If Laguna Beach High boys’ basketball team was able to beat Don Bosco on Wednesday in the first round of CIF post season play, they will meet either Templeton or Whittier Christian (La Habra) on Friday night, Feb. 21 for a chance to equal the 2007 Breakers for most wins by a Bret Fleming-coached team with 23.
A victory will mark another milestone for a squad that features five senior starters and went undefeated in Orange Coast league play for the second year in a row, extending the program’s winning streak to a record 23 straight league victories over three seasons. “I’m going to miss this group. They’ve done a lot of good things together,” said Fleming. “I don’t think I’ve ever gone into the next season where I lost all five starters.”
Over the course of the regular season, Noah Blanton, Josh Adams, Alec Wulff, Matt Jones and Bryan Ludloff were on the floor for the opening tip in all but two of 26 games, scoring 92 percent of the team’s 1,522 total points. “When we play together, we’re pretty good,” said Wulff, who leads the team with 383 points heading into post-season play.
A junior transfer from San Diego’s Torrey Pines High School, Wulff had difficulty at first adapting to Fleming’s fast-paced offense. “It took a little while to learn,” said the 3-point shooting specialist who gradually began to find his range.
Heading into post season, Wulff had connected 67 times this year from behind the arc, the fourth highest total in school history. And his 118 3s over the past two years rank him fifth on the career list. “[Fleming’s] given me a lot of confidence to shoot the ball,” Wulff said.
“Alec is one of the best shooters in the county,” said Fleming, who’s sure Wulff’s totals would be higher if teams hadn’t changed their defensive strategy midway through the season in an effort to curtail his long range success. “It’s kind of a huge compliment to Alec that people guard him that way,” he said.
Wulff’s 3-point prowess isn’t the only weapon in Coach Fleming’s arsenal. And as defenses became preoccupied with the outside shooter, things began to open up on the inside for Adams, another junior transfer from Saddleback Valley Christian, who doubled his scoring average from a year ago and finished second on the team with 374 points. “[Adams is] really hard to stop without fouling him,” said Fleming of the 6’5” forward.
Blanton, Laguna’s other big man at 6’6, averaged 7.5 rebounds per game last season. This year he’s averaging 9.7, which puts him among the top five in division 4AA, and on the verge of cracking the Breakers single-season top ten list. “He’s just been such a force rebounding for us,” said Fleming
Blanton’s fearless drives to the hoop and thunderous dunks also seem to indicate he has finally shed the self-described nice guy image that held him back last year. “I just think from last year to this was a huge step forward for me,” said the team’s third leading scorer, whose 371 points this season give him 800 for his four-year varsity career
Wulff, Adams and Blanton, Laguna’s three-headed scoring monster, wouldn’t have survived without someone feeding them the ball on a regular basis. And the Breakers have two sous-chefs in Jones and Ludloff, assisting every scoring feast with enough crisp passes to keep everyone satisfied. Between them, they average nearly nine assists per game.
And when there’s no one to feed the ball to, Jones and Ludloff aren’t afraid to take a little nibble at the basket. Together they scored 271 points. “If I need to pass, if I need to score, if I need to rebound, I’ll just do whatever it takes to win,” said Jones
For all the offense these five bring to the court, none would be starting unless they first mastered the art of defense. Together, they have swiped 202 balls, for an average of nearly eight steals per game. And they hold opposing offenses to a paltry 45 points a game while scoring nearly 60. “If you don’t defend, you can’t get on the floor for us,” said Fleming. “It has to be part of what we do and who we are.”
Twenty-three straight league wins aside, the true measure of who this team really is can be found in its 10-5 record against division 1, 2 and 3 opponents. “We’ve beaten a lot of good teams,” said Fleming.
One exceptional team, El Toro, almost fell prey to a scrappy Laguna defense in the finals of the Irvine World News Tournament on Dec. 21. It was a game the Breakers let slip away after leading 29-14 at intermission. “We just absolutely kicked their butt in the first half,” said Fleming.
And though they held Orange County’s second-ranked team to a season low 41 points, in the end it was El Toro’s seemingly endless parade of fresh athletes against Laguna’s limited collection of exhausted talent that made the difference. “They basically just kind of wore us down,” said Fleming.
After 19 years and more than 500 games, Fleming is quick to put his career in perspective. “I’ve just been really blessed and fortunate to have really hard-working, nice kids that are willing to commit and sacrifice for the program,” said the veteran coach, who shows no sign of slowing down. “As long as I’m enjoying the kids and having fun.”