The change in attitude at Cleveland High School was obvious just by watching Trevor Wilson, the star forward. Wilson usually keeps to himself and appears so aloof, that at times, he has been accused of acting overconfident.
Saturday, after the Cavaliers' 75-61 win over Bishop O'Dowd of Oakland in the semifinals of the Chaminade Tournament, Wilson was high-fiving everyone, talking in fast-break fashion and looking anything but reserved. And judging by the the other players, the feeling was contagious.
Two weeks ago a feeling of tension also seemed contagious. The players were so frustrated with four losses in six games, especially since they were by a total of five points, that they called a meeting the day after being knocked out of the Tournament of Champions to clear the air between the players and Coach Bob Braswell. Everyone agreed it was a good idea, and Braswell said he was ready to call one himself.
"It was a team thing," forward Albert Fann said. "There was nothing wrong with any of the players and nothing wrong with the coaches. It was all of our fault.
"Everyone had the same feeling, that we relied on Trevor too much and that the team morale was down. Nobody was up on the bench. It was like we were in a daze."
But they came out of the meeting with a fresh outlook and a game plan that allowed, as guard William Dixion so eloquently said, "for us to go ahead and get loose." It was the spark the Cavaliers needed, even this early in the season.
They won the next three games in the Chaminade Tournament, and Wilson scored 46, 32 and 33 points. In the third game, against Bishop O'Dowd, he had only eight points in the first half on 4-of-10 shooting, but came back in the final two quarters to make all nine attempts and 7 of 8 free throws to turn a two-point lead into a 14-point win.
Cleveland's pre-New Year's resolution to not rely on Wilson so much fell by the wayside Monday night in a 81-73 loss to Fairfax in the championship game, Braswell said, even though the Cavaliers made a big run to get back into the game in the fourth quarter when Wilson was out with an ankle injury. Fairfax, by comparison, won because they have more to offer than Sean Higgins.
At least it wasn't a one-point loss.
Big Little Tournament: Five years ago, the inaugural edition of the Chaminade Tournament was primarily a lower-division affair, with schools such as Van Nuys Montclair Prep, Santa Monica Crossroads and the host Eagles of Canoga Park entered. But if their friends could see them now.
Bernie Kyman, the school's athletic director, had to turn away people from all over the country, from Alaska to Las Vegas to New York, who wanted to play. After getting Crenshaw and San Francisco Riordan to headline the step from 8 to 16 teams last year, the 1985 tournament, which ended Monday night, included Cleveland, Fairfax, Verbum Dei, Serra, Crossroads and, from out of town, Fresno Edison, Bishop O'Dowd and Concord De La Salle.
As for 1986, Kyman already has long-distance promises from Riordan and Iona Prep of New York and a verbal commitment from Crenshaw Coach Willie West that the Cougars will return if they don't have an out-of-town tournament themselves, as was the case this year. Kyman is also pursuing St. Ignatius of San Francisco and says that an invitation to DeMatha of Hyattsville, Md., is in the back of his mind.
DeMatha has turned down the more prestigious Tournament of Champions in the past, so what makes Kyman think that the most well-known prep basketball team in the country would accept an invitation to his party, especially since Chaminade organizers offer no inducements beyond T-shirts, sweaters and travel bags?
"The offer would be the chance to play Crenshaw," he said.
Rating Game: Mike Flynn of the Philadelphia Daily News, who does the girls' basketball rankings for USA Today, will submit Thursday's national poll today with Pasadena Muir either No. 1 or 2 after the Mustangs defeated the top two teams in the country in the Tournament of Champions in Santa Barbara.
The worst Muir could get is second behind H.D. Woodson of Washington, D.C. But, Flynn points out, Woodson plays Christ the King of New York, which was No. 1 before losing to the Mustangs last Monday, in about a month. So being second best, if that is what the Mustangs get, isn't so bad, especially considering they were 13th in the last poll.
Either way, he said, it will be the highest any California team has ever been in the girls' rankings.