Cleveland's basketball team is accustomed to up-tempo, high-intensity basketball, but even a thousand full-court pressure drills could not have prepared the Cavaliers for the emotional extremes they experienced last week.
Cleveland went from the optimism of being one game away from the Valley League title to the depression of losing the title to the oblivion of being ousted from the City Section 4-A Division playoffs by Fremont in the first round. Fremont's 69-64 win Friday night marked the end of a season that has been both euphoric and exasperating for Cleveland Coach Bob Braswell.
After being ranked No. 4 in the state, winning the L. A. Games, two winter tournaments and dominating most league opponents, Cleveland (18-4) botched the league title Wednesday by losing to Taft, 69-68. The Cavaliers find themselves speaking defensively, something to which they are unaccustomed.
"Everyone remembers the victories, but they remember the losses, too," Cleveland guard Michael Gray said. "This one will be in the back of my mind for a long time."
Braswell is keeping the loss at the forefront of his mind long enough to figure out how Cleveland lost. "You try to look back at the whole game, but it's hard to pinpoint exactly what happened. It's just one of those things," he said.
It is understandable if Braswell and his players have a difficult time coming to grips with their feelings.
"We were up and then, all of a sudden, it was a one-point difference," forward Richard Branham said. "It happened so fast."
Although Branham was talking about the loss to Fremont, he just as easily could have been summing up the Cavaliers' last four days.
Cleveland, which started the week tied for first place in the league with Fairfax, won a coin flip Tuesday to determine which team would be the league's No. 1 representative. By winning the toss, Cleveland was put in the bracket opposite Crenshaw, the No. 1 team in the nation according to USA Today.
"We were excited and confident because we were in an easier bracket," Branham said.
Cleveland's position in the playoffs would not be guaranteed until it had beaten Taft in its final league game, but most people took it for granted that the Cavaliers would run by Taft like they had in a 93-67 romp the first time the teams met.
"That was everybody's attitude at school, but I tried to keep the players focused," Braswell said. "I knew it could happen like this."
First came the loss to Taft, then the final blow was delivered by Fremont.
Cleveland led, 51-40, at the end of the third quarter, but Fremont outscored the Cavaliers, 29-13, in the fourth. The Pathfinders made 8 of 13 shots from the field and 13 of 15 free throws, while Cleveland made only 4 of 11 field-goal attempts and 4 of 10 free throws.
"We lost our intensity on defense," Branham said. "They were taking a lot of easy shots."
Earlier, Cleveland had an opportunity to blow the game open when Fremont committed 15 first-half turnovers. But the Cavaliers made 2 of 9 first-half free throws and led by only eight at halftime.
"We just couldn't pull away like we normally do," Braswell said.
And, for the first time in three years, Cleveland won't be pulling into the Sports Arena.
"It's a hard feeling," Branham said. "I'm used to being there. It's kind of like a second home."
Add Cleveland: The Cavaliers played without 6-6 junior forward Warren Harrell, who has chicken pox. Lucious Harris, who started in Harrell's place, had 5 points and 10 rebounds.
The Cleveland front line of Harris, Branham, Damon Charlot and Earl Bodden scored only 20 points.
Add Valley League: There is no question after Friday night's games which City 4-A league is the strongest and which are just 4-A cannon fodder.
Three of five Valley League teams lost in the first round--Cleveland, Kennedy and El Camino Real--and only Manuel Arts was a winner among five Marine Valley League teams in the playoffs. Meanwhile, 5 of 6 Central League teams--Crenshaw, Westchester, Dorsey, Washington and Fremont--won. The sixth, Palisades, lost to Crenshaw.
Pulling his weight: Kennedy center Clarence Williams is not one to brag, but when he says he's going to do something he's not just throwing his weight around.
The 6-5, 225-pound senior was warming up before the Cougars played Dorsey in the first round of the City 4-A playoffs Friday night and noticed that one of the rims was cracked. He warned school officials that if they didn't take it down and replace it. . . .
"I was going to take it down," Williams said.
Kennedy Coach Yutaka Shimizu asked the referees if they wanted the rim replaced. "The refs decided to see how long it would last," Shimizu said.
It didn't last long. About four minutes into the game, Williams grabbed his own missed shot and went up for a dunk. He came down with the rim.
"I told them I was going to take it down but I didn't think I was going to," Williams admitted. "I was very surprised."
The rim was quickly replaced and the game--which Dorsey won, 80-64--resumed.
Wait until baseball season: With the City and Southern section playoffs barely one week old, the Valley area is turning out to be a basketball black hole.
Only two of eight 5-A and 4-A teams--Simi Valley and Taft--from the Valley area won first-round games.
Of the seven 3-A teams, three from the City Section are still alive--Grant, North Hollywood and San Fernando.
The only divisions in which Valley-area teams have been successful are the Southern Section 1-A and Small Schools. Oakwood, the top-ranked team in the Small Schools Division, won its first-round game and will play West Valley Christian--another local team--in the second round. Holy Martyrs is also alive in the Small Schools playoffs.
In the 1-A, Bell-Jeff, L. A. Baptist and Montclair Prep won, while three other Valley area teams--Faith Baptist, Chaminade and Oak Park--have been knocked out.
Staff writer Steve Elling contributed to this notebook.