With the spring high school sports season canceled, prep columnist Eric Sondheimer is looking back on some of the most memorable championship games in Southern California history.
Not many people tabbed Dana Jones of North Hollywood as the best basketball player in the City Section in the winter of 1990. He was 6 feet 6 and signed early with Pepperdine, whose coach, Tom Asbury, would soon discover he had come up with the steal of the class of 1990.
The message was clear on a memorable March night at the Sports Arena in the City Section Division 3-A championship game. Top-seeded Fremont was supposed to easily handle No. 10 North Hollywood.
Jones would have none of it. He scored 29 points and grabbed 29 rebounds to lead the Huskies to their first basketball championship, a 76-71 win over the Pathfinders.
“It was my greatest game,” Jones said. “I remember having that feeling being from Los Angeles growing up down the street from the Sports Arena that something historic was happening but feeling at the same time being a big underdog and everyone having picked Fremont to win.”
Coach Steve Miller had prepared his team by playing a tough non-league schedule that resulted in several losses but also gave players a preview of what they might face in the playoffs.
“The actual game is as clear as yesterday,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, we were prepared. We played certain teams in the preseason to prepare us for big games. The key was our poise under pressure. We weren’t intimidated at all. Our confidence really carried us to victory.”
And Fremont had no answer for Jones, who’d go on to be the top freshman in the West Coast Conference and the player of the year as a junior.
“He was possessed,” Miller said. “He wanted it so badly. He did everything any coach could imagine on the floor to win the game.”
Jones remembers his coach telling him the night before how he was going to have his best game.
“He would always pull me aside and do those little things to me,” Jones said. “I knew what he was doing. I needed that at my stage of my career. It goes a long ways when your coach believes in you like that. He said in order for us to win, I would have to have the best game of my career.
“I run into people today and they say how lucky we were and to this day it kills me. There was no luck involved. I don’t know if I was in a zone or not, but my teammates put me in that position. Everybody played the game of their lives.”
Jones recalled that no one was going to keep him off the boards.
“I remember all the rebounds, just flying through the air and trying to flag every rebound coming off the rim offensive and defensive,” he said.
Jones is now a personal trainer and physical therapist in Los Angeles.
Asked what lessons he learned that night in 1990, he said, “I learned that the coaching staff was prepared. The second thing is it’s a team game. If you play with that mind set and understand that, you get to be a champion and talk about this game when you’re 48 years old.”