Phaksavanh (Sy) Sayarath, a senior guard at Bolsa Grande High School, is a small guy by basketball standards. But he’s a big-time shooter.
Already this season, Sayarath--who is only 5 feet 7 and 145 pounds--has scored 29, 21, 21 and 20 points in games for the Matadors, who are relying on him to help improve on their fifth-place finish last season in the Garden Grove League.
“His teammates want Sy to shoot the ball,” Bolsa Grande Coach Tom Cardoza said. “They enjoy watching him shoot, and they want to find a way to win. . . . He’s an outstanding shooter.”
Cardoza said Sayarath has plenty of natural ability, but the shooting touch has been refined through hours of practice, particularly over the past summer.
“Every year, I started slowly and I got better as the season went on,” Sayarath said. “But this summer, I worked harder at it because it is my last year.”
Sayarath, 18, had never heard of basketball while growing up in Laos. He, his mother and six brothers and sisters escaped from their Communist-controlled homeland by crossing the Mekong River into Thailand 10 years ago. They stayed in a refugee camp there before settling in Huntington Beach about six months later. His father and two older brothers had made the same journey a year earlier.
The memories are fragmented in Sayarath’s mind, though he remembers some of those days spent at the camp.
“When you are a kid, it’s easy to roam around and play,” Sayarath said. “But it was tough for my mom and the older people there.”
Sayarath, who until then had toyed only with soccer, started playing basketball with other kids at Perry Elementary in Huntington Beach and was hooked.
“I never even touched a ball until I got here,” said Sayarath, who also liked the sport for another reason: “Basketball is the only thing you can play by yourself. All you need is a ball and a hoop.”
The family moved to Garden Grove, and Sayarath tried out for Bolsa Grande’s freshman team. He not only made it but also played every position.
“He played post when he was a freshman, and he was outstanding,” Cardoza said.
Sayarath made the junior varsity team his sophomore year and the varsity last year. His assignment this season is simple: Shoot and shoot often.
“Sy has the green light,” Cardoza said. “But he will do anything we ask him to do. He’s unselfish.”
Cardoza said Sayarath and point guard Dinh Le are an effective back-court pair. One creates the scoring opportunities, and the other cashes in on them.
“They’ve been playing together since they were freshmen,” Cardoza said. “Le penetrates and then he kicks the ball over to Sy when the defense sags in on him (Le).”
Sayarath was not the only member of his family who had to acquire a taste for the game. His father, Savath, who works for a tool company, and his mother, Thomma, were rather apathetic when Sy first played for Bolsa Grande. But they now attend games frequently.
“They didn’t really come when I played freshman and JV,” Sayarath said, “but they started coming when I started playing varsity. They pretty much like it.”
No one has to ask whether Sayarath likes basketball. For him, it ranks with computer science, the subject he hopes to study in college. But has his basketball programming been as difficult?
“If you show up for practice every day,” he said, “eventually you learn.”