Four years ago, Blake Burzell arrived at Laguna Beach High as a score-first freshman searching to make his mark.
As Burzell's high school basketball career came to a close in February, there is no questioning the place he carved out in Breakers basketball lore.
Burzell scored at will during his four seasons at Laguna Beach. In his final one, Burzell earned the Daily Pilot Boys' Basketball Dream Team Player of the Year honor because he developed into the ultimate team player.
The 6-foot-6 guard's 2,250 career points and 224 career three-pointers rank first all-time in school history. He also holds the program's single-game record for points, 49, set during a win over San Bernardino Cajon as a junior during the 2016-17 season.
As impressive as these individual accolades are, however, the team accomplishments compiled during Burzell's senior campaign are what he will remember most.
The Breakers recorded a program-best 25 wins in the 2017-18 regular season. It is no coincidence this historic run came as Burzell made the greatest growth of his Laguna Beach career, evolving into a selfless leader on the court, trusting his teammates and finding joy in their success.
"He came in as a freshman with a scoring mentality," Laguna Beach coach Bret Fleming said. "One of the biggest growths he made was learning how to share the ball and be a part of a team. That was the thing I remember most about him this year. Just watching him smile after throwing really good passes, and knowing that what was making us good was his ability to be a willing passer."
Burzell showcased his all-around game. He averaged 21.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.2 three-pointers and two steals per game this season, earning him All-CIF Southern Section Division 3AA and fourth-team All-Orange County honors, and a share of the Orange Coast League MVP award with teammate Charlie Rounaghi.
Laguna Beach went 10-0 in Orange Coast League play, closing out the program's tenure in the league on a high note. The Breakers will move to the Sunset League next season.
Burzell looks back on a pair of in-season tournament championship games as his fondest on-court memories from his last season. The first came on Dec. 2, as Laguna Beach downed Aliso Niguel to win the Grizzly Invitational at Godinez High. The next followed two weeks later, as Burzell led the Breakers to a revenge victory over Orange Lutheran in the Charlie Wilkins Memorial Tournament title game at Westminster High.
"With Aliso Niguel, I grew up playing with Harminder [Dhaliwal], Dylan [Dickerson] and a couple other guys on the team," Burzell said. "It was a good rivalry, and they're buddies, so it was a big win and we got to show them who is boss. For Orange Lutheran, we got beat by [the Lancers] in the first game of the tournament. They're in the Trinity League, so it's a big deal when a little public school beats a Trinity League team. That was a big win for us."
Unfortunately for Burzell and the Breakers, the season ended much earlier than anyone around the program anticipated.
After a wildly successful regular season, Laguna Beach, the No. 2 seed, was upset by Twentynine Palms in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA playoffs. The Breakers lost 57-54, finishing 26-4 overall, one win short of tying the program's all-time record of 27 victories, which was set during the 1961-62 season, the last time Laguna Beach won a section title.
As disappointing as the early exit was for Fleming, watching the end of a journey for this group stung the most.
"Bittersweet would be an understatement," said Fleming, whose team exited the postseason in the second round for the second straight season. "I'm still not over it. The week afterwards, I was having a tough time shaking it. I thought we lost before we should have, for sure, but I kind of figured out that what I was upset about was that the journey was over with these kids. Some of these kids I've known since they were in third or fourth grade. Blake and Charlie were both four-year varsity players.
"It was rough to lose, especially when I think it was our own fault that we lost, and probably could still be playing. But that's how it goes. You have March Madness … and there's going to be upsets all over the place. The hope is that you aren't the one getting upset."
While his time on the hardwood for Laguna Beach has run its course, Burzell's athletic career is far from over. He is a standout pitcher for the Breakers, and after decommitting from Duke last year, is headed to Arizona State to play baseball.
As Burzell embarks on this journey, he will carry over some of the lessons learned on the court over the past few years. In particular, the team-centric mentality he developed as an upperclassman.
"Basketball helps a lot with being a leader and learning how to take a game over, [and] that carries back over to the baseball field," said Burzell, who helped Laguna Beach win a CIF Southern Section Division 4 baseball title, the school's first section crown, two years ago as a sophomore. "When I'm pitching, I can carry the team and do my part. If something happens, I know my teammates will be there to have my back and make up for it. You can't do anything outside of yourself, so you just have to keep pushing your teammates. They obviously don't want to make errors, but the worst thing you can do is put them down. You learn to keep grinding and doing the best you can do, because that's all you can control."
While Burzell's bright future on the baseball diamond is undoubted, there is no denying his passion for the game of basketball. And although his competitive career in the sport has reached its end, Burzell acknowledges that the game will be forever ingrained in him.
From championship victories to making lifelong friends, his career at Laguna Beach has ensured this.
