By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
It was quite the turnaround this season for the Bell High School boys basketball team.
The Eagles went 13-11 last season, and around this time last year they were getting ready to watch March Madness. This year, Bell is 22-5 and creating its very own kind of madness, the kind that has Pasadena’s attention.
Bell will visit No. 2 seed Pasadena on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the second round of the CIF State Division III playoffs.
Bell’s turnaround hasn’t gone unnoticed, especially to Pasadena coach Tim Tucker. Bell is coached by Alexander Del Hierro, who played under Tucker while he was an assistant to George Terzian at Pasadena City College. Del Hierro was a big man who possessed the kind of quality most big men in high school lack these days: discipline.
“He was a little injury prone but he had good skills and was a really hard worker,” Tucker recalls. “He’s a smart kid and I can understand why his team is so smart. They’re disciplined because he was disciplined.”
Bell is the L.A. City Section Division 3 champion, and the Eagles earned their way to a banner season. Bell’s schedule is loaded with big challenges. The Eagles are one of only six teams to hand CIF-SS Division 6 champion Renaissance Academy a loss. The Eagles swept Garfield in Eastern League play. Garfield reached the semifinals of the L.A. City Section Division 2 playoffs before losing to eventual champion El Camino.
Other big teams on Bell’s schedule includeSt. John Bosco, also in the state playoffs, and Oak Park, which reached the CIF-SS Division 3AA title game.
“His team mirrors him as a coach,” Tucker said. “He’s getting the most out of them. They work hard and that win (Wednesday) night came against a very good Mt. Whitney team.”
Pasadena has gotten off to slow starts in almost every playoff game, and a lot of that has to do with piling injuries and ailments.
First, sophomore point guard Ajon Efferson rolled his ankle in the semifinals and that’s limited his time in practice. Junior forward Brandon Jolley in the week leading to the finals experienced headaches that kept him out of practice.
As if that wasn’t enough, John Haywood spent most of last week at the dentist’s office and Perris Hicks had his knee slammed by an opening door during school.
On Wednesday night, Blake Hamilton took an elbow to the head that required a visit to the hospital after the Bulldogs’ 72-55 win over South Torrance.
“It’s a long season,” Tucker said. “We’re tired and we have a bit of injuries. We didn’t have a solid starting five in practice the whole (last) week. Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong, but we’re still playing.”
The challenge for Pasadena will be figuring out how to improve offensively while some of its starters are sidelined to nurse injuries. Tucker is not worried about Pasadena’s defense, which recorded 21 steals and forced 19 turnovers against South Torrance.
But offense is lacking, and not having a full lineup at practice has put a damper on how to make improvements.
Calling on all fans
Pasadena sold out its game against Bonita in the second round of the CIF-SS playoffs and then again against Beverly Hills in the semifinals, but in both games the Bulldogs were overwhelmed with the visitors bringing a large contingent of supporters that made Pasadena look more like the visiting team.
In the finals, Pasadena was outdrawn again, by Arroyo Grande, which made the 200-mile trek from San Luis Obispo to Anaheim.
Besides winning, Pasadena is trying to do everything it can to draw fans, like bringing three food trucks, which will be parked outside the footsteps of the gym.
Perhaps Bulldogs fans are just used to winning and taking this next run for granted.
After all, Pasadena made its fifth CIF-SS finals trip in the last 10 years.