BURBANK — For most teams, summer league basketball is about learning to play together. Some have more work to do than others and that was visible when the La Cañada High and Bellarmine-Jefferson boys’ squads met in a contest Tuesday at Burbank High.
The Spartans’ five starters spent all of last year playing together, while the Guards welcomed three new transfers, who joined the team within the last week, aboard.
It was clear what team was more comfortable together, as La Cañada had the chemistry advantage and proceeded to cruise to a 63-48 win. The victory came thanks in large part to Koko Kurdoghlian, who finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds.
From the returning seniors to incoming sophomores, Kurdoghlian said there’s chemistry up and down the lineup.
“We’ve all played together so we all kind of know what everyone does,” Kurdoghlian said of the starting group for La Cañada, which included himself and seniors Dan Jun, Jacob Brown, Alec Baktamian and Kyle Thomas. “Whenever a guy is in their comfort zone, you should just give them the ball and let them do their thing.”
Kurdoghlian, the Spartans standout point guard from a year ago, nearly logged a double-double in the second half alone with 12 points and nine rebounds.
“He played a great game, he took great shots and stayed under control,” La Cañada Coach Tom Hofman said of Kurdoghlian. “Offensively, he was really, really good. He’s going to be a great player, but he’s still young.”
Bell-Jeff dominated the glass Tuesday with a 35-23 rebound advantage, thanks to a 22-8 edge in the first half. It was done in by 17 turnovers to 10 from La Cañada, which also hit 11 three-pointers to the Guards’ two.
It was the turnovers — a result of a lack of chemistry — that stung the must, Bell-Jeff Coach Julian Andrade said.
“We’ve got some transfers, but you’ve still got to get that chemistry going,” said Andrade, who graduated seven seniors last year and also played without his star Malcom Regisford, who’s on a college recruiting trip. “Chemistry is going to be tough, but I like the personnel. We’ve got some size, so I can work with that.”
“We’re going to take our lumps in the summer; we look intimidating but we’ve got a lot of work.”
Bell-Jeff received a double-double from Clark Thomas (13 points, 10 rebounds), an incoming junior transfer from Renaissance Academy. He was joined on the floor by fellow transfers Miles Hopkins and Carlos Guillen, a senior from Pacifica Christian and junior from Taft, respectively.
Returners Abid Oses (11 points, eight rebounds, two steals), Raffy Verano (10 points, four rebounds) and Parker Williams (seven points, six rebounds) also provided a lift for the Guards.
“We’ve just got to keep playing, it’s just the summer,” Oses said. “[The summer’s] about building the chemistry and getting ready for December.”
La Cañada began its three-point barrage about half way through the first half when Thomas hit a rare three to give the Spartans a 12-10 lead. Kurdoghlian and Grant Arthur then rattled off consecutive threes to push the edge to 18-14.
With a five-point lead with about a minute to go, it appeared the Spartans were the ones headed into halftime with the momentum. That all changed when Bell-Jeff rattled off a quick 6-0 run to take a 28-27 advantage into the break.
Verano started the spurt when he forced a steal and fed Williams for a jump shot. Hopkins then cashed in a layup off a steal of his own on the next play. Verano then assisted on another Hopkins lay-in just before the halftime buzzer after an off-target shot fueled a Guards counter-attack.
Early in the second half, La Cañada took control again with a 10-0 run — with Jun scoring half those points — that gave it a seven-point lead, 37-30. By the time Kurdoghlian capped his scoring with consecutive layups with 4:30 to play, the Spartans were up comfortably, 55-39.
It allowed Hofman to make mass substitutions in the final minutes.
“We’ve got to figure out how to use both of them together because together we’re going to be pretty good,” Hofman said of his incoming seniors and sophomore classes.
The sophomore class is headlined by Kurdoghlian, Arthur, Ben Choi, Daivon Grayson and Evan Ohanessian.
“We’ve got to learn how to maximize what we have,” Hofman said.
For Andrade, the goal this summer is also simple.
“Playing together, getting to know each other is going to be it,” he said. “Some of these programs like La Cañada, they start from the ground up and have been playing together for years.
“We’ve got to learn how to trust each other. You’ll see good Bell-Jeff basketball in January.”