Above: 1986 State Championship will play in the 25th Anniversary Alumni game at Wilson High School on Saturday at 7 p.m.
By Aram Tolegian, Staff Writer
After plenty of time out, 25 years to be precise, together is exactly what that Wildcats will be again on Saturday night when they will reunite to play a fundraiser game against the school’s current varsity team. “I’ve played in a lot of big arenas, but this is where it all started,” said `86 team member Scott Williams, who went on to play at the University of North Carolina and later won three NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls. “I can’t believe it’s been 25 years. To me, it feels like a flash. It all went by so fast. It was a special time.” (to continue click thread)
The special time Williams is referring hasn’t been forgotten around campus.
The Wildcats went 31-3 in `86, winning the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 championship over Ganesha at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. The team then tore through the state playoffs and posted a 72-46 victory over Aptos High of Northern California in the state championship game in Oakland. At the time, it was the biggest margin of victory in a state title game.
The memories still burn bright for the entire team, which through the Internet has stayed in contact despite the fact that five of the former players now live outside of California.
“Facebook has really been the catalyst for this,” said Neil Weingarten, who was a forward on the `86 team and now lives in Houston. “There’s been about 10 of us on Facebook who have reconnected and we sort of bonded again.
“That’s what’s so amazing, it’s been 25 years and we all still have the same excitement about this team.”
A team reunion started as a lark last summer by guard Damon Owens, who asked his teammates if they simply wanted to reunite. There was no talk of a game, at first, but somehow the idea for Saturday’s event blossomed.
“I wasn’t aware at first that we were going to play a game until after the wheels were already in motion,” Williams said with a laugh. “I’ve probably gained 60 pounds and I didn’t think I had anything left to prove on the basketball court. But, since it’s for a fundraiser, I have no problem doing it.”
Joining the players will be their former coach Mike Lowe, who has been the head coach at La Serna High in Whittier since 1990. Lowe left Wilson the season after the state championship to take a job at San Gorgonio High. Coaching the `86 group again is something that causes Lowe great emotion.
“I could never repay those guys for what they did for me,” Lowe said. “What those guys accomplished gave me my coaching career. I know it wasn’t their intention. They were there to win games, but it’s given me credibility. It’s taken the pressure off of being a coach.”
After being eliminated earlier than expected in the 1985 CIF-Southern Section playoffs, the Wildcats came back with a vengeance for the `86 season. They made a pact among to forget about individual statistics and concentrate simply on winning.
“That team wasn’t about me,” Williams said. “Heck, I didn’t care about my individual statistics, I had already signed to play at North Carolina that summer. Winning CIF and State, those were the goals.”
Wilson showed it was something special right away when it went to Las Vegas for a tournament before league play started and knocked off a team from Philadelphia that was ranked No. 7 in the country and a team from Seattle that was ranked No. 23.
The Wildcats weren’t unbeatable, though. Rival Los Altos, led by current Conquerors head coach Jeff Lucas, former Utah tight end Steve Peters and Ty Watkins, upset Wilson in a Sierra League game.
The Wildcats rebounded and soon found themselves playing Ganesha for the Southern Section Division 2 title. Ganesha was led by brothers Donald and Ronald English, and Kevin Cutler, who later played at Long Beach State. Ronald English is now head football coach at Eastern Michigan after being the defensive coordinator at Michigan and Louisville in recent years.
Ganesha gave Wilson all it could handle. The Wildcats needed two free throws from sixth man Anthony Delsi to take a three-point lead before giving up a concession basket in the closing seconds. The game was played before there was a 3-point line, so Wilson was in little danger of being tied on Ganesha’s final possession.
As Lowe explains it, the Los Altos loss was the wake-up call the Wildcats needed. Wilson went on to win its next 13 games and put itself in the Southern Section and state history books.
After spending 15 years in the NBA, winning championships alongside such greats as Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Williams is obviously the headliner of the returning group. He will take the court on Saturday joined by the rest of the `86 starting five – Dwain Daniels at point guard, Owens and Paul Barriga at guard and Weingarten at forward.
Delsi, who Weingarten called the most clutch player on the team, will come off the bench and may come in handy if the `86 Wildcats are under the threat of an upset loss to the current varsity squad. Also coming off the bench will be Darin Blizzard and Joel Francisco, both of whom went on to play water polo at Long Beach State.
Most of the players will attend tonight’s game against San Dimas, where they will be announced before the game and Williams will have his jersey retired at halftime.
Williams currently lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. and works as a television analyst for the Phoenix Suns. He estimates he hasn’t been in Hacienda Heights in more than 15 years, but his ritual following Saturday’s game might be the same as it was 25 years ago.
“Winning a game and going to In-N-Out on 7th Avenue for a double-double was always special,” Williams said. “They always tasted a little bit better after a victory.”