For nearly two months of the high school basketball season, highly touted 6-foot-7 junior Johnny Juzang of Studio City Harvard-Westlake had been stuck on the sideline recovering from a broken toe. Then, just as he was cleared to play, he suffered a bad reaction to a skin ointment, delaying his season debut until Friday night’s Mission League opener against Sherman Oaks Notre Dame.
The first quarter was a struggle for Juzang and his team. The chemistry was not there, nor was his shot. The Wolverines fell behind by eight points, but Notre Dame coach Matt Sargeant was hardly feeling comfortable. “A guy like that is going to go on a run,” he said.
As Juzang began to mesh with his teammates, the Wolverines gained momentum. He finished with 21 points to lead Harvard-Westlake past the Knights 58-50 and serve notice he’s ready to join the group of elite players in Southern California.
“It’s going to be a scary season,” he said.
Harvard-Westlake was 11-4 without Juzang and several players got experience, particularly on the offensive end. But with the start of league play, Juzang is needed. His outside shot was not effective, but he smartly started driving, and Notre Dame (11-8) had little to counter him. And those players who gained experience in his absence — Spencer Hubbard, Brase Dottin, Adam Hinton — delivered baskets to keep the Knights at bay.
Notre Dame received 20 points from its star player, 6-9 junior Ziaire Williams, and 15 from Boston College-bound Julian Rishwain. Harvard-Westlake held a 42-41 lead with 4:12 left when coach David Rebibo called time out. Then the Wolverines went on an 8-0 run, led by Juzang.
“We talked about getting back to doing the things we do,” Rebibo said.
The Wolverines also limited Williams’ scoring opportunities for three quarters.
“We just wanted to crowd him and make him shoot over hands and see bodies,” Rebibo said.
January has changed in importance. The Mission League has gone to a single round of games because teams didn’t want to start playing league games in December. There will be a league tournament at the end of January. Opening night showed how close all the teams are.
Encino Crespi defeated West Hills Chaminade in double overtime 64-63. Kyle Owens scored 26 points and Ellis Kahn made six three-pointers and finished with 24 points.
Los Angeles Loyola won its 10th consecutive game, knocking off Mission Hills Alemany 62-55. Neil Owens led a balanced attack with 13 points. Brandon Whitney scored 19 points for Alemany.
There was a sold-out crowd at Loyola, plus large crowds at Chaminade and Harvard-Westlake, even though it’s school break. It’s an indication that people like seeing quality basketball.
“It probably doesn’t matter as much as it used to, but winning league is still going to be a great accomplishment,” Crespi coach Russell White said this week. “I think it [the league] is as good as it’s been in a long time.”
Harvard-Westlake remains the favorite, especially with a healthy Juzang.
“It’s great to be back,” Juzang said.