SANTA ANA — Los Angeles Crenshaw Coach Willie West knew what his team had to do to defeat Mater Dei in the Southern California Regional Division I boys' final, but the veteran coach didn't want to offer that information readily after the 78-67 victory at the Pond.
"You mean, you had to stop Kevin Augustine, right?" West was asked.
West grimaced and adjusted his tie. Yes, he offered warily. "He is their best player."
Such tributes--even diplomatic ones from one of Southern California's best high school coaches--were paid often this season to Augustine, The Times Orange County boys' basketball player of the year. The 6-foot junior was, simply, the guy most responsible for getting the Monarchs farther in the playoffs than any other county boys' team this season.
And as disappointed as he was in his nine-point, seven-turnover performance in Mater Dei's loss to Crenshaw--he was double- and triple-teamed most of the game--Augustine can take heart in the fact that he was often guarded by the opponent's best player night after night.
"We had a great season," Augustine said. "We were one win away from going to the state final. People said we couldn't do that. We proved them wrong."
Several plays help define the season for Augustine, who also was named South Coast League player of the year and Las Vegas Holiday Prep Classic most valuable player. In the Monarchs' 63-57 overtime victory over Los Angeles Fremont in the Southern California Regional semifinals, Augustine was banged around, pushed, chased and double-teamed most of the night. Still, he defended a Fremont dribbler into a double team with seconds to go, allowing teammate David Castleton to strip the ballhandler of the ball and preserve a victory. Augustine finished with 12 assists.
"He is just such a fantastic kid," Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight said. "He does so many things for you. Other teams have to concentrate on him so much that even if he doesn't score a lot, he makes his presence known."
Mater Dei (34-2) ran off 34 consecutive victories after its 50-41 loss to Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy in its season opener, a game in which Augustine set the tone for his season by scoring 20 points.
That winning streak wouldn't have survived had it not been for Augustine's heroics, most specifically his 37-point, eight-rebound, three-assist performance in a 76-71 double-overtime victory over Las Vegas Bishop Gorman in the Las Vegas tournament. The Monarchs trailed by two points with seven seconds to go in regulation, when Augustine went above the rim to grab a rebound, dribbled the length of the court and scored on a lay-in to send the game into overtime.
Then there was his steal and game-winning basket with 10 seconds left to lift the Monarchs to a 50-48 victory over Rowland Heights Rowland in the Southern Section Division I-A quarterfinals. Mater Dei went on to win its fifth consecutive section title.
"He's an exceptional player," said Woodbridge's Chris Burgess, a 6-10 all-county center who attended Mater Dei with Augustine when they were freshmen. "He sees the floor so well, probably better than anyone, and he can give the ball up when he has to. If you are open, he will find you."
Augustine elevated his play this year by taking on a scoring role, averaging 18.5 points.
"There were some things said about me before the season began, that I couldn't score, that all I did was pass, that our team wouldn't be that good, and all that drove me every night," Augustine said.