Talk to any Long Beach basketball coach about last year, and none of them are happy about it. The lack of summer and fall practices, and the quick start-up of the season’s first games after the Los Angeles County Public Health Department gave the greenlight made things difficult on everyone.
One team that really made it work for themselves was Lakewood, as head coach Duane Cooper continues to remake the Lancers’ program in his image. The Lancers were a bright spot on the Moore League story last year, as their upswing under Cooper saw them finish third place in the league, grabbing a playoff spot and trailing only Poly and Compton, who were co-league champions. This year the Lancers are on the CIF-SS preseason watchlist in Division 2A, joining Poly, Compton, and St. Anthony as one of the premier local teams to make the list.
“It’s taken a little longer than I anticipated, but it’s been a slow, steady progress and I think we’re getting there,” said Cooper when asked about his team’s progression.
The Lancers could end up as the league’s top challenger to the Jackrabbits this year, as they’ve got more returning minutes and production than any other team in the league.
Returning for the Lancers are Bernard Dickerson, Corali’i Mila, Chris Willis, Mason Pacheco, and Alex Obit.
All five started games for the Lancers last year and while they’ll miss leading scorer Jalen Shores, now playing at Cerritos College, Cooper thinks that his returners will form a roster a little more like what he envisioned.
“We have a nice core coming back, and I think we’ll have a much better defensive team this year,” said Cooper. “The scoring might be more like 15 points, 12, 12, 10, and 9 instead of Jalen scoring 25, but I like that balance.”
Newcomers Makari Morris and Elijah Nelson will also bolster the Lancers chances. They’ll get an early look at their roster in the Ocean View Tournament, as well as North Orange County, and the Hacienda Heights Battle for the Ball.
Cooper stopped short of predicting a league title for the Lancers, which would be Lakewood’s first since Pat Rembert led the Lancers to a co-Moore League title with Jordan back in 2005.
“You know, Poly and Compton I’m sure are the favorites as always,” he said. “We just want to build on what we did last year, and keep getting better. We’re making progress–we’re trying to put the pieces together.”