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Bishop Amat: A Team Whose Time Has Come

July 09, 1987|MITCH POLIN | Times Staff Writer

When Alex Acosta became basketball coach at Bishop Amat High in La Puente before last season, he had a feeling that success was only a matter of time.

After his team's performance in the fifth Bosco Tech Summer Hoop Spectacular, which ended Sunday, the time appears to have arrived.

Amat's second-place finish in the 40-team tournament, which included many of the top teams in Southern California, should go a long way toward establishing the Lancers as a power in the CIF Southern Section for next season.

Said Acosta: "I have no doubt that we can play with just about any team. I think this shows what we can do."

Amat lost in the championship game, 64-42, to Santa Barbara, but the result might have been different if the Lancers had 6-1 guard Stephon Pace, who left after the semifinals to attend the prestigious Five-Star Basketball Camp in Pittsburgh.

"I think it hurt not having Pace," Acosta said. "But Santa Barbara's a very good team."

The Lancers have also played without probable starting forward Mike Conness (6-5) and 6-8 center Geoff Lear has been recovering from an ankle sprain.

All things considered, the 27-year-old Acosta was not too upset about settling for second in a tournament that included state Division I champion Mater Dei, Southern Section 4-A champion Santa Monica and L.A. City Section power Westchester.

"I think that all of this is to our advantage," he said. "All of the hard work is starting to pay off."

For Acosta, the hard work started four years ago when he became an assistant in a struggling program under Coach John Montgomery. In Acosta's second season as an assistant coach the program started to change for the better.

It is no coincidence that four freshmen named Pace, Lear and Clarence and Terry Lamb (6-0 guards) also enrolled at Bishop Amat that season. Acosta said he knew the foursome would eventually have an impact on the program.

"When these kids came in as freshman I knew they could play the game," he recalled. "I knew that if they just worked hard and developed the way they could, we would eventually be successful."

When Montgomery resigned as coach after Acosta's third season as an assistant, he was excited when he was named coach. "I was just so happy that I got a chance to work with these kids," Acosta said.

The Lancers may have surprised a few people by posting a 17-10 record, finishing third in the competitive Angelus League and reaching the Southern Section 5-A playoffs in Acosta's first year as coach last season.

"It was a little surprising that these kids did as well as they did last year," Acosta said. "Nobody expected us to be that good."

However, there is little surprise over the team's success this summer.

"The kids have worked hard over the off-season and they're finally starting to get some of the attention they deserve," Acosta said. "They've dedicated themselves to becoming better basketball players and they're starting to show what dedication can do for you."

Bishop Amat displayed a sample of its ability during the 20th annual L.A. Games in June when the Lancers reached the final 16 of the 128-team tournament before falling to Cleveland, 53-52, on a last-second basket. Not that losing to Cleveland, runner-up in the L.A. City 4-A last year and eventual winner of the L.A. Games tournament, was any disgrace.

The Lancers appeared even stronger in the Bosco Tech tournament when they defeated Bear Creek of Colorado (48-27), El Toro (86-72), Dominguez (64-53) and Westchester (94-85) to reach the title game.

Acosta said having a nearly healthy Lear in his lineup made a difference.

"Having Lear helped," Acosta said. "He handled Zan Mason (6-7 forward for Westchester) with no problem. Lear can be one of the best around when he wants to be. He's still favoring his ankle a little. He's getting there but he's not quite 100%."

Lear was the team's leading scorer last year with a 16-point average and will leave Sunday for the second session of the Five-Star camp in Pittsburgh.

Then there is the play of Pace, an All-San Gabriel Valley defensive back and receiver in football last year, who is rapidly building his reputation in basketball. Pace has led the Lancers in scoring during the summer.

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