Since Lake Balboa Birmingham opened in 1953, the school had never won a City Section basketball title — until this season.
Under Coach Nick Halic, a 34-year-old Birmingham grad, the Patriots put together an 18-game winning streak while going unbeaten in January and February.
Even as the expectations and pressure grew, Halic kept his team focused. Then came the 85-80 triumph over Westchester to win the City Open Division title.
“This year we had a good combination of experience and really talented players,” Halic said. The Patriots also had a coach who learned his own lessons a year ago, losing to more experienced coaches and coming back wiser.
For guiding Birmingham to its first City title in school history, Halic has been selected the Los Angeles Times’ boys’ basketball coach of the year.
The Patriots finished with a 27-4 record and defeated rival Woodland Hills Taft four times. They also won against Santa Margarita, Oak Park, Harbor City Narbonne, Westchester (twice), Rancho Cucamonga Etiwanda and Long Beach Poly.
“A real challenge was keeping them centered and focused without letting them get too full of themselves,” Halic said.
Halic helped develop Devante Doutrive into the best player in the City Section. And his players remained unselfish to the end.
“I’m just really proud of them if you realize the amount of pressure on them all year,” Halic said. “I never brought [a title] up. The pressure starts to build. When are you going to choke? When are you going to slip up? They never did.”