PASADENA — In its season-opener against Pasadena Armenian General Benevolent Union on Tuesday night, the Flintridge Prep boys' basketball team began the transition to a new era, one that will test its ability to maintain championship-caliber play without graduated four-year starting center Kenyatta Smith.
But, while the player who had become the face of the program may have moved on, the sticky fingers and nimble legs that propelled the Rebels to the CIF Southern Section Division V-AA title last season haven't gone anywhere.
Senior guard Kory Hamane scored 20 points to go with eight steals and five assists in Prep's 76-43 nonleague win that showcased the Rebels' familiar brand of intense defensive backcourt pressure designed to spark the fast-paced transition game that's been as much a part of the Rebels' recent success as Smith's formidable presence in the halfcourt set was.
"I think the guards definitely miss what Kenyatta does for them, he makes things easier on both ends," Prep Coach Garrett Ohara said. "But they've adjusted to not having that same presence inside. Things will be slightly different in terms of where we're finding our shots and defensively we have to do a little more instead of funneling to a big guy. We have to keep guys in front of us, but I think guys are making that adjustment.
"The guards are poised and I think the biggest thing is that they like each other. They share the ball with one another and are committed to playing defense together."
All 10 players who suited up for Prep scored, including guard Jedrick Eugenio and forward Chad Cosse, who each scored 12, and guard Kyle Hamane, who scored five points, while dishing out five assists and nabbing three steals filling in for injured starting point guard Robert Cartwright.
"It was a great start, I'm proud of all the guys," Kory Hamane said. "I'm just glad we were able to come together.
"We used what we had. We don't have Kenyatta and [graduated power forward] Jared [Norsworthy], so we don't have as much height, so we're going to use our speed."
Locked in a tight back-and-forth contest through the first quarter with AGBU (0-1), which advanced to the Division VI-AA quarterfinals last season, the Rebels began to break the game open in the second quarter as the Spartans began to wither under Prep's defense.
Nine Spartans turnovers in the second quarter helped fuel the Rebels' offense, which had struggled in the first quarter with too many of its possessions ending in contested missed jump shots. Trailing, 13-12, Prep made an early surge to begin the second period, but by the 3:31 mark once again found itself tied with AGBU at 21.
Finally the Rebels broke out with a big 16-2 run to end the period, sparked by a Kyle Hamane three-pointer, a fast break by Kory Hamane and a three-pointer from Eugenio to push the lead to 10. Junior center Kareem Ismail got in on the action with a three-point play down low and Harrison Jung closed out the scoring with a pull-up jumper to give Prep a 37-23 halftime lead.
"We didn't shoot terribly well, but the defense made up for so much of it," said Ohara, whose team recorded 20 steals and out rebounded the Spartans, 42-33, and 19-10 on the offensive boards. "It created some easy opportunities to score off some of their turnovers."
AGBU, which suffered from 28 turnovers on the night, gave the ball away seven more times in the third quarter, where the Rebels pushed the lead to 20 by the end of the period with another jumper from Jung to make it 56-36.
"The focal point of our team [point guard Jackson Gourdikian] has been hurt for the last six weeks and he just came back, so he doesn't know some of the plays and Andrew [Tahmazian] one of our big contributors, wasn't able to really play at all," said AGBU Coach Richard Harris, whose team was led by 13 points from Andy Ketsoyan. "It's our first game, I think there was a couple jitters. It was a tough one for us, but I expect a better second game."