Brian McCloskey's rise to stardom for Sunny Hills High School's basketball team has been a surprise to many, not the least of which is McCloskey himself.
Coach Steve White and some of the Lancers' teammates have been amazed at McCloskey's progress.
But not Chris Drakos.
Drakos, a senior guard, says he knew all along that McCloskey, a bench warmer as a freshman four years ago, would become the star of the varsity. It has been Drakos who has pushed his friend along, convincing McCloskey of his abilities.
"I guess you can say Brian's been a surprise," Drakos said, "but I could see all along that he could play."
Everyone realizes that now.
McCloskey, The Times' player of the week, is averaged 18.4 points and 12.3 rebounds per game in leading Sunny Hills to the Freeway League championship this season. Last week, he scored 47 points and had 37 rebounds, as the Lancers defeated Buena Park and Fullerton to win the league tournament.
"Brian has made tremendous improvements in last two years," White said. "A lot has to do with his development physically. He was just 5-10 and about 95 pounds when he was a freshman."
McCloskey, now 6-7 and a lean 187 pounds, rarely played as a freshman . . . except in his spare time with Drakos.
Every day after practice, they would play basketball at Fullerton's Independence Park. If no other players were around, they would play one-on-one.
It is a tradition McCloskey and Drakos have maintained throughout high school.
"As freshmen, we'd get some varsity player to drive us down there and stay until our parents picked us up," McCloskey said. "Usually that was around 9 p.m."
Said Drakos: "We go down there sometimes and play against these guys who were really quick. They would steal the ball from Brian all the time. I think that really helped him develop his ballhandling skills."
As sophomores, Drakos was promoted to the varsity and McCloskey to the junior varsity, where he began getting some playing time.
Still, they continued to play regularly at Independence Park.
"Chris helped me a lot," McCloskey said. "He'd encourage me a lot, which helped my confidence. By the end of my sophomore year, I was starting to play a little better."
When McCloskey made the varsity the next year, he and Drakos began working together in games like they did at Independence Park. Although he wasn't a starter at the beginning of the season, McCloskey improved and was selected the team's most valuable player.
"Before the season it was questionable whether he would make the varsity, then he ends up as the MVP," Drakos said. "That's how hard he worked at improving."
This season, Drakos is averaging 9.3 assists per game, many of which go to McCloskey.
"During a dead ball, Chris will tell me to look for the back door or I tell him when to get me the ball," McCloskey said. "It gives us an advantage during games, because we know each other's moves so well."
Sunny Hills High School
Height, Weight, Class: 6-7, 190, Sr.
Last Week: McCloskey scored 47 points and had 37 rebounds in two games, as Sunny Hills won the Freeway League tournament to advance to the Southern Section 3-A playoffs.
Season: McCloskey is averaging 18.4 points and 12.3 rebounds per game.