As Westchester High prepares to defend its state Division I title Saturday night, it may have more to overcome than opponent Newark Memorial.
Complacency is a danger factor in play after the Comets defeated Santa Ana Mater Dei last week in a Southern California regional title game that matched what many believed were the top two teams in the state.
But coach Ed Azzam has sounded all season like a coach who hasn’t had to worry much about this team. Even though the team is filled with Division I college prospects such as Dwayne Polee, Jordin Mayes, and Kareem Jamar, it is a team that plays together and stays together, no matter the situation.
“That won’t be an issue at all with these guys,” Azzam said. “They’ve been there and they know what it takes. It's a fun team that's shown a lot of poise and a lot of character for the last two years. They've been as enjoyable as hell to coach.”
The defending champion Comets (31-3) are seeking their sixth state title and history indicates they have a pretty good shot: They are 5-0 in state championship games. A repeat would make them the first Division I team to do so since they turned the trick in 2002-03.
They will face a Newark Memorial defense that has given up only 44.9 points a game this season. Westchester averages 72 a game.
The Cougars don’t have a lot of size, with Khion Shankey and Kendall Andrews, the team’s top two scorers, topping out the team at 6 feet 4. That could present serious matchup problems with 6-6 Polee and 6-9 Reggie Murphy, who dominated the paint against Mater Dei.
Memorial (30-4) has never won a state title in basketball, losing the 2000 Division II title game in its only previous championship game appearance. The teams have both defeated Taft and Fairfax this season. Memorial defeated Taft, 48-41, and Fairfax, 50-34.
Westchester, which is undefeated against teams from California, defeated Taft twice, 71-62 and 70-60, and Fairfax twice, 72-39 and 80-44.
The odds seem to favor Westchester, but Azzam said this team would be concerned with any of that.
“A lead doesn't mean anything, a deficit doesn't mean anything, they just play,” Azzam said. “They just have a way, a poise; they're unselfish, they don't get rattled. It irritates the hell out of me sometimes.”