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Basketball Long Beach Poly

Feature: Long Beach Poly’s Turnaround Season Has Them In Championship Game

The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly is sponsored by Bryson Financial

Long Beach Poly boys’ basketball coach Shelton Diggs burst into the locker room following the Jackrabbits’ dramatic win over Corona del Mar in the CIF Southern Section Division 2A semifinals. Diggs was fired up about his team’s win, which came in the last minute, but he was also overcome with emotion in thinking about his team’s journey

“I’m very, very proud of you guys,” he said, choking up. “What you guys went through last year, the season we had last year, you guys just got in the gym and said we’re not going to go through that again. You guys worked all year, you stuck with it, and now you’re playing for a championship.”

The Jackrabbits’ shot at history will come at Edison High at 3pm today as they face Marina for the CIF-SS Division 2A title. 

Diggs’ squad started the year off 4-7, and frustrations were high when the team lost 86-70 at Los Alamitos, their third defeat in a row. It was a season of high expectations at Poly–a place where expectations can often be almost ludicrously high–and the Jackrabbits weren’t meeting them. The players were pissed, the coaches were pissed, and the parents were pissed.

That night ended up being the turning point for the Jackrabbits, who got in the gym, simplified some things, and also saw their players double down on effort, especially defensively. All Poly has done since then is rip off a 20-1 record with their only loss being on the road at Lakewood. It’s been a remarkable turnaround–and one that Diggs accepts no credit for.

“I give the players all the credit,” he said. “They’re the ones who put their pride out there. I always say coaches can lose games but only players can win them, and they’ve gone out and gotten better and better.”

Star junior Jovani Ruff has certainly been sensational, averaging nearly 30 points per game and putting up crazy highlights like that semifinal 3-pointer. Former Poly coach Sharrief Metoyer remarked during the semifinal that Ruff might have as polished an offensive game as any player who’s been through Poly in the last three decades.

“I would put him up there with anybody,” said Diggs. “He’s very, very polished but he’s also not a ballhog. He’s going to make the right play and people don’t realize how good he is defensively as well.”

The emergency of juniors Giovanni Ofoegbu and Austin Unegbu as great scorers in their own right has been the other rocket fuel behind Poly’s successful season. Both have had big scoring nights and consistently punished teams who’ve overloaded on Ruff. The development of sophomore post Jonas Oware has been another key in the season for Poly, with Oware and Unegbu’s rebounding a huge part of the team’s defensive progression.

Mason Meyers has given Poly a steady presence as the team’s only starter, but sophomore Nana Ofoegbu’s energy off the bench as instant offense has been critical as well, and he was Poly’s second leading scorer in the semifinal after Ruff.

Diggs loves this group, and his pride in their work ethic was obvious in his emotional semifinal address. He also knows that at Poly, runner-ups don’t get banners or celebration, and he wants this group to etch their name in Jackrabbit history with a title.

“We feel ready, we feel sharp,” he said.

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.