Perhaps no team in the city was poised for a bigger 2020-21 season when the COVID-19 shutdown came than the Long Beach Poly boys’ basketball team. The Jackrabbits feature elite talent across the board and have legitimate CIF-SS and CIF State championship hopes.
The talented roster is headlined by McDonald’s All-American and UCLA signee Peyton Watson, a 6-9 versatile player many have called the best in the Moore League since Compton product DeMar DeRozan. Watson didn’t answer when private schools came calling two years ago, choosing to play for his local public high school–and he didn’t go chasing AAU tournaments during the pandemic, opting to wait it out and either play high school basketball or forgo any action until college.
“When my family says we love Poly, we really do,” said Watson. “Nothing means more to me in this world than Long Beach being able to see me play my senior year, and to see what the hype’s all about. Me and the team, we just want to come out and put on a show for the city.”
Poly coach Shelton Diggs had more or less given up hope that he’d be able to coach one of the most talented Jackrabbit rosters in the last several decades, and he said he was ecstatic when he got the call that the season was on. He echoed Watson’s comments that he’s excited the star player will get a real senior season.
“I told him the other day, I think you’re the best player to step into a gym in Long Beach history,” he said. “I’m aware of the names that puts him with, but I believe that. And I just want him to be able to show that. He’s a real gift, and he has a love for his city just like I do. And I want him to be able to show everyone.”
That said, despite talent all over the floor, it’s a challenge for Diggs, who has just 11 practices to get his team ready for the year. Watson is far from the only talent, as he’s joined by his brother, junior Christian Watson (6’4”), Pepperdine signee Jalen Pitre (6’8”), and Lorenzo Marsh (6’5”), all of whom are college talents.
The Jackrabbits’ depth sets them apart just as much as the top-end talent though. Sprinter Anthony Robinson will get the nod to run the show at point guard, and is perhaps Poly’s fastest basketball player since KJ Feagin.
The Jackrabbits also have a legit defender and shooter in Gabe Cummings, the gritty Rafael Cruz (6’6”) in the post, versatile Marcel Hayes (6’4”), and instant offense from guards Darron “Budda” Henry and Ekene Nwanisobi. That list doesn’t even fill out all of Poly’s returning varsity players who got experience last year.
“I have two lineups of guys that are good, who’ve played and been tested,” said Diggs. “It’s a pretty solid rotation.”
The Jackrabbits will play the full Moore League schedule as well as the Nike Extravaganza, the Rolling Hills Prep State Preview, and the St. John Bosco Winter Classic. Diggs said he knows that there’s going to be a lot of attention on his team, with a documentary crew and a ton of other media sure to be hovering around.
“It’s the most talent I’ve had, it’s a really dynamic group,” he said. “I’m trying to take the pressure off of them, you know just go out and have fun after this last year. Don’t worry about the documentary, about being the best team ever, just go out and play good basketball. I’ll take all the pressure on me, I just want them to have fun.”