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Harvard-Westlake's Josh Hearlihy makes his presence felt on the court

ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

The 6-foot-7 junior, who is the team's leading scorer, has become a key player in helping the Wolverines handle the full-court press. Harvard-Westlake defeated Los Angeles Loyola, 81-74, Friday night.

January 14, 2011|Eric Sondheimer

Josh Hearlihy has been kissed so many times by girls through the years that he doesn't have a blush left in him.

At four days old, he was in the gym being hugged, cuddled and squeezed by players coached by his mother, Melissa, a long-time girls' basketball coach.

At 17, he still hangs out at his mother's games at North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake, cheering, rooting and not minding occasional embraces.

He also has grown into a 6-foot-7 junior with basketball skills that are going to earn him a college scholarship.

"He's getting better by huge strides," Wolverines' boys' Coach Greg Hilliard said.

On Friday night, they had so many people jammed into Harvard-Westlake's gym for a Mission League game against rival Los Angeles Loyola that it was a minor miracle the fire marshal let it take place. Not even during the days of the Collins twins in the 1990s has the Wolverines' gym been so filled.

The crowd got to see a high-quality performance from both teams before Harvard-Westlake (16-2) prevailed, 81-74, for its 13th consecutive victory. Zena Edosomwan, a 6-8 junior with big-time skills, scored 26 points, and 6-7 Damiene Cain added 25 points.

Harvard-Westlake students charged onto the court at the final buzzer to celebrate as if they had just scored a victory over Duke. They love their basketball, and they adore Hearlihy, who's the team's leading scorer at 15.4 points a game.

He's considered a late bloomer because he didn't begin his growth spurt until eighth grade.

"We constantly laugh how in eighth grade at Christmas time, he was 5-10 and I'm 6 feet," Melissa said. "Then, by the end of his eighth-grade year, he was 6-4. He's almost 6-7 now, stands behind me and calls me, 'Little Mommy.'"

Hearlihy is left-handed and developing a nice shooting touch. But what really makes him stand out on the court are his instincts and ability to create opportunities for teammates.

"As a coach, I love a playmaker, and I think that's one of the things he's really gifted at," Melissa said. "He sees the floor very early, is able to get the ball to people in positions, threading the needle, being a quarterback on the floor."

After coaching for 27 years at Mission Hills Alemany and now Harvard-Westlake, Melissa Hearlihy is adjusting to a new role.

"It is much more difficult being a parent in the stands than a coach," she said.

Opposing coaches are having to deal with Josh Hearlihy's rising presence.

"The first thing I notice with him is he's doing a great job with his body," Loyola Coach Jamal Adams said. "He's always been talented. His body has come together."

Hearlihy has become a key player for the Wolverines in helping out against full-court presses, which had been considered a team weakness. His height is used as an advantage.

"It definitely helps from the standpoint of the press, where I can see over the top of the press and find the open man and open gap," he said. "If a small guard is on me, I can post him up."

While Hearlihy and his mother have lots of responsibilities during the day and night, they find a way to rely on each other.

"We're on the same page most of the time," Josh Hearlihy said. "We're working as a team even though we're separate teams."

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/latsondheimer

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