Mustangs have bright future, thanks to shooting guard

When Nick Hefner transferred to Costa Mesa High as a junior last year, he showed up with long, curly hair.

Not many on campus knew the new student, even though Hefner lived in Costa Mesa for most of his life. He joined the boys' basketball team and made friends.

Soon, his teammates gave Hefner a new name. Sunshine is what they called Hefner.

"They called me Sunshine for a while because of the football player from the 'Remember the Titans,' " Hefner said.

Like the character in the movie, Hefner played the quarterback position, but on the basketball court.

Coach Bryan Rice said point guard wasn't the right fit for Hefner.

The haircut wasn't the right look, either. Many times, his hair got in his eyes when he took shots during games.

The shoulder-length hair is long gone. With a new clean-cut hairdo, Hefner can clearly see the basket.

In his senior year, Hefner has been shooting lights out for the Mustangs as a shooting guard and small forward. He leads the team in scoring, averaging 12.9 points per game. More importantly, Costa Mesa (10-5) is off to its best start in five years.

Hefner might not look like Sunshine anymore, but the outlook at Costa Mesa this season is bright because of his play.

The Mustangs are playing their best basketball in Rice's four seasons in charge of his alma mater. The timing is great with Costa Mesa opening Orange Coast League play next week at home.

Hefner is thinking big in his second season with the Mustangs. A banner hangs in the team's locker room and it reminds Hefner of the team's ultimate goal.

The banner is of the last league title Costa Mesa won six years ago in the Golden West League.

"I want another banner," Hefner said.

"We're going to win league."

Hefner is confident in Costa Mesa, which has never come close to contending for a league crown in the past five seasons in the Orange Coast League.

The league is going into its sixth season in existence and its known only one champion, Laguna Beach.

The Mustangs' best finish came in Rice's first season. They earned second place, finishing four games behind Laguna Beach.

Back then, Hefner played at Calvary Chapel, on the lower level. He said he never saw varsity action until he transferred out because of financial reasons to Costa Mesa for his junior season.

The move has worked out for Hefner. Sure, he misses just being able to walk down the street to school at Calvary Chapel, but he is enjoying his final year of high school at Costa Mesa.

"Less rules," said Hefner while comparing Costa Mesa to Calvary Chapel. "You couldn't like hug people [at Calvary Chapel]. I couldn't hug anybody."

Teammates can now embrace Hefner, and for good reason.

Last week, Hefner led the Mustangs to a third-place finish at the Linfield Christian Cage Classic in Temecula. He scored 26 points on eight-of-11 shooting in Costa Mesa's 72-43 victory against Yucca Valley.

During the four-day tournament, Hefner averaged close to 15 points per game and made the all-tournament team. The all-tournament honor was the second for Hefner this season.

The first was at the St. Anthony Tournament in Long Beach in December. The Mustangs reached the championship game.

"He's come a long way for us and is doing good things for us because we put him at a more natural position," said Rice, who with Hefner's help, guided the Mustangs to their first title appearance in a tournament. "We're happy he is with us because we need him."

Twitter: @DCPenaloza

Nick Hefner

Hometown: Costa Mesa

Born: March 27, 1994

Height: 5-foot-8

Weight: 140 pounds

Sport: Basketball

Position: Shooting guard, small forward

Coach: Bryan Rice

Favorite food: Lasagna

Favorite movie: "The Book of Eli"

Favorite athletic moment: "When I hit two free throws to send the game into overtime in a summer league game … in the summer of my junior year."

Week in review: Hefner averaged close to 15 points per game and led the Mustangs to a third-place finish at the Linfield Christian Cage Classic in Temecula.

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