It’s a good time to be Shelton Diggs.
The Long Beach Poly boys’ basketball coach is running the program at his alma mater, a position he’s referred to as his dream job. The Jackrabbits are the nine-time defending Moore League champions, and Diggs, now in his sixth year in the job, has officially been on the job long enough that he can spend his off-hours watching 11 of his former players at the NCAA level.
“I had KJ Feagin and Santa Clara on the TV while I was streaming Zafir Williams and LMU on the laptop,” he said. “I got to see five guys play just over a few days. It’s an amazing feeling to watch your guys playing well in college.”
It’s a trend that looks like it will continue. This year’s Poly team is stacked with talented seniors who appear poised to join the ranks of the Jackrabbits’ NCAA players. Leading the way are the trio of Giordan Williams, Justin Rene, and Malik Salahuddin, a trio of guards who form a formidable backcourt that can handle the ball and shoot.
“We take pride that everyone on our team can score and create for ourselves,” said Rene.
Diggs is hoping his team can make the cut for the Open Division, something he starts every season marking as the Jackrabbits’ goal.
“Being a top eight team shows you had a good regular season, if we’re not there we want a good seed in Division 1,” he said. “We’ve made state every year I’ve been a varsity coach and I want to continue to do that.”
The Jackrabbits have plenty of talent besides their three-headed monster, on a senior-laden team that will graduate all but three of its players this season. Jeremiah Atkinson is a promising 6-foot-3 wing and Jonathan Hill, Adolfo Thomas, and Micha Castillo will all contribute.
The team’s three sophomores anchor what looks like a bright future for Poly. The Jackrabbits coaches love sophomore Peyton Watson, and the team got a pair of transfers in the Jones twins, Solomon and Ben, who will sit out the first 30 days.
Diggs points out that all three of the team’s transfers were at other schools while living in the Poly neighborhood. Solomon Jones figures to be the team’s only true post player at 6-foot-7 but Poly’s guards are taller than last year, which should make rebounding more of a team effort this season.
Poly opens the season this week at the Westchester Tournament and also has a trip to Arkansas planned for Christmas break.
The Poly players and coaches feel this is a season they’ve been building towards, and were surprised to see themselves ranked further down on the Cal-Hi Sports state rankings than they’d expected (Poly starts the season No. 39 after finishing last year No. 23).
“It’s all good,” said Williams. “We’re going to shock some people this year.”