success against Monrovia last Friday night, showing resiliency and grit in a 76-65 victory over the Wildcats. San Marino trailed 39-34 at the half and rallied in the third. The home team carried that momentum into the final quarter and held on for the victory. Ethan Deng led the squad with 22 points and Joey Fuerst chipped in 16 points. Lemuel Li had 14 points and Sean O’Brien finished with 13.
“We’re happy with the effort that we gave against Monrovia,” Papadopulos said. “They were resilient and figured out the physicality and speed of the game. I was very proud of how we played.”
That’s what made the team’s effort against the Heralds more disappointing to Papadopulos and his coaching staff. San Marino led 34-22 at the half but struggled from the field in the third quarter. They also began missing defensive assignments, allowing Whittier Christian to chip away at the Titans’ lead and ultimately taking the lead in the final quarter.
“I guess what’s most disappointing is that we’re trying to get to that level of consistently being a great team, regardless of the outcome,” Papadopulos said. “Our boys put in a good effort most of the time, but you need great efforts, and at this point of the year, especially when having a solid season, you have to be mentally locked in and playing hard against a good team like Whittier Christian. I felt there were a lot of lapses during our game and it’s unfortunate because these guys have worked hard, but that’s the game. You have to play hard and play smart, and we didn’t at times.”
Despite the setback, Papadopulos is optimistic about his group of players. He has a talented group of scorers who can take over a game at any time. San Marino boasts one of the most balanced offenses in the league, which is why Papadopulos and his players have lofty goals this season.
“We have five guys who can get you 20 points or more, with guys like Sean O’Brien, Joey Fuerst, Lemuel Li, Trond [Grizzell] and Ethan Deng,” Papadopulos said. “That’s what makes this team exciting.
“Part of the team building is having disappointments and positive moments. If you don’t have both, how can you grow? How our guys respond this week is how we grow. It’s about the process. Let’s evaluate our mistakes and see where we can clean them up. Our goal is still to win league and it’s going to be a dogfight like it is ever year.”
The Titans hosted Pasadena Blair in a league game on Wednesday and will travel to Temple City to take on the Rams this Friday, Jan. 17, at 7 p.m.