Bonita: Small town's overlooked team
February, 15, 2012
By Blair Angulo | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Blair Angulo for ESPNLA.comGarrett Horine scored 17 points in Bonita's easy first-round playoff victory on Wednesday night.
LA VERNE -- Fans trickled into Bonita's old gym through a single door Wednesday night without much commotion. The wooden bleachers weren't filled to capacity, a steady rain maybe discouraging some from leaving the warmth of their homes.
It wasn't loud. It wasn't extravagant. It was basketball in its purest form: Crisp ball movement and suffocating man-to-man defense. Just the way Bonita coach Greg Eckler likes it.
Rather silently, seventh-seeded Bonita improved to 24-4 on the season and ran its winning streak to 15 games with a dominant 80-28 victory against Cerritos in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AAA boys' basketball playoffs. The Bearcats advanced to meet unseeded Brea Olinda on Friday. They don't get much publicity, and Eckler understands why: It won't happen with two-time defending state champion La Verne Lutheran a mere three blocks away. And it won't happen with two-loss Damien, located less than two miles from Bonita, stealing the city's headlines.
But the small town's third team is pretty good, too.
Blair Angulo/For ESPNLA.comBonita coach Greg Eckler has seen his team power its way to a 24-4 record this season.
"It's great that we've got a strong little basketball area," Eckler says of La Verne, a town with a population of 33,000 that is nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains some 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. "It speaks to what's going on out here. A lot of people don't talk about La Verne being a dominant city when it comes to basketball, but for a couple of years now we've had three solid teams."
Bonita, the Hacienda League champion, is fine with thriving in the shadows. Lutheran has the state's only McDonald's All-American in Arizona-bound forward Grant Jerrett. It has hung CIF state championship banners each of the last two seasons. Damien has Saint Mary's-bound forward Chris Reyes and a state-of-the-art gym.
Bonita, though, has scrappers and hustlers and a standout football player manning the post.
"Not one guy is a star," says senior Garrett Horine, the school's leading receiver last season. "We all share the ball and work hard."
Six players scored in double figures Wednesday night; Horine led the way with 17. The Bearcats went on a defense-fueled 33-2 run in the first half, and held Cerritos to four points in the third quarter.
"We certainly don't get the publicity," says Eckler, who's in his 10th season. "But when [Lutheran and Damien] have the kids that they've got, they're going to get more publicity."
La Verne's two other squads don't figure to be bounced from the playoffs any time soon. Top-seeded Damien (25-2) had no trouble with El Dorado, winning 57-37 to advance to the second round in the Division 3AAA bracket. Lutheran (20-6), seeded No. 2 in Division 4AA, clobbered Pasadena Marshall, 72-29.
"Obviously those are two fantastic programs," Eckler says. "Those programs have guys going Division-1, but I just love who we are. I don't know what everybody else thinks of us, but I love who we are. I love what we do."
So who are the Bearcats, and what do they do?
"We work our tails off, that's kind of our calling card," Eckler says. "What do people think of us? Where we stand with the town's other schools? I can't control that. But we'll play hard for 32 minutes."
Blair Angulo covers preps for ESPN Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.