While a bunch of millionaires squabbled over how to divide a huge pile of NBA cash, Laguna’s high school hoopsters opened what promises to be an exciting season of unselfish Breaker basketball last Tuesday at Dugger gym against Anaheim’s Western High School in the second round of the Godinez Tournament. “They don’t really care who scores,” said head coach Brett Fleming. “That’s why this year’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Laguna returns all but one starter from a team that saw last season cut short when Tyler Masukawa’s desperation lay up rolled off the rim to give Whittier Christian a 55-54 overtime win at Dugger gym in the second round of CIF. After directing Fleming’s offense from his point guard position for the better part of two years, Masukawa will begin his senior campaign on the bench as he works to overcome off-season injuries.
When he’s healthy, Masukawa’s quickness and ability to penetrate often frees up his teammates for open looks on the perimeter. “He was really good for us last year,” said Fleming. “He just needs to get back in and earn it back, which he’s capable of doing, certainly.”
In Masukawa’s absence, Jake Dalke will assume the point guard duties. The naturally gifted junior guard, who used to favor the outside shot before the weight room packed some extra pounds of muscle on his now 6’3” frame, is now more apt to take the ball into the teeth of the defense. “I realized that I had to use my body to my advantage,” Dalke said.
Dalke and Tyler Kesler, the only senior starter last year, tied for team high scoring honors with 222 points. Dalke amassed his total on a bum knee that plagued him most of the year. “He pretty much played on one leg,” said Fleming. “He’s healthy this year, so that makes a huge difference.”
Dalke isn’t the only one to benefit from more time in the weight room. “I think kids are stronger and better at getting to the rim,” said Fleming.
That’s good news for a team that, at times, struggled for rebounds last season. Sophomore Noah Blanton, who is 6’4” and plays above the rim, should pick up some of the slack. “He’ll definitely help us on the boards,” said Dalke.
When it’s finally time for him to hang up his helmet and pads, senior Derek Reigel will provide some muscle at the other forward position. But tonight he’ll be at wide receiver as the Breakers take on arch rival Corona del Mar in CIF semi finals at Guyer Field. “He’s always a bruiser on the boards,” said Dalke of the two-sport star.
“Whenever he’s done with [football], he’ll be a welcome addition back for us,” said Fleming.
Laguna looks to add to its string of five straight league titles with a hard-to-guard motion offense that is designed to create scoring opportunities both inside and out. “I think we’ve got a pretty good mix of kids that can do both,” said Fleming.
If teams try to over defend the middle, smooth shooters like seniors Brandon Lewis and Jack Pillsbury, and junior Cole Kesler, who combined to score 416 points last season, will light it up from the three-point are. If defenses cheat outside, Dalke, Reigel, Blanton and senior post man Luke Barker will get high percentage looks near the hoop.
But the real key to Fleming’s offense, something they have been working on all year, is recognizing the defense and “Making reads and seeing who’s open and not just playing like robots,” said Dalke.
Finding the open man on any given play is a product of familiarity and repetition. “I think the biggest thing is chemistry,” said Fleming of a team that has several years of history together.
A stifling man-to-man defense is the other half of a Fleming-coached team. And his well-conditioned squads run it and run it until they run the opposition out of time and energy. “We just have a lot of pieces,” said Fleming. “I kind of feel like we’ve got eight or nine kids that we could go pick five and start them.”