Off to a Great Start, But . . . : . . . Bulldog High Cage Coach Says January to Tell How Good Team Is
There was a tone of hesitation in the voice of Pasadena High boys basketball Coach Bill Duwe.
It is true that his Pasadena squad is 8-1 and off to one of the best starts of any team in the San Gabriel Valley. It is also true that the Bulldogs have already won as many games as they did last season.
But Duwe was quick to put the team’s early success in perspective.
“All of this is good,” Duwe said. “But it’s not going to do anything for us unless we play that way in January (during their league season). That’s where we want to make a statement.”
Considering the team’s plight in recent years, the coach’s position is understandable.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, the Bulldogs were one of the perennial powers of the CIF Southern Section. They won CIF 4-A Division titles in 1977 and 1978 and either won or shared 12 consecutive Pacific League titles through the 1981-82 season.
The Bulldogs have not exactly had the look of a champion since then. Pasadena may have hit rock bottom the last three seasons with a combined record of 23-43.
But, if the team’s play this season is an indication, the Bulldogs may be ready for the turnaround.
For Duwe, it’s not so much the team’s record that has encouraged him but the way the Bulldogs have been winning.
“The record is fine, but that’s not what I’m really looking at,” he said. “It’s the way we’ve played in those games. We’ve played every game real hard for four quarters. We’ve been pressing, playing good defense and scoring.”
Pasadena has been outscoring opponents by an average of 13 points a game and has allowed more than 58 only once. That was in Pasadena’s 67-56 loss to undefeated Manual Arts in the L.A Classic final last week.
The Bulldogs have defeated top CIF Southern Section teams such as Lakewood (57-55)--which was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the 5-AA Division--Verbum Dei (60-48), Bishop Amat (81-52) and Crespi (70-50).
The coach was particularly impressed with the victory over Lakewood. “That was a great win considering whom we were playing and that we had the strength and character to come back when we were down by eight,” he said.
Pasadena held fast-breaking Manual Arts to 24 points in taking an 8-point lead into halftime before falling in the second half.
Still, the Bulldogs are playing well enough for Duwe to say: “This will hopefully be as good a team as we’ve had here since we won the league championship about seven years ago (in 1981-82).”
Pasadena started last season with a 4-1 record only to finish at 8-14. But the coach says he has noticed a big difference between that team and this one.
“We’re a good team and it’s because of its attitude,” Duwe said. “It’s the most coachable team I’ve had in my 10 years here. We’re not the biggest team and we’re not the most talented, but we get by because of our attitude.”
The Bulldogs have only one starter taller than 6-3. But there is a surplus of talent and experience.
“We have three starters back and we have two others who started at one time,” Duwe said. “It’s good because it helps set good examples for the new kids.”
Leading the way is 6-3 guard Idris Jones, a senior who earned the defensive most valuable player award at the prestigious Five-Star Basketball Camp in Pennsylvania during the summer. Jones, who signed a national letter of intent to attend UC Santa Barbara next year, is averaging a team-high 21.6 points.
“He’s had real good games and inconsistent games,” Duwe said. “He had a super game in the final of the Bishop Amat tournament (29 points). He has to be a little more consistent in his offense, but he’s been consistent in other areas.”
Pasadena also has been led by returning starters Don Mitchell (6-3), a junior guard who averages 11.1 points, and center Chris Henson (6-5), who averages 11.8 points. The other starters, both part-time starters last season, are Burl Irby (6-3) at forward and Ren Brown (5-11) at guard.
“There’s a great deal more poise for us and that’s an important factor,” Duwe said.
The coach said that’s another big difference between last season and this year.
“In the first kind of contest that really meant something (against Bishop Amat), we played at a very high level the whole game,” he said. “In the past we struggled to play at the level of somebody else.”
So far this season, it has been the Bulldogs who have been determining the tempo of games. That is evident by the 52.1 point average that Pasadena’s opponents have produced.
“We’re a much better scoring team than we have been in a number of years and we’re playing with more consistency, especially on defense,” Duwe said.
“We’re playing the kind of basketball we have to play. We’re playing great defense and stopping the other teams from scoring. This team is proving to be the most consistently outstanding defensive team I’ve had at PHS.”
It’s the team’s consistent play on defense that has Duwe optimistic about the Bulldogs for the rest of the season.
“I don’t think anybody (else) had a feeling that we would have this kind of a team,” he said. “But we had our hopes. We haven’t reached the top of the mountain yet, but we’re on our way.”
Just the same, Duwe is quick to reiterate that it is still early in the season.
“It’s only December and our goal is to be ready in January,” he said. “We don’t want to be just a December team.”
For the moment, though, the Bulldogs are off to an impressive start.