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Basketball Long Beach Poly

Boys’ Basketball Preview: Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits

The562’s season previews for the 2022-23 school year are sponsored by Vertical Raise, the official team fundraising partner of The562.

The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Poly alum Jayon Brown and PlayFair Sports Management.

The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by JuJu Smith-Schuster and the JuJu Foundation.

The Long Beach Poly boys’ basketball team has won the last 13 consecutive Moore League championships, a league record for longest-streak ever. The Jackrabbits have been a program on the rise again under coach Shelton Diggs, with recent alum Peyton Watson drafted into the NBA and a dozen former Poly players in the collegiate ranks, as well as the recent Cal-Hi Sports news that Poly is now the state’s all-time winningest program. But history and records don’t play basketball games, and Diggs is looking at a young, inexperienced Poly team to keep the school’s title streak going.

“We’re very young, and we’re up and down,” said Diggs. “Some days we look great, some days we look horrible. We’re just trying to get our consistency up. Our goal is to play a tough schedule that allows our kids to see what they need to get to while also giving them the chance to get some confidence. We’re hoping by the time we get to league we’re ready to go.”


The Jackrabbits don’t return much on-court experience from last year’s CIF-SS Division 2AA finalist--but as with any 13-year league title streak, rebuilding at Poly is a little different than rebuilding in other programs. It doesn’t hurt to have a consensus top 15 player in the sophomore class to build around, as Poly does with the smooth 6-5 guard Jovani Ruff.

“Jovani’s ready for it,” said Diggs. “Over the Summer he played on the EYBL and I got to see him on the national level--he made a lot of big plays at Peach Jam, he’s been the guy and had to hit big buckets against big players. Hopefully he’ll be able to rely on that experience.”

Ruff will be utilized across the floor for Poly, playing anywhere from the point to the power forward position, depending on how the team matches up with opponents in a given game. 

Jovani Ruff

Asked about his transition from an impressive freshman on a senior-laden team to a sophomore who will be asked to lead, Ruff didn’t blink.

“I’m ready for that,” he said. “I learned a lot from my senior leaders last year and I’m ready to take over and keep it going. We have a lot of length, we’re young, we’re fast. We’re going to play great defense this year.”

Ruff will be joined in the backcourt by a rare senior in 6-2 point guard Kairi Shepherd, probably the other most important player for Poly if they’re to have a good season. Sophomore Austin Unegbu is a 6-3 shooting guard who can bring scoring in bunches, with 6-3 junior Cash Stokely doing a lot of the grunt work in the frontcourt alongside Ryder Maddox.

While young, Poly does have depth with speedy sophomore guard Marcus Washington off the bench, along with junior PG Antonio Wembley, 6-3 guard sophomore guard Giovanni Ofoegbue, and 6-5 freshman Jonas Oware.

Diggs is joined on the bench this year by longtime assistant coach John Atkinson, as well as up-and-coming young coaches Mike Coleman, a Mayfair alum who’s working on campus at Poly, and alum Brandon Staton. Diggs and Coleman have both been on campus this year, restoring a longstanding tradition of the basketball team’s coaches having a staff presence at Poly. Diggs’ main task this summer and fall has been trying to prepare a young roster for a talented Moore League that smells blood in the water.

“As coaches we’re aware, we’re Poly so we have that arrow aiming at us,” he said. “I don’t know that our kids are aware of what’s coming, how people are coming. That’s our job to get them ready for that. All their big brothers are gone, now little brother has to step outside.”

The Jackrabbits nonleague schedule includes games at Redondo Union’s Pac Shores Tournament, Beverly Hills’ Tourney, and Bosco’s Winter Classic  before Poly opens Moore League play against top title challenger Lakewood on the road on Dec. 14. Poly will also play in the Damien Classic the week after Christmas, and in the Real Run Classic and Take Flight Challenge. They will also face St. Anthony on Jan. 22 at the Colony State Preview.

“We’re excited for the year,” said Diggs. “The league is better, everyone’s excited for their season. It should be fun.”

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.