Basketball Long Beach Poly

Feature: Long Beach Poly Runs COVID-19 Basketball Gauntlet

The Long Beach Poly boys’ and girls’ basketball teams have dominated the Moore League for the last decade-plus, but in that time have never faced anything like the challenge they undertook over the last week. Both programs–like most programs in the city–had to deal with a COVID-19 shutdown. That necessitated a ton of rescheduled games, which led to something that’s never happened before–league games on every day, and in the girls’ team’s case, a pair of huge league games on the same day.

“I’ve been coaching a long time and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Poly coach Carl Buggs. “But we’re focusing on just making the best of it.”

The Poly boys are looking for a state-leading and league record 13th consecutive Moore League championship. They played league games Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday last week as well as a game against Jordan Monday of this week–with a previously scheduled nonleague game against St. Francis thrown in on Saturday for good measure.

Poly coach Shelton Diggs said his team wasn’t bummed about the schedule at all.

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“After what happened last year, and knowing that basketball can be taken away at any moment, there’s no complaining here,” he said. “We’re happy for the opportunity to play.”

Poly beat Millikan, then had an overtime thriller against Lakewood, followed by a home game against Wilson and a road game against Compton. In that last road game, it was obvious that the strain of the schedule was affecting Diggs’ decisions. Up 15 points and seemingly in control of the game at the start of the fourth quarter, he pulled his starters–and promptly saw Compton go on a 10-0 run to force his hand in putting them back in.

“With the way the schedule is we’re doing anything we can to get guys rest, to keep them going,” said Diggs. “It’s a difficult balance.”

Poly was led throughout the week by Christian Watson, who averaged 20+ points.

“You definitely get tired playing so much but we’re going to make the best of it, and playing so many games together is definitely helping us to develop our identity,” he said.

On Monday, the Jackrabbits got up for a first-place league tilt against Jordan, and were able to overcome the Panthers with a big second half after leading by just two at halftime.

On the girls’ side, the challenge was even rarer: Poly hosted Millikan at 11 a.m. on Saturday and then Wilson at 7 p.m. on Saturday, facing two of the top teams in league on the same day, after having visited Compton the evening before. 

Poly was led by senior Nala Williams throughout the week. She suffered an ankle injury Saturday morning against Millikan, but fought through it to keep playing, eventually leading Poly to a win in overtime. She then suited up and came back that night against Wilson. She said she’s keeping the schedule in perspective by remembering the bigger effects that COVID-19 has had on the world.

“A lot of people have it worse than us because of COVID so I’m not going to boohoo about the schedule,” said Williams. “But it’s challenging, for sure.”

After surviving the Saturday gauntlet intact, the Poly girls picked up their 161st consecutive Moore League in Monday night against Jordan. They entered the game tied with the Panthers but defeated them 79-13, to stand alone at the top of the Moore League standings.

After navigating the brave new world of COVID-19 postponements, both Poly teams are still in first place by themselves undefeated, and in control of their fate as they try to extend their league championship streaks–proving that even as things change in a historic way, sometimes they remain the same, too.

 

Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.
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