Vikings secure an unlikely championship

LJHS boys basketball team turns around 13-14 regular season

There are some purists who suggest that high school teams with sub-.500 records shouldn’t qualify for postseason play. La Jolla High School’s boys’ basketball team made a strong counter-argument last week.

The Vikings, who finished the regular season with a 13-14 record, surprised nearly everyone in the San Diego basketball community by winning the CIF San Diego Section Division III championship. La Jolla wrapped it up with a 44-39 victory over Cathedral Catholic at USD on March 7.

“We had a good team all along, and we just couldn’t find a way to win close games early on,” La Jolla coach Kamal Assaf said. “We seemed to sabotage ourselves by turning the ball over against pressure, not making free throws and not making plays at the end of the game.

“We had one of those improbable years where every close game seemed like a loss. But when we lost to (eventual Division II champion) Hoover in overtime (on Dec. 5), that kind of cemented in my mind that we could play with anybody.”

The Vikings finished the regular season one game under .500 and went 5-7 in the Western League. At one point this season, they lost five straight games.

But La Jolla picked up steam heading into the postseason, winning four of its last five regular season games.

La Jolla didn’t have a home game in the playoffs. The Vikings beat San Marcos, 52-45, in the first round, toppled second-seeded St. Augustine, 72-57, in the quarterfinals, and edged Valley Center, 50-44, in the semifinals.

Tyler Heap scored 12 points in the championship game, and Alec Guisti added nine. In the win over Valley Center, Taylor Davis scored 20 points. Against St. Augustine, Heap scored 20, and Jack Latta nearly matched him with 19.

La Jolla missed Heap with an ankle injury for most of the season’s first month, and getting him back helped immensely, Kassaf said. Mostly, though, he said the Vikings benefited from playing an unselfish, team-oriented style of basketball all season.

“We have a smart group and a tough group, and we’ve always prided ourselves on that,” Assaf said.

La Jolla’s championship was its second straight, and it is believed to be the first time the school has won back-to-back boys’ basketball titles in its history.