Joey Manliguis had thought this game through 1,000 times. And out of 1,000 possible outcomes, the one he dared not imagine came to life. Funny how fate can intervene right on cue, as if cameras were rolling.
Thrust into the starting lineup against guys he called teammates just last summer, Manliguis played a career game Friday at Taft High. The senior guard had 10 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds and 4 steals to lead Cleveland to a 93-77 win over Taft.
After a personality clash with Cleveland Coach Bob Braswell last season, Manliguis fled for Taft. He saw the new school as an oasis, a place to win a starting job. But he came up dry, failing to beat out Jason Bromberg at point guard.
He returned to Cleveland somewhat contrite, content to play 10 to 15 minutes a game as a reserve. "Coach Braswell and I smoothed out our misunderstandings," Manliguis said. "I was always a Cavalier at heart."
And if part of the deal was swallowing his pride and watching from the bench when Cleveland visited Taft, so be it.
Fate, however, pulled a fast break. The injured ankle of starting guard Damon Greer hadn't healed by Friday, so Manliguis had about 30 minutes to go man-on-man and mano a mano against Bromberg, who leads the Valley area in assists.
"I tried not to think too much about it because I didn't want to get too pumped and throw my game off," Manliguis said.
He was reminded the moment the team arrived at Taft. "As we got off the bus, people were yelling, 'Traitor,' at Joey," Braswell said.
Manliguis made Cleveland's first two baskets on long jumpers. The Cavaliers had a comfortable lead until Kevin Franklin, the Valley's leading scorer, began sinking shots from the baseline. Despite having the flu, Franklin scored 14 points in the second quarter and Cleveland's lead was cut to four by halftime.
Taft continued to keep pace, trailing, 58-52, with two minutes left in the third quarter and Bromberg bringing the ball across midcourt. Manliguis had tried without success to steal Bromberg's job, so he did the next best thing--he stole the ball and drove for a layup and an eight-point lead. Taft never came any closer.
Cleveland (6-1, 13-2) remains one game behind Fairfax in the Valley League. Taft is 4-3 in league and 12-4 overall.
"Joey did a great job," Braswell said. "I knew coming back here would be tough on him. But I had a feeling this would be his night."
Most nights have been Franklin's--he had 37 points Friday and has had more than 30 in all seven league games--but after the game he sought out Manliguis. "Nice game, man," Franklin said while shaking the hand of his ex-teammate. "Great job."
Taft has only eight players and could use Manliguis, if just for another warm body. Not surprisingly, Cleveland's superior depth and balance were the difference in the second half.
"They bring them on in waves," Woodard said. "I give them all the credit. They are a better team."
Cleveland's Albert Fann scored 15 of his team-high 22 points in the fourth quarter when the Cavaliers outscored the Toreadors, 29-23.
"I haven't seen us play this well in a long time," Braswell said. "We hoped to wear them down and I think we did. All of our guards played well."
Although Taft outshot Cleveland, 58% to 51%, Cleveland had 76 shot attempts to Taft's 57. Taft made only 11 of 20 free throws, missing the front end of six one-and-ones, while Cleveland made 15 of 23, including four-for-four by Manliguis.
"I came in here hoping to play well," Manliguis said. "I really wanted this one. I wanted to show my teammates that I could respond."
He showed all of his teammates, old and new.