“We are well aware of Grant. We will focus on him at practice. If we come out like we did tonight, it will be a close game. Our mentality is to hit the other team in the mouth before they hit us. We will come out intense and play good defense.” — Crespi point guard London Perrantes on facing Grant Jerrett and La Verne Lutheran.
By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
In the past four years the La Verne Lutheran boys basketball team has won two CIF-Southern Section divisional titles and back-to-back state championships in Division 5 and 3, respectively.
But what the second-seed Trojans (23-6) face in trying to win their third section title by advancing to tonight’s CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA semifinal against Crespi (23-6) at the University of La Verne at 7 p.m., might be their most difficult challenge of all.
The Division 4AA bracket is arguably the toughest in the Southern Section, which includes top-seed Serra taking on fourth-seed Price in the other semifinal.
Crespi, a fourth-place team from the extremely difficult Mission League, knocked off third-seed Bishop Montgomery 73-67 in the quarterfinals and the Celts have impressive wins on the resume over Price, Alemany, Harvard-Westlake and Loyola.
“Look at some of teams already eliminated in our division too, Windward, Harvard-Westlake and Oaks Christian,” Trojans coach Eric Cooper Sr., said. “There are a lot of teams that have won CIF championships the last few years in our division. It is what it is, you have to play great to win it.” (To continue click thread).
Lutheran knocked out Oaks Christian in the quarterfinals, winning 50-48 after the Lions missed a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.
Cooper’s son Eric Cooper Jr. missed the Trojans’ second-round win over Big Bear after suffering a broken finger in the first round.
It’s an injury that will require surgery when the season is over, but Cooper Jr., a junior committed to the University of Arizona, gutted it out and played in the Trojans’ win over Oaks Christian, finishing with six points and four assists.
The Trojans will need Cooper Jr., and McDonalds All-American senior Grant Jerrett, also on his way to Arizona, to have a chance against the Celts, who have a dynamic point guard in junior London Perrantes, who averages 15 points, and 6-foot-5 forward Michael Avery, who is going to Sonoma State and averages 10 points.
Junior Michael Milligan Jr., averages 14 points, giving the Celts three players that average double figures.
“Their point guard (Perrantes) makes the whole thing work,” Cooper said. “He’s their engine, he’s a good penetrated. We need to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible.
“They’re not real big, but they’re a scrappy group.”
What the Celts don’t have is anyone to match-up with Jerrett, the Trojans’ 6-foot-10 big man who averages 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Bigtime players need to show up in big games, and given the Trojans’ injury situation and depth, they will rely on Jerrett more than ever.
Lutheran will only have eight players suit up.
They’re missing 6-foot-8 freshman Nnamdi Okongwu (academic reasons), sophomore guard Tide Osifeso (broken wrist) and senior Brandon Shaw (leg injury).
Sophomore point guard Brandon Beard along with junior McKay Anderson and senior Cameron Osorno have been key contributors for the Trojans, but it all comes down to what they get from Jerrett, especially with Cooper Jr., limited because of his finger.
“Every game we have to lean on him,” Cooper said. “That’s the only player we have an advantage with over most teams. That’s not even a question, we have to go to him and everyone knows we have to go to him.
“But it’s not always easy. He’s always got teams hitting on him, shoving him and trying to push him in the air when he’s going for rebounds. But that’s the price you pay when you’re a McDonalds All-American. You’re the focus and you have to play through it.”
If Jerrett or the Trojans need any motivation, just listen to Perrantes thoughts on facing Jerrett and the Trojans.
“We are well aware of Grant,” Perrantes said. “We will focus on him at practice. If we come out like we did tonight, it will be a close game. Our mentality is to hit the other team in the mouth before they hit us. We will come out intense and play good defense.”
Lutheran also has a disadvantage in that technically it’s the Trojans’ home game at the University of La Verne, but the expected sold-out crowd will largely fans of traveling Crespi.
“That’s nothing new to us,” Cooper said. “We have 130 kids in the school and we’ve had three home games all year, we never feel like we have a home game.
“Other teams have the advantage of having their home crowd push them toward victory, but it is what it is, we’re use to this. It won’t make any difference.”