SAN DIEGO — Maybe it's all getting a little bit out of hand at Serra High School. And, maybe it should.
Serra's boys' basketball team is in the midst of a dream season. And the fans are enjoying it just as much as the players.
After a recent playoff win over Mount Carmel, seniors Deven Moran and Steve Smith hung around to sign autographs. Remember, this is after a high school game.
"It was pretty funny but I didn't mind it," Smith said. "They were all telling me they wanted my autograph in case one day I made it to professional ranks."
Serra will be taking on the No. 1 team in the county, Poway High, in the 3-A championship game Saturday night in the San Diego Sports Arena.
And there aren't too many people on the Serra campus who aren't aware of it.
In front of the school, an electronic message board informs students that there are some additional tickets available for the big game. The first 800 tickets were sold out in less than two days.
Outside of the gym, a poster advertising the game sticks out among two posters for an upcoming Sadie Hawkins dance.
"This is really one of the best things that has happened to this school," Serra Coach Tom Williams said. "It has brought a lot of kids together and a lot of faculty together."
Serra High School opened in 1975 and with the exception of a 2-A semifinal appearance in 1981, the boys' basketball team has never enjoyed the kind of success it has this season. The Conquistadors started the season fast, winning all but one of their preseason games.
That had happened before, however. In past seasons, Serra simply couldn't compete with the powerful teams in the City Eastern League.
Not many believed in Serra until the very end of the season. The Conquistadors were 7-2 in league when they faced Morse in the final game of the regular season. Serra beat Morse to force a championship playoff and then beat Morse again to win the school's first league title.
Now, two wins later, Serra is about to play Poway, the two-time defending 3-A champion.
"We're just like everybody else," Moran said. "We have all wanted a shot at Poway. Since they weren't on our schedule this year, we knew the only way we'd have a chance to play them would be in the playoffs. Coach Williams told us that they would probably be there and that we'd have to work hard if we wanted a chance at them. Now, the time has come."
Williams has also been waiting a long time for this chance. He's been a head basketball coach in the county for 28 years, the last 10 at Serra. This will be his first appearance in a CIF final.
"I know that there's a lot of coaches who would love to get to a final game but that never get the chance," Williams said. "I've been getting a lot of calls from coaches around the county wishing me well. That's a good feeling."
He's received other sorts of advice. Before practice Thursday, one school official dropped by Williams' office to offer his best wishes. He told Williams to enjoy his time in the limelight.
"Coach has been telling us all week to have a good time and enjoy this," Moran said. "He told us not to worry about playing the game so quickly. We're all seniors and this is the last chance we'll have to play in a game like this."
Moran, Smith and guard Anthony Moore have led Serra all season. All three seniors average in double figures and have been playing together for most of four seasons. Serra's other two starters are 6-foot 4-inch center Mike Karp and 6-foot 2-inch forward Matt Van Scyoc, both seniors. Karp and Van Scyoc have both developed into excellent role players.
"That's been the key to this team," Williams said. "All of the kids have been playing together for so long that they know where each other is going to be at all times. Van Scyoc, for instance, always seems to come up with that key rebound for us late in a game."
In the Mount Carmel game, Van Scyoc played his role to perfection. For three-and-a-half quarters, he went against Mount Carmel's taller front line and helped Serra control the boards. Then, midway through the fourth quarter, he got free for his only shot of the night, a critical 15-foot jumper that helped keep Serra ahead.
"We've already got three great outside shooters so I have to try and do what I can inside," Van Scyoc said. "What's great is that we all know each other. We play on Saturdays and Sundays together and we play in the off-season."
None of those off-season games are as important as the one Saturday night against Poway, however.
The Titans, the best team in the county the last three seasons, are led by 6-foot 6-inch Dominick Johnson and 6-foot 6 1/2-inch Jud Buechler, the county's top two scorers. Karp is Serra's tallest player at 6-4.
"We're getting used to that," Van Scyoc said. "We played Morse three times this year and they had guys who were 6-10 and 6-7. We're not scared about going inside against those bigger teams anymore."
Serra appears relaxed going into the final.
The other day, Karp had his hair cut to resemble the Russian fighter Ivan Drago in the movie Rocky IV. He says it's just something special for the big game.
"I've got the Drago look to get psyched up," Karp said.
Upon seeing his teammate's new hairdo, Van Scyoc informed Williams that he was going to shave his head leaving only an S for Serra on top. He was kidding.
"When I was younger they used to call that a flat top," Williams told the players. "I think I'll just keep my hair the way it is."
This afternoon, the school is taking a break from class for a pep rally. "Before, when we used to have pep rallies, it was no big deal," Moran said. "Now, we have the whole school coming out. All of our fans are really getting into it."