Jake Covey remembers his first interaction with Estancia High boys’ basketball coach Xavier Castellano.
Covey attended a basketball camp in eighth grade. While trying to execute a jump stop, he hurt his right ankle and was forced to leave the gym.
“I tried putting weight on it, and I couldn’t put weight on it,” Covey said. “I had to go up to him and be like, ‘I can’t do the summer camp anymore.’ Yeah, that was a great first impression.”
Castellano remembers the conversation too, with an additional detail. Covey still offered to pay for the camp.
“I’m like, ‘You’re fine, go home,’” Castellano said. “I never saw him again. Then in summer basketball he came out, and I recognized him.”
Covey’s primary sport was baseball, and that remains the case. But he couldn’t be kept off the basketball court. A funny thing happened — he grew into his 6-foot-3 body and got a lot better.
Four years later, he’s a four-year varsity player and an unquestioned leader on an Estancia team that’s accomplishing big things. The Eagles (25-3), ranked No. 2 in CIF Southern Section 5AA, just completed an undefeated run through the Orange Coast League and earned their first league title since 2005. Estancia goes into the postseason on a 17-game winning streak.
Castellano has highlighted the team aspect. Estancia boasts several standout guards, including senior returning starters Brandon Pearson and Marvin Harry. Covey, who came into the week averaging 15.8 points and 9.2 rebounds this season, leads the way in the middle.
The Eagles have other small guards, including junior point guard Larry Andres and juniors Franky DeBrum and Ben Sparks, who also can make an impact. The inside-out game works for Estancia, which has other solid post players in senior Arthur Bishop and junior Bo Graham.
“It’s worked really well,” Covey said. “We’re incredibly deep, and it’s showing. We really have 10 people that we can just go crazy for five minutes, sub out and get another five in there and it’s completely fresh. That lets us play our game, because we want to play fast.”
But it’s Covey who has been the Eagles’ best player two years running, as well as their most consistent.
“He had some tough games last year, but I think it was good for him,” Castellano said. “I think he needed last year to be where he’s at this year. He’s not scared of anything this year ... I don’t think he struggled last year, but it’s different when you’re the go-to guy. He just grew.
“He always works hard and he’s very mature. We call him the adult in the room. I mean, he’ll call about his teammates, checks up on them. We haven’t had a leader like that in the six years I’ve been here. I tell the freshmen, that’s the perfect example of what you can do if you put your mind to something.”
The Eagles’ single-season wins record of 29, set by the 1990-91 team that won the CIF State Division III title, is in play. Estancia has also not made a deep postseason run since the 2004-05 team, led by Carlos Pinto, advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division 3A semifinals.
Castellano, who played basketball at Estancia before graduating in 1998, is well aware of the history.
“I’ve loved two basketball teams in my life, and that’s Estancia basketball and the Lakers,” he said. “I’ve watched those teams play ... and was a different level of basketball back then. We weren’t losing kids to Edison, we weren’t losing kids to the private schools.”
This year’s Eagles don’t need to play against the teams of decades past. They are shaping up just fine as a small school that is looking to extend what has already been a memorable season. First things first; Castellano has not led the Eagles past the first round of CIF since he took over in 2014.
Covey wants a deep run, although he’s headed out to the baseball diamond as soon as that run ends. Last year, he helped the Estancia baseball team win its first outright league title since 2010 and advance to the Division 5 quarterfinals. Covey, a right-handed pitcher, was the Orange Coast League Pitcher of the Year and went 8-1 with a program-record 0.37 earned-run average.
“If we take care of business here, I could be five games-plus late [to baseball],” Covey said. “I’m not going to lie, some of my friends on the baseball team are probably hoping for an early exit so I can go out there. But I want to stay here for as long as I can, because I’m not going to play basketball in college. I’m trying to make this last as long as possible.”
Born: Aug. 10, 2001
Hometown: Costa Mesa
Height: 6 feet 3
Weight: 175 pounds
Coach: Xavier Castellano
Favorite food: Pizza
Favorite movie: “For the Love of the Game”
Favorite athletic moment: Helping Estancia win the Orange Coast League title in baseball last spring and in basketball this winter.
Week in review: Covey had 18 points and 12 rebounds as the Eagles beat Santa Ana 51-34 on Jan. 29, clinching a share of the Orange Coast League title.
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