Almost 40 years ago, left-handed shooting guard named Gail Goodrich led Poly High to its first and only City Section boys' basketball championship.
Goodrich went on to become an All-American at UCLA, an all-star with the Lakers and a member of basketball's Hall of Fame.
No one is about to compare sophomore guard Mike Mgdesyan with Goodrich, but with a 4.0 grade-point average and what his coach says is the "heart of a lion," Mgdesyan is a worthy successor in the Goodrich tradition.
Mgdesyan will try to help Poly (16-11) claim its first basketball title since 1961 today when the No. 13-seeded Parrots take on No. 6 Jefferson (17-9) in the Division championship game at 3 p.m. at Loyola Marymount.
"We're very excited," said the 5-foot-10 Mgdesyan, who was born in Armenia and at age 4 moved with his family to the United States.
He started on Poly's freshman team last season when Coach Jay Werner didn't have time to evaluate whether Mgdesyan should play at a higher level. This season, Werner decided he wouldn't repeat the same mistake after watching Mgdesyan try out for the varsity.
"He showed me he wanted to body up against the best varsity guys," Werner said. "He hustles all over the court, and it's infectious."
Mgdesyan is averaging nine points while serving primarily as a three-point scoring threat. He's also assigned to cover the opposing team's best guard because of his relentless defensive pressure.
"He's kind of a throwback to the past," Werner said. "You coach the kid, he looks you in the face and tries to do the things you teach him."
Poly ended the regular season with consecutive losses, which denied the team a chance to win the Mid-Valley League title. But the players regrouped and have defeated Marshall, San Fernando and North Hollywood to reach the Division final.
Improved defense has been the key to the turnaround. Steve Smith, known more for scoring touchdowns as a running back in football, played excellent defense against North Hollywood in a semifinal.
"Steve Smith really stepped up and showed what kind of an athlete he is," Werner said. "He could be a prize fighter his hands are so quick."
James Word, a 6-3 guard, is Poly's main scoring threat. He's averaging 23 points.
But Mgdesyan is the player to watch when determining Poly's fate. His aggressiveness and hustle sets the tone.
"Without defense, you can't win, and that's what Coach [Werner] has been trying to teach us the whole year," Mgdesyan said. "Defense wins championships."
Poly last played in a championship game in 1977, losing in the 3-A final. . . . Jefferson's best players are center Malcolm Overton, forward Eric Lewis and guard Rodney Smith. The Democrats are guided by first-year Coach Tom Nitahara.