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Nikolas Khamenia leads Harvard-Westlake past Corona Centennial for Open Division crown

Harvard-Westlake celebrate after winning the Southern California Open Division regional final against Corona Centennial
Harvard-Westlake celebrate after winning the Southern California Open Division regional final against Corona Centennial 80-61 on Tuesday.
(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)
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Raising his right arm in triumph after making a three-pointer late in the first half Tuesday night before a sold-out crowd at Corona Centennial‘s noisy gym, an amped up Nikolas Khamenia of Studio City Harvard-Westlake was letting everyone know this historic moment to decide a trip to Sacramento to play for the Open Division state championship would be something he’d never forget.

Again and again, the 16-year-old, 6-foot-8 sophomore born in Los Angeles to parents who came here from Belarus delivered baskets, rebounds, took a charging foul and even dribbled the ball like a point guard. He finished with 20 points as Harvard-Westlake defeated the top-seeded Huskies 80-61.

“We’ve always known what he’s been capable of,” coach David Rebibo said. “He showed it tonight.”

Harvard-Westlake (32-2) will play Santa Maria St. Joseph for the Open Division championship Saturday night at Golden 1 Center. The Wolverines have never reached the highest level before. They won consecutive state Division III championships in 1996 and 1997 with the Collins twins, Jason and Jarron. They won a Division IV title in 2016. But to knock off the three-time defending Southern Section Open Division champions with a team that has no transfer students other than senior Brady Dunlap when he was a freshman is truly a monumental achievement.

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Centennial (30-4) had not lost to any team from California since May 28, 2021. And that was Harvard-Westlake doing the honors. The Wolverines were mad having to play a regional championship game on an opponent’s home court, but they have now won four times at Centennial in recent years.

From the outset, the Wolverines took charge and did everything needed to win. “We rebounded, we moved the ball, we hit the open man,” Rebibo said.

When Trent Perry, who finished with 25 points, and center Jacob Huggins were sent to the bench after picking up two fouls each midway through the second quarter, you would think the Wolverines would be in trouble. But others stepped up, from Dunlap (18 points) to Khamenia.

Does it get any better than Tuesday when the basketball teams that ranked No. 1 and No. 2 all season meet to decide a trip to Sacramento?

March 6, 2023

“It hurt last year coming here and losing to them as a freshman,” Khamenia said. “I wanted to win it for my teammates and my coach.”

Asked how he was able to make clutch shot after clutch shot, Khamenia said, “It’s just confidence and coaches trusting me.”

With 47 seconds left and a 21-point lead after Harvard-Westlake emptied its bench, Khamenia let out one of those primal screams to express the accomplishment.

Centennial then pulled out All-American Jared McCain in an emotional moment. McCain, who scored 21 points. was trying to hold back tears as he embraced fellow senior Devin Williams and received an ovation in his final game.

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“He’s a special talent, an unbelievable competitor,” Rebibo said of the Duke-bound McCain.

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