Joey Covarrubias makes his way to the net during a January game against Cathedral. (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles…)
When Montebello Cantwell-Sacred Heart holds its basketball awards banquet, Coach George Zedan should award a hard hat and lunch pail to senior guard Joey Covarrubias for his toughness in surviving a series of defensive assignments against players who one day we'll be watching on television in college or the NBA.
"We ask him to do a lot," Zedan said. "We ask him to be our Swiss Army knife."
College recruiters might want to set up a one-on-one interview with Covarrubias to hear his personal scouting reports after guarding many of the top players in Southern California over the last four months.
Among the players he has guarded this season are Lonzo Ball of Chino Hills, Marcus LoVett Jr. of San Gabriel Academy, Chris Sandifer of Woodland Hills Taft, Khalil Bedart-Ghani of Los Angeles Loyola, Bennie Boatwright of Sun Valley Village Christian, Kendall Small of Lakewood Mayfair, Deontae North of Corona Centennial, Ron Freeman of Gardena Serra, Lucas Siewert of L.A. Cathedral, Michael Oguine of West Hills Chaminade and Stanley Johnson of Santa Ana Mater Dei.
That's 11 standout players who will be playing college basketball in the coming years.
"It's something that drives me," the 6-foot-2 Covarrubias said. "It excites me and gives me that push. It's not easy. I don't want it to be easy. I want it to be a challenge."
His next assignment will be guarding junior guard Stevie Thompson Jr. of Torrance Bishop Montgomery in Saturday's 4 p.m. Division IV Southern California Regional final at Ontario Colony.
"He's just a calming presence to our team," Zedan said. "He's a phenomenal thinker on the court."
Covarrubias said trying to stop Mater Dei's Johnson was his toughest assignment.
"Honestly, I didn't get any sleep," he said of his preparation for Johnson.
Johnson ended up scoring 17 points, and Mater Dei needed overtime to beat the Cardinals, 66-59.
"He was tough," Covarrubias said. "He can shoot, he can get to the basket. He was really strong. I figured out his tendencies and what he likes to do."
However, Covarrubias found out Johnson doesn't have any weaknesses.
"He's mostly a right-handed player, but going to the left, he's as good as going to the right," he said. "I'd force him left into our bigs."
Covarrubias devotes so much energy and focus to defense that sometimes he has to let others score on offense. And yet, he leads his team in scoring at 14.8 points.
Cantwell-Sacred Heart is 23-8 and has never reached this point in the state playoffs. One more win and the Cardinals will be playing for their first state championship in Sacramento.
"It's great to have this opportunity," Covarrubias said. "We keep making history. Every one of my teammates is really excited and the school is in a great mood."
One day, Covarrubias will look back on his defensive assignments and probably wonder how he pulled it off.
"I love it," he said. "It's something I take pride in."