Nothing has come easy for Compton basketball since the COVID-19 shutdowns.
The program had to deal with the shooting deaths of three future, current, or former members of the team during the pandemic. Now the campus construction has forced them to practice on the small court at Roosevelt Middle School. They have to share the floor with other teams and can’t even practice at full speed under the basketball because the wall is so close to the baseline.
“It’s an inconvenience but we’ll manage,” Compton coach Tony Thomas said. “We have to take our time and make it work. We’re getting there but it’s a process. It is what it is.”
The good news is that Thomas has a handful of returners who went 12-2 during the rescheduled season earlier this year. Compton has to replace star guard Patrick Johnson, but seniors Brandon Releford and Malachi Scott have the raw talent to fill the stat box like Johnson did.
“We’re really strong willed and we have a lot of pride,” Releford said. “No body is going to get pushed around.”
“He plays hard and he’s tough,” Thomas said of Releford. “He can shoot the ball and he’s a combo guard who has good size for high school.”
Just like Releford, the 6’6” Malachi Scott is very motivated and hunting for a college scholarship offer. Thomas said he got a lot stronger during the offseason.
Releford and Scott will be joined by sophomore Avant Gilmore, senior Placido Silva and senior Juwon Williams in the starting lineup. Silva and Williams are both returning from injuries.
Thomas said the extenuating circumstances will keep Compton from being at full strength until December, but when they get there this will be one of the deepest teams he’s had.
“We’ll probably try to wear teams down and try to get the ball inside,” Thomas said. “By January and February we should be rolling. We’ve just got to gel. We’ve got some size and some pieces, we just have to make it work now.”
No matter when Compton hits its stride, Releford will be the biggest key to success as the point guard and vocal leader.
“I’ve worked on being an actual point guard,” Releford said of the offseason. “Last year we had Patrick Johnson so I didn’t have to worry about running the offense. Coach Thomas has helped me a lot with screen reads, how to break down defenses, where people should be like if I’m driving baseline I should find a cutter. He’s making sure I’ve got my eyes up at all times.”
Releford added that the inconvenient gym availability and practice times has added a sense of urgency to the preseason workouts.
“Anytime we’ve had to run outside or share the court everybody just got in line,” Releford said. “So we had to make sure we practiced hard in the time we had. We’ve had one mind about it… Everyone just has to buy in and do their part and we’ll be good.”
Compton only has two home games on the schedule that they’ll have to play at Compton Centennial High. Those games are against Poly on Jan. 21 and Cabrillo on Feb. 3 for Senior Night.
“We’re going to compete… It’s just whether we can execute and gel,” Thomas said.