He can dunk; shoot from three-point range; make a 15-footer; dribble with his eyes closed; lead with unselfish passes.
Point guard Deschon Winston of Lake Balboa Birmingham has become the basketball player he always envisioned, and now the 6-foot-3 senior is preparing to be an important figure in Saturday’s City Section Open Division championship game against Westchester at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
“It’s something special,” he said.
Birmingham has never played for a City basketball title in the highest division. Westchester has won 13 titles.
And yet, Winston is exactly the kind of player you want playing in his first championship game.
He has what his coach, Nick Halic, says is “a chip on his shoulder.” That’s from being underappreciated.
“It was frustrating at first,” Winston said. “You’d work real hard and people would be like, ‘Oh, you’re too short, you’re too small.’ Then you keep working hard and outwork people and you see people not getting better and you keep getting better. When you finally get your chance, you just have to seize it.”
Winston seized his moment. He’s averaging 18 points a game for the 26-3 Patriots, seeded No. 1 in the City Section.
“He’s improved in all aspects,” Halic said.
When Winston entered high school at El Camino Real as a freshman, he was 5-7. He watched from the bleachers when El Camino Real won the City title in 2014 against Westchester. Now it’s his chance to play in the final.
“It means a lot to me,” he said. “This is what I always wanted to do.”
When Winston and Devante Doutrive arrived at Birmingham as juniors, a program that rarely ranked among the best in the West Valley League suddenly got a lot better. Then Doutrive’s brother, Devonaire, came from Alaska. Then Mark Boland and Josh Abrams developed into complementary players.
It’s up to Winston to make sure everyone is on the same page, though the challenge isn’t that difficult.
“I don’t even have to try,” he said. “We automatically do that. We start off in practice already unselfish. We automatically hit the open person. It’s just the way we play. We can all score. It doesn’t matter who gets a point or who gets an assist. As long as we’re winning, we’re all OK.”
Birmingham went 22-10 last season but started showing its potential by upsetting La Verne Damien, 81-78, in last year’s state playoffs. This season, the Patriots won the Redondo tournament in November, beating Westchester, 84-74, in the championship game.
Halic put together the toughest schedule in school history, and the Patriots responded with wins over Santa Margarita, Narbonne, Oak Park, Etiwanda, Long Beach Poly, Northridge Heritage Christian and four victories over Taft.
If Birmingham is able to defeat the Comets, the Patriots would likely get the additional reward of facing Chino Hills in the opening round of the Southern California state regionals. There won’t be a gym big enough to hold the crowd, because both teams would seek to score more than 100 points.
Getting past Westchester, though, is a big task. Halic insists his team is the underdog against the Comets, coached by Ed Azzam, the winningest coach in City Section history.
But Winston & Co. have prepared all season for this moment, and they know how to deliver their best in big games.