Ask any coach what’s more important, individual talent or team chemistry, and the response will be immediate: chemistry.
It’s the Holy Grail to coaching success. It’s what links championship teams at all levels.
The Brea Olinda boys’ basketball team is 19-0 because it possesses that rare combination of talent and chemistry.
Thirteen of its 14 players are seniors. Most have known each other since third grade.
“If you go to Brea, you have to live in Brea,” Coach Bob Terry said. “All these kids have grown up together. That’s what makes it special.”
Even Terry has Brea ties, having played for the Wildcats in the late 1980s. So did assistant coach Randy Ham. No one has any ulterior motive other than trying to bring a Division II-A championship banner to Brea.
Of course, standing in the way is Santa Ana Mater Dei, the team most experts predict will win Division II-A because Coach Gary McKnight’s teams have won 16 section titles in 20 years.
There probably isn’t a day that goes by without Brea players thinking about Mater Dei. In the school basketball display case is a newspaper photo of a Mater Dei player and the preseason rankings that had the Monarchs No. 1.
“We don’t feel we should be ranked ahead of them,” forward Evan Moore said. “They lost to nationally ranked teams in tournaments. But can we compete with them, without a doubt.”
All five Brea starters know their roles and mesh so well that it creates the magical chemistry every team seeks. The strength of the Wildcats as a unit helps to overcome the individual play of opponents.
Each player fills a specific need. Brent Smith is a 6-foot-8 center committed to Air Force. He can block shots, rebound and score from 15 feet and in. He stands in the middle of the Wildcats’ 2-3 zone defense ready to protect the basket as if it were a bank vault.
“He’s really blossomed,” Terry said. “He’s really a force defensively.”
John Pohlen is a 6-3 shooting guard who started at quarterback for the football team. He has a 4.0 grade-point average and loves draining 20-foot baseline jumpers.
Philip Jones is an unselfish 6-5 forward with exceptional jumping and athletic skills, even though he missed several games early in the season because of a knee injury. He swoops up rebounds the way a hawk scoops up rodents.
“He’s made a 180-degree turn,” Terry said. “As a freshman, I didn’t want him. He cut himself [from the team]. He’s come a long way. He’s our best all-around player, great defensively and a great passer.”
Jason Gan is a 5-5 unflappable point guard. Opponents think they can dominate him because of his size, then he dribbles around them and leaves coaches scrambling for a different strategy.
“If he was 6-1, he could go to any college,” Jones said.
Added Moore: “If you leave him open [for a shot], it’s automatic.”
Moore is Brea’s most recognizable player. He’s a 6-7 Stanford-bound two-sport standout with a 4.4 GPA. His toughness as a tight end shows up on the basketball court, where elbows to the ribs and scratches to his face hardly register. He averages 24.1 points and 9.8 rebounds.
“He’s the heart and soul of our team,” Terry said. “He gets us going, and kids respond to him.”
Those who think Brea is a one-man team need only to see a videotape of Tuesday’s Century League game against Villa Park. Moore missed his first nine shots and didn’t score his first basket until early in the third quarter, but Brea still led by 14 points.
Terry, 33, is in his fifth season as coach. He’s a towering 6-8 presence but hardly intimidating because of his friendly demeanor. He’s such a believer in the Brea community and school system that he’s moving back to the area so his sons, ages 4 and 9, can experience what he did growing up.
“I love Brea so much,” he said.
Yes, talent matters, but so does chemistry, and Brea has it.
“We’ve known each other for so long,” Pohlen said. “We’re so close.”
Eric Sondheimer can be reached at email@example.com.