El Camino will try to win its fourth state basketball title in 10 years this weekend in the state final eight tournament at Santa Clara University’s Toso Pavilion.
The South Coast Conference champ Warriors (23-8) will start defending their crown tonight at 9 in a quarterfinal game against Skyline, which is appearing in its ninth consecutive state tournament.
The Trojans (27-6), winners of nine straight Coast Conference championships, are the North’s No. 3-seeded team and have a 13-game winning streak. They’re led by three all-conference guards: freshmen Bryan Thomasson (14.5 points a game) and Denfield Wade (13.5) and sophomore Vern Thompson (14.1).
El Camino won three state titles in nine years and appeared in the final four five times under Coach Paul Landreaux, who took a year’s leave of absence to become an assistant at UCLA. The Warriors won six conference titles during that period.
However, they haven’t won back-to-back state titles and don’t have starters from last year’s state champion club that finished with a 33-3 record.
First-year Coach Ron McClurkin, who assisted Landreaux for nine years, was never bothered by the lack of veterans. In preseason, when his team was nearly ranked out of the state’s top 20, he was confident that a trip north awaited his club.
“What have I been saying from the beginning?” McClurkin said after his team’s victory over Riverside on Saturday. “I told you we had a good team. I knew we had talent the first day I saw these guys practice.
“I knew we were going to surprise a lot of people because a lot of people thought that once Paul left we couldn’t make it. We did.”
The Warriors, who are seeded No. 3 in the south, got a bye in their first round of the Southern California Regionals and defeated Glendale, 64-60, in the second round. On Saturday they beat Riverside, 81-65, in their bracket final.
El Camino is led by guard Kevin Mixon (18.2 points a game), the league’s co-Most Valuable Player. The 6-foot-3, 200 pound sophomore scored a career-high 39 against Riverside that included nine of nine from three-point range.
The Warriors have had strong performances in the playoffs from 6-foot-7, 200-pound freshman center Charles Evans. Sophomore forward Zlatco Josic hasn’t had strong offensive performances in the playoffs, but his intense defense continues to be a big part of El Camino’s success.