Cal-Hi Sports’ recently updated State record book shows that Long Beach Poly’s boys’ basketball team might have as dominant a history as the school’s football teams. The Jackrabbits enter this season with 2,105 all-time victories dating back to 1907–no other school in California has more than 1,800 wins. The Jackrabbits’ co-Moore League championship in the Spring was also the team’s 63rd league title, tied for most in state history.
Of course, none of that really matters to Poly coach Shelton Diggs and his team entering this year. Nor do the dozen Jackrabbits playing NCAA basketball this year, or the 20 previous CIF-SS titles on the banner in the Ron Palmer Pavilion. This year for Poly is about re-establishing itself and the Poly culture on both ends of the court as they seek to win a 13th consecutive Moore League title, which would be the longest streak in league history.
“Last year was so frustrating because COVID threw stuff off,” said Poly coach Shelton Diggs. “We found out we were having a season 10 days before our first Moore League game, after not being able to do anything before that. This year we had an actual fall, summer camp, conditioning. This year is a little bit closer to normal, and I really like this group of guys.”
The Jackrabbits will feature four seniors, including leader Christian Watson, the younger brother of recently graduated McDonald’s All-American Peyton Watson, now at UCLA. Diggs said he’s seen impressive growth from Chris this offseason.
“He’s really been stepping up as a leader and showing the young guys what it is,” said Diggs. “He’s poised for a really big season–he’s going to make anyone who didn’t recruit him regret passing him up.”
The other seniors are Darron “Buddha” Henry, an undersized guard who makes a big impact in every game he plays in, offensively and defensively. Henry is recovering from an injury and is likely to miss the first few weeks of the season. Gabe Cummings, the sharp-shooting lefty, also returns and Marcel Hayes enters his senior year as a frontcourt player willing to get his nose dirty in the paint. Jeremiah Armstead will give Poly some heft in the frontcourt, something they don’t have a lot of.
“We’re deep this year, though, we’re going to go nine or ten guys,” said Diggs. “We’re going to play hard and fast. The most important thing is we had time to implement defense and to practice it consistently. Last year guys were coming off a year and a half of just doing individual workouts. Now we’ve spent three months working on defense, intensity, and desire. It’s going to be a lot better.”
Competing for starting minutes right away will be Jovani Ruff, a lanky wing with sky-high potential. Daniel Hardy and Kairi Shepherd will come off the bench, as will Ryder Maddux, Bradley Diggs, and Cash Stokely.
Watson emphasized the same things his coach did about the improvement in the team this year.
“You can see from practice that the intensity is higher,” he said. “Something that Gabe and Marcel and Buddha and me tried to stress is just staying together, on and off the court. Just find stuff to do together, force guys to get to know each other early. Our practices have been high energy, high intensity.”
Watson said the team has also spent a lot of time reviewing film, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, picking apart their flaws from last season.
Henry said that Poly knows they’re going to not have as many cameras around with Peyton now playing at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, instead of Poly’s Ron Palmer Pavilion.
“I feel like we’re going to be doubted this year, we’re going to be underdogs, and we’re going to prove a lot of people wrong,” he said. “We’re excited for the season–the energy is great. I can’t wait.”
As for that history from Cal-Hi Sports, Diggs had to admit he got a kick out of the numbers.
“That win total is crazy, the history here is amazing,” he said. “Hopefully this group can add to it.”