Cleveland High Coach Bob Braswell took a long look at one of the best point guards in the City Section on Wednesday, a player who gave his own backcourt a few pointers on how to shoot, steal and otherwise quarterback a basketball team.
Taft's Dedan Thomas, a perpetual-motion machine, scored 21 points and did his best to put wrinkles in Cleveland's full-court press. In doing so, he put wrinkles in Braswell's brow.
"Is that guy a ballhandler, or what?" Braswell asked.
Braswell knew the answer, but the rhetorical question also underscored the key difference in the game: Thomas is quite a ballhandler, to be sure, but a ballhandler, just the same. That's a , as in singular.
Braswell's gaggle of guards, meanwhile, combined for 48 points and helped turned a close game into a rout as Cleveland defeated Taft, 93-67, in a Valley League game at Cleveland.
Thomas, a 5-11 junior, did his best to keep Taft in the game, but the Cleveland defense--particularly its trapping press--ran the outmanned Toreadors off the court in the second half when the Cavaliers scored 57 points.
Taft Coach Jim Woodard knew the pressure was coming and in the aftermath knew what Taft could have used to prevent it.
"Another Dedan Thomas sure wouldn't hurt," Woodard said. "He's a great ballhandler, one of the best I've ever had, but he's just one guy. We're just not as deep as they are."
Woodard tried the next best thing--he started senior guard Keith Thomas, no relation, to try to offset Cleveland's quickness and bench advantage. It worked for the first half as Taft stayed within range, 36-31.
Cleveland's depth became obvious in the third quarter, however, when Taft was pressured into committing five turnovers as Braswell pressed all the right buttons. Cleveland's reserves outscored their Taft counterparts, 45-4.
"The coaches do a good job with us in that we're all decent ballplayers and we all get a chance to play," Cleveland senior Damon Greer said. "We really don't have any trouble in how much we play. If it benefits the team, then we're all happy."
Greer, who tied a personal season-high with 14 assists, teamed with four other Cavalier guards to make Taft downright cranky with a 26-point third quarter. Point guard Adonis Jordan scored seven of his team-high 21 points in the period as Cleveland (13-2, 5-1 in league play) ran Taft ragged.
"They have one real good guard," said Jordan, a speedy 5-11 junior. "But it's like he's playing four-on-one out there. He's got to go the whole game and we've got time to rest."
Taft (11-4, 3-3) trailed, 62-45, after three quarters. Cleveland buried the Toreadors with 31 points in the fourth, led by seven points from junior forward Lucious Harris, who finished with 18 points--12 on three-point shots--and 13 rebounds.
Cleveland put Taft away with four three-point bombs in the third, including two by reserve guard Joey Manliguis (11 points) and one each from Jordan and Harris. Cleveland connected on 10 three-point shots in the game.
"You try to take one thing away from them, and boom, they start hitting the three-pointer," Woodard said, with a sprinkle of admiration in his voice. "We hung in there for a while."
Taft's Quincy Watts, moved to forward to allow Keith Thomas to enter the lineup, finished with 15 points. Watts picked up three fouls in the first quarter and scored just two points by halftime. Keith Thomas finished with six points.
"It's great, because we can go hard for five or six minutes, and then we sub in another player," Greer said. "They're really tired and they're being guarded by a fresh person."
Cleveland forward Richard Branham had 11 points and 12 rebounds off the bench for the Cavaliers, who play host to Fairfax--ranked No. 2 in the City by The Times, Wednesday. Fairfax (6-0 in league play) handed Cleveland--ranked No. 3--its only league loss, 78-69, last month.