This is it. Finally, at long last, the time has come to separate the men from the boys with regards to the overall perception of the Los Angeles Loyola High prep basketball program.
The Cubs are about to embark on play in the Southern California Regional playoffs, where they will be competing at the toughest of levels, Division I, with the state's top teams.
The first test comes on Tuesday night against visiting San Diego Torrey Pines at 7 p.m. A victory, of course, would be a statement-maker and perhaps serve as proof that Loyola deserves to be mentioned among the Southland's best after competing in Division II all season long.
“I think we're considered, maybe, a notch below some of the big-time programs around here,'' Cubs coach Jamal Adams said. “But here we go, here is our chance, our opportunity to be recognized as one of the top teams in Los Angeles, in the state, and maybe, in the nation.
“Would we like to raise out profile? Yes, most definitely. Would we like to be more high-regarded and respected? Yes, of course. We have a major mental challenge ahead of us, we know that. But we're ready, that's the good part about this whole situation. We're pumped up.''
Rest assured, the Cubs (24-5) are not entering the complete unknown. In fact, they have played in five games against Division I opponents over the course of this season, winning four of those showdowns. The only loss was a 70-61 setback to Etiwanda in late December.
Loyola did, however, atone for the particularly unfavorable result about a month later when it defeated the Eagles, 70-64 on Jan. 29, at the Fairfax State Preview Classic.
“It doesn't matter, put whoever you want in front of us and we'll play them, we know what we can do and we're confident right now,'' Cubs junior Julian Harrell said.
Harrell & Co. have a legitimate reason to be confident moving forward. They did, after all, end up taking home some championship hardware with a 74-58 victory over Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley in last weekend's Southern Section Division 2A playoffs.
Torrey Pines (25-6) is no slouch, far from it. And the Falcons figure to be fired up after a 68-48 loss to Carlsbad La Costa Canyon in the San Diego Section finals.
If you stop Nick Kerr, chances are you stop Torrey Pines. The senior, who is the son of NBA veteran Steve Kerr and a University of San Diego commit, is averaging 15 points per game. Teammates Joe Rahon and Jesse Neugarten also average more than 10 points a game.
The Cubs counter with Harrell, who averages 15 points per game as well. Joe Stein also averages 15 points a night and Parker Jackson-Cartwright averages 10 of his own.
“From our standpoint, moving up to Division I, things are not going to be easy,'' Adams said. “But if life was always easy, it wouldn't be much fun. Our plan is to lace (our shoes) up, go out there, play some Loyola basketball and prove to everyone that we belong.''
Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.