Brian Breslin has established a winning boys' basketball program at St. John Bosco High in Bellflower the last three years. Now, it may be getting the best of him.
With his team struggling halfway through the season with an 8-7 record, the critics have been loud and heard from often. It doesn't matter that the Braves started 8-0 and have lost seven in a row, largely because of injuries to key players.
The bottom line for many is the record.
"Certainly, I would like to win every game," said Breslin, who compiled a 73-15 record from 1992 to '95 and won three Del Rey League titles. "We've been without many of our key players for the past few weeks, and that hurts during tournaments. But we've played every game tough, and we'll just keep doing what we're doing."
One of the reasons his team generates so much interest is because junior Schea Cotton plays on it. The 6-foot-5 guard-forward is one of the Southland's most talked-about players. He was selected to the All-Southern Section team the last two years while playing for Santa Ana Mater Dei.
Cotton started his freshman year at St. John Bosco but transferred to Mater Dei a month into the season. He returned to the Bellflower campus last spring, claiming the school was a better environment for him.
Cotton was leading the team in scoring before breaking a bone in his left hand during a game against Carson on Dec. 26. Cotton, who is left-handed, has not played since, and the Braves have lost every game without him.
Breslin said Cotton, who also has a sore shoulder, is wearing a soft cast on his hand and could return to the team by the end of the month. Rumors have been flying that Cotton's injuries aren't serious and that he won't be back.
"Schea is going to therapy every day, so I don't think he's faking it,' Breslin said. "I can vouch that they're real. We all want him back."
Breslin did say Cotton hasn't been attending practices. Cotton was unavailable for comment.
"It's probably better for Schea to concentrate on getting better," Breslin said. "If he comes to practices, then most of the kids will just be watching what he's doing and not concentrating. He generates that kind of attention."
Breslin, 34, resides in nearby Downey and said he can't go out in public wearing clothes with a St. John Bosco logo because people stop him and want to know about Cotton.
"Nobody knows who I am, but they all know Schea," Breslin said. "They'll stop me in the mall, in restaurants or on the street. It's unbelievable."
Cotton's absence hasn't been the only trouble for St. John Bosco. Center Brian Johnson, the league's most valuable player last year, sat out several games because of a severely sprained ankle and is still not at full strength. Guard Victor Munoz has also been hobbled by a deep thigh bruise.
After opening the season by defeating Lakewood Artesia in the final of the Cerritos-Gahr tournament, St. John Bosco has been on a slide. It lost two games in the Las Vegas Holiday Classic and did even worse in the Best of the West Classic two weeks ago in Long Beach. It has losses to such teams as Burbank and Washington.
In one loss, Breslin said he started four sophomores and a freshman.
"People usually just see the final score, so that don't always know what's going on," Breslin said. "We've got good players and we'll be OK. We just can't let too many people interfere so that we lose sight of what we're trying to do."