“Guess who’s back!”
Those were the words of first-year Jordan boys’ basketball coach Chris Francis following his team’s 67-60 win over defending Moore League champion Compton High on Monday night. It was not only the league opener for both teams, it was Francis’ debut in North Long Beach as J-Town’s head coach.
Francis is no stranger to the Moore League after taking the city by storm in his six-year run at Millikan from 2012-18, which saw him and his staff rack up over 100 wins and make a CIF Division 1 semifinal appearance. Admittedly, he’ll need some time to get this young group of Panthers where he wants them, but seeing Jordan earn its first win over Compton in nearly five years is a welcome sign for any fan of J-Town Basketball.
“I’m very proud of my team,” said Francis after the win. “We’re starting to come together. We’re young, but we’re starting to figure each other out and we’re starting to buy in. Today was one of our better games and where we really shared the ball well. We missed entirely too many layups and free throws in our own gym, but the effort is what we expected. We’re just proud of them for being unselfish players.”
Sophomore Alijah LaGrone led the way for Jordan with a team-high 20 points off the bench. He was joined in double-figures by freshman Daveyon Chisom who scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half. Damian Henderson added nine points and a team-high 16 rebounds for the Panthers.
“With Coach Francis and the whole new basketball environment, we came to win,” said LaGrone after the game. “We’re trying to get a championship this year. The football team had a great year, so we’re just trying to keep that going.”
The Panthers won every quarter to pull away from the Tarbabes gradually. Jordan led by one point after the first (16-15), three points at halftime (34-31), and four points headed into the fourth (49-45). Jordan led for the entire second half but their largest lead was just eight points in a remarkably back-and-forth game. The largest scoring run for either team was just five points.
Compton got a big night from senior Placido Silva, who scored a game-high 21 points on the strength of five made threes. Sophomore Avant Gilmore and senior Juwan Williams each added 11 for Compton. The visitors were without senior forward and leading scorer Malachi Scott, who is serving an indefinite suspension, according to head coach Tony Thomas.
His absence certainly left Compton shorthanded, but that’s not where the challenges end for Thomas and his team this season. Due to the ongoing renovations at Compton High, the Tarbabes are forced to practice in a middle school gym with just two baskets instead of the six that line a typical high school facility.
“We missed a lot of layups and a lot of free throws,” said Thomas, whose team was just 4/16 at the charity stripe on Monday night. “We’ve got one middle school gym and we’re sharing it with the JV team, so we can’t shoot free throws. I can’t prepare for the press, because I’ve got half a court. I don’t want to make excuses, but it’s tough.
“In the past, when we had these circumstances we would go to the parks and practice, but every park in Compton has been closed since the pandemic started.”
Thomas said he’s reached out to the mayor’s office and to other city officials but has had no success in securing an alternate practice site for his teams. He’s hopeful he’ll be able to practice at other high school gyms in the area for the foreseeable future.
But ultimately, Monday’s result was about the new era of Jordan Basketball, and a rejuvenated gameday atmosphere inside a gym with a rich history and a proud tradition. It’s just one game, but it’s a promising start for a coach with a proven track record of success. In conjunction with the recent CIF Championship Game appearance for the Jordan football team, there’s a buzz and an energy on the North Side that’s long been dormant.
“We expect to compete in every Moore League game, and the ones that we can win, we definitely want to win those,” Francis explained. “Because we are looking at playoff ramifications as well. You know, the football team had a magical season. We think we can probably duplicate it, and maybe even better.”
Jordan will continue league play on Wednesday night hosting Cabrillo, while Compton’s next league game won’t be until 2022 when they visit Lakewood on Jan. 5.