KZ Okpala of Anaheim Esperanza is a 6-foot-8 youngster averaging 30 points and 10 rebounds. He's not afraid to deliver big shots and big free throws in front of screaming fans. But there's a shyness to him. He doesn't show emotion — until Saturday night after his team won the CIF state Division II championship.
Sitting in his chair during the awards ceremony, he said, "It's everything I've ever wanted. It's a dream. I couldn't even believe it at the end. My teammates stepped up. I'm just in awe. It's amazing."
Esperanza (30-3) pulled out a 72-65 victory over Hayward Moreau Catholic at Golden 1 Center by proving it wasn't a one-man team.
Brendan Harrick, a 6-foot-6 junior who's the nephew of former UCLA coach Jim Harrick, contributed 25 points and delivered baskets whenever Okpala needed help.
"It happens every game," Harrick said of opponents' focus on stopping Okpala. "They double-team him and try to stop him. I had to step up and make my shots and come through."
Esperanza opened a 17-point lead in the second quarter, only to see Moreau take a one-point lead in the third quarter by using a half-court trap that briefly rattled the Aztecs.
"Most teams would have melted when they went up," Coach Mark Hill said.
Not a team with the Stanford-bound Okpala, who finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. He made sure he got the ball into the right person's hands when trapped.
When the game got close in the fourth quarter, he started making free throws. Harrick made a critical three-pointer and Garrett Geiger scored the clinching layup with 15.5 seconds left.
Esperanza players should have started celebrating with cupcakes from the days they were together as 4-year-olds. That's how long Harrick has known some of his teammates. The Aztecs are the rare neighborhood team to emerge as state champions.
"We've been together since third and fourth grade, so it's special," Harrick said.
Moreau, physical and tough, received 28 points and 10 rebounds from 6-5 freshman Kyree Walker and 22 points from Damari Milstead.
"They were nasty," Hill said. "They were physical. They were football dudes. It was a hard-fought game."
Okpala is now off to Stanford, where he'll have a memory from high school that he'll never forget.