IRVINE — Lou Cvijanovich, the boys' basketball coach at Santa Clara High, has seen his teams win 720 games.
He's twice seen them win more than 80 Frontier League games in a row. Cvijanovich is in his 36th season coaching the Saints. He was coaching when "Louie Louie" was a hit record on Billboard's charts.
He's been around long enough to see everything, but not long enough to get a surprise. The emergence of senior Damian Cantrell this season caught Cvijanovich off guard.
Cantrell, a 6-foot-4 guard/forward, has risen from sixth-man status into the irrepressible standout who has helped put Santa Clara (19-7) into today's 6 p.m. Southern Section Division IV-A championship game against Verbum Dei at UC Irvine's Bren Center.
"To be honest, I didn't know how good Damian would be," Cvijanovich said.
"You don't expect any of them to improve that much. Some of them do. Some of them play basketball until they're dead and they never get better."
But here is Cantrell, being named Frontier League tri-player of the year along with Nordhoff's Mark Sebek and Santa Paula's Manuel Escamilla.
Here is Cantrell, averaging 21.6 points and 8.4 rebounds.
There was Cantrell, taking away the spotlight from Duke-bound Ricky Price by scoring 21 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in a 47-33 victory over Serra on Tuesday night in the semifinals.
And talking about respect and recognition for Santa Clara afterward.
"Everybody's talking (Serra's) Ricky Price--he's going to Duke," Cantrell said.
"That's what drives me. It was all Ricky Price the whole week."
Here's Cvijanovich, suddenly comparing Cantrell with Shon Tarver and son Stacy Cvijanovich--the best of 3 1/2 decades.
"He's a real fierce competitor," Cvijanovich said. "He's been tremendous all year."
And in 12 months he went from role player to pacesetter.
"He grew three inches over the summer and he played 30 summer league games," Cvijanovich said of Cantrell.
"And he went to clinics. I thought he was a pretty good player at 6-1, but he needed that three extra goddang inches."
He can dunk, and his accuracy from three-point range is 43%.
Cantrell has exploded onto the scene with point totals of 30, 29, 30, 27, 27, 32, 31 and 26 while playing for a team that likes to keep the pace slow and point totals low.
Cantrell is the latest Saint to be groomed for Division I by Cvijanovich.
But Cvijanovich won't say which teams are recruiting him.
"He says I've been getting lots of letters, but he won't tell me from who until after the season," Cantrell said.
That might not be for another week or two.
Regardless of how Santa Clara fares against top-seeded Verbum Dei (23-2), the Saints have an automatic berth in the state tournament.