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 is playing six games in six days this week, as the Jackrabbits compete in the Bosco Winter Classic as well as a tournament at Beverly Hills High. The young Poly squad is making progress with each game, a fact that was evident during a win over Hillcrest on Friday night. Poly led by one possession for most of the game, fell behind by three early in the fourth, then rode a dominant defensive performance to a 66-52 victory.
“We’re getting there,” said Poly coach Shelton Diggs. “We’re not there yet but we’re getting there. We’ve got another game Saturday and then a couple days of practice to shore some things up next week before league starts.”
Poly will face King Drew in the Bosco Winter Classic 5th place game at noon on Saturday, then visit Lakewood Wednesday evening to open Moore League play.
Friday night’s game was exactly what Poly needed. They’ve played against several undefeated teams this year and fallen short, then on Monday got their first win against Dominguez, and another win over Milken at Beverly Hills. A 52-48 loss to St. John Bosco Wednesday showed that Poly’s defense can be elite even this early in the season, and then Friday’s game against Hillcrest was the close nailbiter they’ve been looking for.
The Jackrabbits got a hot start from Cash Stokley, who had 12 of their 16 points in the first quarter coming out aggressively and looking to score. Stokley is a physical, energetic defender and when he’s scoring he makes a huge impact on a game, which the junior said was his goal.
“After the first three games we played I didn’t score in double digits, and I felt that I needed to impact the game a little more on offense,” said Stokley. “I know that I bring defensive intensity but I had to step it up a little bit, and I’ve kept it rolling.”
Notably, Poly star sophomore Jovani Ruff didn’t shoot in the first quarter, focusing on distributing the ball and getting his teammates involved. With Poly already knowing what Ruff brings to the table, it was a good sign for their long-term prospects to see them take a 16-11 lead after one with Stokley scoring it.
“For as good as Jovani is, he’s not a ballhog who wants to come down and shoot every time, he’s a really good facilitator,” said Diggs. “He enjoys the success of his teammates and he does a good job getting those guys involved. Teams are going to face guard him, they’re going to double him. We’re trying to put him on top so he can see over the double when it comes and facilitate. The more shots those guys make, the more they open things up.”
The game didn’t open up till the fourth--Poly and Hillcrest stayed within a possession or two of each other the entire time, with Poly usually on top. The Jackrabbits led 45-44 going into the fourth quarter, but two quick buckets from Hillcrest put them on top 48-45 with seven minutes left in the game--at that point the Jackrabbits took over.
They went on a 19-2 run keyed by smothering defense, with three steals and two blocks in that stretch. Meanwhile Austin Unegbu hit a triple, Ryder Maddox scored six points, and senior Kairi Shepherd drained a triple as well. Six minutes after they’d trailed 48-45, Poly led 64-50.
“We started out slow but we were confident at the end,” said Shepherd. “The coaches were getting on us and telling us to do better.”
Poly was led by 17 points from Stokley, 13 points from Unegbu, and 12 points each from Ruff, Maddox, and Shepherd.