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Three Use Bond to Play as One

Communication among teammates is essential. Usually it’s accomplished through voice commands or hand signals.

Every so often, a group of teammates develops an unbreakable code based on instincts, friendship and experience.

They seemingly can read each other’s minds by making eye contact. They can anticipate moves through memory.

It’s the strangest, most exhilarating sight for a coach because no one truly knows how it happens.

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It’s called chemistry, and sometimes even the most talented team can’t duplicate it.

At El Segundo High, the communication skills among senior basketball players Jamie Jones, Devon Pettis and Amit Tyagi are rare.

They’ve played together since elementary school, Pettis and Tyagi meeting as second-graders and Jones joining them in the fifth grade.

They hang out together at lunch, at the mall, at the movies. They trust each other like brothers.

“We’ve watched each other mature as basketball players and as people,” Tyagi said. “It’s not often people get to see that. I’ve seen Devon change from a point guard to a power forward. Jamie has escalated his game unbelievably.”

Last season, El Segundo finished 18-8 and won the Pioneer League title. This week, a new season begins with the 6-foot-7 Jones, the 6-1 Pettis and the 6-3 Tyagi in the lineup and determined to make their final season together a memorable one.

“In a way, it’s sad because after this we’ll probably all split up,” Pettis said. “But it’s the moment we’ve been waiting for, our senior year, to show what we have.”

There was a time when it wasn’t unusual to discover a group of teenagers who met in grade school and stayed together through high school. They were part of the generation whose parents used to move into a community for its strong public schools and remained through their child’s graduation.

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Times have changed. Today, many coaches don’t know which players are coming or going, making El Segundo’s team all the more intriguing.

“These guys are what high school coaching is about,” said Coach Rick Sabosky, in his 20th season at El Segundo. “Three friends coming together from the time they were in elementary school.... It’s kids like this that make it so fun.”

Jones, the returning Pioneer League most valuable player, is inseparable from Pettis. Back in the fifth grade, when Jones had just arrived at his new school, Pettis was the first student to greet him.

“Devon was one of the few people who came up to talk to me,” Jones said.

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Soon, Tyagi joined them. From there, basketball took over. But their friendship is based on much more than sports. They watch out for each other and try to heal wounds together.

“Growing up with them, it’s real cool,” Tyagi said. “I can tell them anything. I can trust them to keep a secret. I can trust them with important decisions.”

Tyagi, who has a 4.3 grade-point average, is known as the “peacemaker.” He’s the one who calms Jones when he becomes frustrated on the court. He’s the one with wisdom beyond his years.

Jones remembers the time an eighth-grade classmate directed a racial insult at him. Tyagi stepped in.

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“Amit came over, ‘Don’t fight him. He’s not worth it. He’s being ignorant,’ ” Jones said.

Tyagi is one of El Segundo’s best three-point shooters. Pettis is a top rebounder and Jones does everything well, having averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds and 4.5 blocks.

“Amit plays basketball like he studies, paying attention to detail,” Sabosky said.

“Jamie is very talented and gets better all the time. He’s a tenacious rebounder and shot-blocker.

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“Devon plays so hard and so tough. He rebounds so much bigger than his size and always has a smile on his face.”

One-on-one games among the trio were ended because Jones grew so much taller than the others.

“No one-on-ones for a while because Jamie is too dominant,” Pettis said. “He’s the only one who can dunk with ease.”

There’s no doubt that the trio have pushed, pulled and prodded each other since their days shooting at five-foot blacktop baskets. Their relationship has given them a comfort zone few get to experience outside of a close family.

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“There’s no fear you’re going to feel embarrassed,” Tyagi said of his friends. “You’re yourself. There’s no holding back. We can say whatever, do whatever.”

Their unselfishness on the court and confidence in each other should be evident from the opening tipoff.

“It’s fun playing with them,” Jones said.

Added Tyagi: “For me, this is it. It’s all built up for this last year. We have to go out with a bang and make sure it’s a year we don’t forget.”

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Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.


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