"I just love playing the game, and getting to play with those guys made it even better," said Burzell, who is also the Breakers' all-time leader for career rebounds with 814. "When I look back on my time at Laguna Beach, I'll remember all the fun and laughter and winning the championships games. I don't really care about my records. All I can remember is all the fun that I had."
COACH OF THE YEAR
Torribio is a true Sailor. He played for the program in the 1990s, served as an assistant in the 2000s, then took over as the head coach during the 2012-13 season. When Torribio got what he called his "dream job" back then, many thought he was dreaming when he said he would turn things around at Newport Harbor, which was coming off its fourth straight season with an overall losing record. Torribio steered the program in the right direction. Each season the Sailors improved, and in the latest one, they were rewarded with a big prize. Torribio guided the Sailors to their first Sunset League championship since 1979-80. Newport Harbor, which shared first with Edison at 8-2, claimed its first league crown since winning the Sea View League in 2001-02. Torribio led the Sailors to a 21-7 overall record, becoming the eighth team in school history to win at least 20 games in a season. One of those victories came in a 68-67 double-overtime win against rival Corona del Mar in the Battle of the Bay, ending the Sea Kings' nine-game winning streak in the series. The win marked Newport Harbor's first over CdM since 2005-06.
G | Marina | Jr.
Alamudun turned the Vikings, who only won three games in 2016-17, into a winner this season. Marina finished 16-12 overall and 5-5 in the Sunset League, good enough for fourth place and an at-large entry into the CIF Southern Section Division 3A playoffs. Alamudun's 23 points led the Vikings to a 72-50 rout at La Quinta in the first round, marking the program's first postseason win since 2008-09. The 6-foot-4, 194-pounder averaged 21.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, and made 87.4% of his free throws. The junior earned All-CIF Southern Section Division 3A, first-team All-Sunset League and third-team All-Orange County accolades.
G | Pacifica Christian Orange County | So.
The Gonzaga commit put the Tritons on the map during his time at the school. Harris plans to transfer out of Pacifica Christian at the end of the school year to Temecula Rancho Christian, which is closer to his home in Murrieta. The 6-foot-4 point guard averaged 24.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 steals per game this season. A year after leading the Tritons to their first CIF Southern Section finals appearance, Harris took them back to postseason. Harris received All-CIF Southern Section Division 5AAA, fifth-team All-Orange County and first-team All-San Joaquin League recognition. Harris is a repeat Dream Team selection.
G | Edison | Sr.
Whenever the Chargers needed to make a big shot or a defensive stop, Atencio was their guy, and often times, he delivered. The 6-foot-2 senior point guard led Edison to a share of the Sunset League championship for the second straight season. He averaged 13.6 points, 4.5 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game, sharing the Sunset League MVP award and making the All-Orange County fourth team. Edison almost pulled off an upset at top-seeded Oak Park before losing in overtime in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. Atencio, a two-sport standout, also made the Dream Team in football.
G | Corona del Mar | Sr.
The high-flying Kobrine always put on a show for the Sea Kings. The 6-foot-5 senior led the team in almost every statistical category, averaging 18.8 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game, and he shared the top spot with 1.3 blocks per game. His best overall performance came at University, where he scored 37 points on 15-of-23 shooting, grabbed 27 rebounds, blocked two shots and had two assists. The UCLA men's volleyball commit made the All-Pacific Coast League first team and the All-Orange County fifth team as a basketball player. Kobrine is a repeat Dream Team selection.
G | Newport Harbor | Jr.
Barela keyed the Sailors' breakthrough regular season, which included semifinal appearances in the Grizzly Invitational at Godinez High, the Tartan Classic at St. Margaret's High and the Century Elks Holiday Classic, their first win over Corona del Mar in the Battle of the Bay since 2005-06, and their first Sunset League title since 1979-80. The 6-foot-3 junior hit a 38-footer at the buzzer to send the Battle of the Bay into overtime, as well as a jumper to beat Los Alamitos in a league finale. Barela shared the Sunset League MVP honor after averaging 10 points and five assists per game.
C | Ocean View | Sr.
Thanks to the 6-foot-9 Harvey and his 7-3 wingspan, the Seahawks reached the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA playoffs. The senior center averaged 17.6 points, 13.4 rebounds, 5.7 blocks and one steal per game, earning him All-CIF Southern Section Division 3AA and fourth-team All-Orange County honors, and a share of the Golden West League MVP. Harvey, who recorded three triple-doubles this season, led Ocean View to its third consecutive undefeated Golden West League crown. Coach Roger Holmes said Harvey has committed to William & Mary, an NCAA Division I program in Williamsburg, Va. Harvey is a repeat Dream Team selection.
Position, Name, School, Year
G Paul Head, Ocean View, Sr.
G Nico Dasca, Costa Mesa, Jr.
G John Humphreys, Corona del Mar, So.
F Dayne Chalmers, Newport Harbor, Jr.
F Spencer Serven, Edison, Sr.
C Josh Phillips, Edison, Sr.