Laguna Beach High boys’ basketball coach Bret Fleming is in his 25th season as the head of the program.
In that time, he has come to believe in the following: “You can choose your captains, but you can’t pick your leaders.”
Whether or not he has been designated a team captain, Fleming also thinks that junior shooting guard Nolan Naess fits that description.
Naess has started for the Breakers since his freshman year, something that has only happened a handful of times with Fleming at the helm.
“It’s pretty rare to have the ability and the physicality to be able to play at that level as a freshman,” Fleming said. “It’s pretty rare, so for a kid like Nolan, it makes it really neat because he’s only a junior, and yet, he’s a three-year starter.
“That just doesn’t happen very often. Usually, you get kids that they are starters as a junior and a senior, that type of thing. You might get them for two years.”
Naess’ introduction to the varsity level came during a highly successful 2017-18 season, which saw Laguna Beach go 26-4 overall and 10-0 in its last year in the Orange Coast League.
Point guard Charlie Rounaghi and forward Blake Burzell were senior leaders on that team. The Breakers lost to Twentynine Palms 57-54 in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA playoffs.
“I learned that when you’re the leader on the team, that’s when you need to show up most,” Naess said of what he learned from playing with the fore-mentioned duo. “You need to just keep working hard, and you can’t let off the gas pedal.
“You need to be friendly and nice to everyone on the team because I was really fortunate to have really good teammates that helped me through that freshman year instead of putting me down.”
The relationship between the coach and the player goes back a ways. Even now, Fleming and Naess can be found working alone together in the Laguna Beach gym after all other school activities have wrapped up for the day.
One night after the completion of a girls’ volleyball match in the fall, Naess was spotted putting in extra work with Fleming. A high-rising net around the basket forced him to put arc on his jump shot. Stationary cones had also been put out, which Naess had to traverse while dribbling at full speed into a pull-up jumper.
“Usually, when you’re just shooting outside, you’re just going through the motions and kind of jogging,” Naess said. “With those cones, it helped me imagine [that] there were players there, and I had to go full speed.
“I’ve just been working with Coach Fleming on ball-handling and becoming more of an offensive threat, having certain moves down and ready, so that I can use that to score.”
Coming into the week, Naess sported averages of 19.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.25 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He had also converted 43 percent of his attempts from beyond the three-point line.
“He does a nice job of being patient, not forcing shots, and that’s why he shoots a real high percentage,” Fleming said of Naess. “He does a really nice job of one-on-one, being able to create his own shot with pull-up jumpers and some of the moves that he has started to put into his game.”
Willie Rounaghi is now running the point for the Breakers. In averaging more than five assists per contest, Rounaghi helps Naess get the looks that keep his shooting percentages high.
Laguna Beach (19-7, 5-0) has already won the Wave League title outright. Naess had 23 points as the Breakers beat Fountain Valley 54-49 to clinch the league championship on Friday night.
Naess’ parents both played sports at the college level. His father, Coby, played both baseball and basketball at Cal Poly. His mother, Janelle, played indoor volleyball at Wichita State.
In addition, his older sister, Piper, starred as a senior outside hitter for the Laguna Beach girls’ volleyball team this year. She is committed to Cal Poly for beach volleyball.
Basketball may be Naess’ first love, but he continues to play baseball. He has spent most of his first two high school seasons as a pitcher on the junior varsity team.
“I’ve always loved baseball, and up until high school pretty much, I had no idea whether I wanted to do basketball or baseball more,” Naess said.
The sports now play different roles for the junior, with basketball being the one that he hopes to continue playing in college.
“I just think that basketball is the sport that I’m really competitive in, and I always need to win,” he added. “In baseball, it’s all right. I know that no matter what, I’m just going to have fun and be with my friends.”
Naess does not play volleyball for his high school, but it turns out that he is pretty good at that, too. He won the Cal Cup 16-and-under division for beach volleyball while partnering with Booker Frith in Manhattan Beach in August.
Academically, Naess is also challenging himself, tackling a class load that includes AP U.S. History, Honors Spanish 5, Honors Algebra 2, Physics, Creative Writing and Multimedia Design.
With what little spare time he has, Naess enjoys collecting baseball cards.
Born: Feb. 27, 2003
Hometown: Laguna Beach
Height: 6 feet 8
Weight: 180 pounds
Coach: Bret Fleming
Favorite food: Mexican food
Favorite movie: “Rocky III”
Favorite athletic moment: Early in his freshman season, Naess was left on the floor with his team defending a one-point lead against Aliso Niguel with 15 seconds remaining in the final of the Godinez Grizzly Invitational. He stole the ball, and the Breakers were able to dribble out the clock. Naess looks back on it as a great way to have begun his high school basketball career.
Week in review: Naess averaged 21.5 points per game in leading Laguna Beach to wins over Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach last week. Laguna Beach has clinched the outright Wave League championship.
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