Fremont High School boys basketball Coach Sam Sullivan could not contain his joy last Friday night.
Although he was wearing a suit that Laker Coach Pat Riley might envy, Sullivan spontaneously jumped, kicked and waved in happiness after his Pathfinders defeated Los Angeles High, 65-48, for the City 3-A Division title.
After 12 years of trying, winning a City championship apparently can do that to a coach.
“This was a long time coming,” said Sullivan, who graduated from Fremont in 1969. “I was so excited, once I knew that we’d won it. It is so great for the kids and the community.”
Tonight, though, the Pathfinders face a new battle when they take on Long Beach Millikan, the Southern Section 5-AA Division champion, in the opening round of the state playoffs.
“I thought before the season started, that winning the City title was a realistic goal,” said Sullivan, who considers this his best team. “Especially, since we moved down from the 4-A Division to the 3-A this year.
“Now, our kids get a chance to see how good they match up with the big schools, because all season long, they have been saying that they can play with them.”
Fremont (25-3) is relatively young, with five sophomores.
“I think that we have established ourselves this year,” said Sullivan, who credits assistant coach Keith Young with putting the Pathfinders’ offense together.
“We had problems at first, losing our starting and backup point guards to grades, but we had an unselfish player, Maurice McKinzy, to step in and take over,” Sullivan said.
McKinzy is the Pathfinders’ leader in assists, averaging 8.5 a game for the season and 11 a game during the playoffs.
“McKinzy can play Division I (college) ball,” Sullivan said. “He is smart enough to know that he does not have to score on this team.”
Three players provide the scoring for Sullivan--6-foot-5 senior center Tyrone Phillips, 6-2 sophomore swing man Chris Ford and 6-2 junior guard Lionel Pandy.
“Tyrone is very underrated,” Sullivan said. “He has held his own against every top player in the City.”
Phillips, who scored 20 points against Los Angeles in the final, is also averaging 8.5 rebounds.
The Pathfinders also feature a strong bench, with 6-4 junior Adrian McCovery leading the way.
“Our bench is the key to the squad,” Sullivan said. “They all know that they will play in our system and that has helped us this year.
“Players like McCovery, who knows his job is to come off the bench and score, are needed because they have such a great attitude.”
Sullivan has always been close to Fremont, having grown up near the school.
In high school, he played for Gaston Green, father of Ram and former UCLA star Gaston Jr., before receiving a basketball scholarship to Eastern Montana.
“There has always been a winning tradition at Fremont,” said Sullivan, who majored in physical education with a minor in speech communication. “I was able to take basketball (at Fremont) and be provided a chance to get an education.
“Now, I am able to give back what I gained here. I have always felt that the key is to communicate with the kids and to make complicated things simple.”
In the girls’ City 3-A championship game, Marshall (18-2) beat Roosevelt, 56-45.
Wendy Triplett, Marshall’s first-year coach, was more relieved than happy after the Barristers’ victory.
“I felt that it was a disadvantage to be ranked No. 1 going into the playoffs,” she said. “I was worried about the girls letting the pressure get to them.”
Triplett is preparing her team for Inglewood Morningside, which has had to live with being top ranked in the state for most of the season, in the opening round of the State playoffs tonight.
“If we win any games (in the state playoffs) it would be terrific,” Triplett said. “The girls just will have to adjust to not being up by 20, like they have been in most of their games this season.”
In the girls’ 4-A final, Washington defeated Crenshaw, 66-48, for its second consecutive win over the Cougars, after losing to them twice.
Washington Coach Phil Chase attributes the win to the Generals’ stronger bench.
“We can go a solid seven deep, while they were able to go only five,” said Chase, who is setting his sights on the state championship.
“I would love to meet Morningside again,” said Chase, whose team lost to Morningside this season by one point. “We have improved as the season has gone on.”
If both teams win their opening-round games, they will meet in the quarterfinals Thursday.