They hug nonstop as if they are brothers. They offer high-fives as if they are best friends. They send out tweets promoting each other as if they really care. And they do.
There is nothing fake about how players and coaches from the Los Angeles Loyola High basketball team treat one another. They consider themselves family. When Coach Jamal Adams' father had surgery earlier this year, players were sending out text messages offering support. When assistant coach Ryan Bailey announced he was leaving to become head coach at Brentwood, every player dropped what he was doing on a Saturday morning to show up for a fall-league game and send Bailey off with a victory. When Walt Hazzard, the grandfather of two Loyola players, died last week, teammates were there providing support.
"I'm thrilled with the type of kids we have," Adams said. "I'm trying to sell them [that] the whole is greater than the parts. We're terribly excited about our prospects. The reality is we're very blessed with talented fellows."
It's not simply talent that makes the Cubs one of the top teams in Southern California basketball. It's their unselfishness and team chemistry. Few schools have a better collection of guards, and Adams must find a way to keep everyone happy. But the players seem more than willing to place their trust in Adams while trying to earn playing time by their performance in practice. It's an old concept that has worked many times when teams and players buy into it, and based on their summer and fall results, it's working.
"One of my favorite things I say to kids all the time is attack adversity," Adams said. "And the best way is in a group. Any time we hit a rough patch, the hardest thing is to navigate it alone. The talent is apparent. We have a tremendous amount of guys who can put the ball into the basket."
It all starts with sophomore point guard Parker Cartwright, whom UCLA Coach Ben Howland already wants to make the Bruins' point guard for 2014-15. Cartwright can score, dribble, play defense and lead. He's good in the clutch and good at getting other players involved in the offense. There's 6-foot-5 Julian Harrell, a senior committed to Pennsylvania whose versatility makes him invaluable. Senior guard Jacob Hazzard can be a prolific shooter at times, and senior guard Justin Childress can play point guard or shooting guard. Then there's 6-6 senior center Khaliq Bedart-Ghani, a brilliant student who's willing to dive for loose balls and sacrifice his body if that's what it takes to help the team succeed.
There's lots of depth too. Thomas Welsh is a 6-11 sophomore center making steady progress. Trey Mason is a junior guard with tremendous three-point shooting skills. Freshman point guard Max Hazzard, Jacob's brother, is projected as a future standout.
Four starters are back from last year's 25-6 team that won the Southern Section Division 1A championship and came close to knocking off Santa Ana Mater Dei in the state playoffs.
When the season begins next week, opponents will try to outmuscle the Cubs inside and hope the guards have a rare off shooting night.
Loyola's strategy will be to run, run, run.
"We've got a lot of team speed," Adams said. "We're going to try to play a high tempo and when we're successful, we have a lot of confidence."
It's a different time for the Cubs.
"We used to be the hunters," Adams said. "Now we're the hunted."
Dealing with expectations will be a season-long challenge, but the Cubs seem ready.
And watch out for lots of hugging and high-fives. That's what family members do.