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St. John Bosco outlasts Windward, but the big win is just playing basketball again

St. John Bosco and Windward players finally opened the basketball season on Tuesday at St. John Bosco. The Braves won 58-41.
St. John Bosco and Windward players finally opened the high school basketball season on Tuesday at St. John Bosco. The Braves won 58-41.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

March Madness usually happens in high school basketball with playoffs and state championships, but in California, the only madness has been trying to figure a way to get started during the coronavirus pandemic. It finally happened Tuesday for powerhouses Bellflower St. John Bosco and Windward.

Players passed their COVID-19 tests. Parents showed up at the St. John Bosco gym, heard a plea from Braves coach Matt Dunn to wear their masks and there was 100% compliance during St. John Bosco’s 58-41 victory, a major step forward to building confidence and trust for future games.

“It means everything,” St. John Bosco guard Lamaj Lewis said of getting the opportunity to play. A Loyola Marymount signee, he scored 13 points and indicated he’s willing to follow any and all protocols as long as it means being able to play.

“With COVID, playing tomorrow is not guaranteed,” he said. “As long as we can play, I’m cool with it.”

Windward coach Colin Pfaff has four returning starters from a team supposed to challenge Chatsworth Sierra Canyon in league play, but he has had only one practice with his entire team because of injuries and other obstacles. The team was practicing mostly outside for weeks, but he was happy to finally get started.

“What I was encouraged with was our effort,” he said. “I thought it was a great first game for us because they’re a sure Open Division team. They’re very good, deep and physical. Defensively, they can take you out of what you want to do.”

Windward got into trouble almost immediately because its top returning player, 6-foot-8 junior Kijani Wright, picked up three fouls in the first quarter. The Braves pulled away in the second half, taking advantage of the physicality to dominate in the rebounding department.

Lewis scored 11 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter, penetrating with his dribbling and Windward having no one to stop him near the basket. Marco Kenz scored 10 points and Scotty Washington, who missed most of last season with a labrum injury, finished with 12 points. Jeremiah Nyarko had 11 points.

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Point guard Dylan Andrews did his best to rally Windward without Wright. He started rebounding and attacking the basket but fatigue started to sink in. He finished with 11 points.

Both schools would rank in any Southern California top 10, which made the opening game so valuable, since coaches and players got an idea of strengths and weaknesses.

Still to be decided is whether there will be playoffs in basketball. The Southern Section is supposed to make an announcement by April 13 and that’s going to help coaches and players decide what to do about club basketball tournaments also taking place in April and May. If there are no playoffs, that will make decisions easier for everyone involved. Club tournaments take place on weekends, so coaches are already planning ways to share their players.

“I’m not worried yet,” Dunn said.


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