By Phil Dailey
Usually when a basketball team loses four of its starters, the outlook for the next season may be a bit dim. For the La Jolla High boys team that is certainly not the case.
The Vikings are reloading with what may be a more talented team than the one they had last season.
Having that type of luxury isn't just by chance — it has to do with the type of program head coach Kamal Assaf has built in what is now his seventh season with the Vikings. They have a solid youth program that eventually feeds into the high school programs; one reason the team has made the CIF finals the past three seasons — winning two of them.
"We just expect greatness; we just go 100-percent every time. We just try to be a team," said Ryan Mills, the team's lone returning starter.
If you asked Assaf, he would summarize this year's squad with one word: Relentless.
His team's style could be summed up as in your face with defense and pressure.
"Our mission is to attack on defense and really push the ball and look to go inside, outside," he said.
And what will help Assaf this season is the team's height. At most all positions, the Vikings have players who are tall to go with that tenacity.
"We start some guys that are 6-foot-6 and we're gonna have some big guards so we're gonna have a lot of length and size, we got some depth, we got some dynamic young guys and we like the fact that we're gonna play nine to 10 guys and we're just gonna come at people," Assaf added.
Since this group didn't play much together last season, they spent some of the offseason bonding on and off the court, which they think will build familiarity when it comes time to make another run at a CIF title and perhaps, advance in the state tournament past the first round.
"As we have stepped up as seniors, we realized that we have all paid our dues and it's time to step up and show everybody that we're the boss — it's our time now," senior Mike Peterson said. "Not a lot of people expect that from us because they say our whole entire lineup has graduated, but it's up to us to shock the Western League and really put it on them."
Making the CIF finals the past three seasons says a lot about what type of program the Vikings have. But as each season may be different, some the philosophy stays the same.
"There's an expectation; there are standards," Assaf said. "We can be mentally tough and we can be smart. How can we best use our advantages ... and lessen some of our weaknesses."
It's that type of cerebral approach that gives the Vikings an edge.
"We're going to be outmatched, but we don't care about that — we care about what we do with the situation," Assaf added. "How do we respond?"