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Boys' basketball: The rise of Chino Hills has caught some by surprise

 It's not easy joining the party when it comes to breaking into the elite level of high school basketball in Southern California, but that's what Chino Hills (26-4) has done this season in reaching the Southern Section Open Division championship game on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. against Santa Ana Mater Dei (30-0) at the Honda Center.

Fourth-year Coach Steve Baik has already pulled off a surprise. In his last three games, he has picked up coaching victories over three of Southern California's best coaches _ Bishop Montgomery's Doug Mitchell, Etiwanda's Dave Kleckner and Redondo's Reggie Morris Jr. Now he gets to face Gary McKnight, the winningest coach in California history.

Baik and his players are showing they are not intimidated by the task at hand. Chino Hills has never won a section title, let alone reached a championship game. But then the Huskies have never had two brothers quite like the Ball brothers. Lonzo Ball is the outstanding sophomore point guard who's committed to UCLA. LiAngelo Ball is a freshman guard who has shown a knack for shooting well from outside.

They've joined seniors KC Cyprian, Mark Williams and Bishop Mency. Combined with 6-foot-9 junior center Nnamdi Okongwu, Chino Hills has won 16 consecutive games.

"We are so deep," Baik said. "A new person could lead us in scoring and it doesn't matter. We're so unselfish."

The tone is set by Lonzo Ball, who does whatever it takes to lead his team to victory.

Regardless what happens Saturday, Chino Hills appears ready to stick around for a few years as Southern California's newest elite team.

Eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

 

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