Pasadena’s Quest for 14th Consecutive Pacific League Title Starts Wednesday; Muir Confident They’ll End Bulldogs’ Reign in 2018

Published : Wednesday, January 3, 2018 | 6:07 AM

There is nothing wrong with a little confidence and swagger.

Muir enters Pacific League play with both.

The Mustangs travel to Glendale on Wednesday night with plenty of momentum after winning the Silver Division of the Damien Classic this past weekend.

Some could even argue that the Mustangs enter the 14-game title chase playing a more balanced brand of basketball and they’re certainly more healthy than are the Bulldogs.

But until someone knocks Pasadena off its perch, the reigning 13-time league champs are still the team to beat.

Pasadena (7-5) is obviously led by its senior captains.

Bryce Hamilton, the UNLV-bound guard-forward teams up with the area’s most dynamic point guard, Darius Brown II, for one last run at CIF and State titles, and they certainly set the tone for coach Tony Brooks’ program.

It isn’t just Hamilton and DBII, though.

PHS returns the core from last year’s CIF-SS title game, and CIF State regional finals team, and they’ve added two important pieces to the puzzle.

St. Francis transfer Omari Moore has been welcomed back after spending last year in La Canada and Tavian Percy, a Florida transfer, has been a special addition both as a scorer and for his rebounding prowess.

What might be considered the x-factor for PHS is whether Darius Mason, a junior, can get back to the production he provided in his impressive sophomore season.

Mason was banged up a little in the Las Vegas Tournament (Tarkanian Classic) and he hasn’t been as aggressive as Brooks would like.

The Bulldogs (7-5) lost just 7 games all last season, and have dropped 5 of their last 9 games.

People shouldn’t read too much into the five losses as their schedule is as elite as it gets in tournaments.

What is concerning, though, is the health of Percy, who sat out the final game at the Damien Classic, as well as Mason and Brown.

The two Darius’ got dinged up in Las Vegas at the Tarkanian Classic and have been trying to play through the pain.

Percy was hobbled in the Damien Tournament and said on Saturday that he couldn’t have gone even if they really needed him.

As far as the PHS offense goes, Hamilton averages 27 points and 6 rebounds thus far, and his aggressiveness on the boards has elevated of late.

So much is expected the PHS senior and he’ll certainly be the target of opposing defense’s.

Brown (11 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds), when healthy, is as complete a player as any and dominates with his scoring, assists, steals and even rebounding, when needed.

His abilities, both physical and as Brooks’ ‘coach on the court’ will make a program at the next level very happy.

Neither Brooks or anyone within the program can understand why they won’t have a home court advantage like elite programs enjoy.

The construction upgrades that were planned to have been completed in the Bulldogs gym before the season started in November still are not completed.

That was the same home court that was said to be so poorly designed that condensation from a sellout crowd caused the Pasadena-Muir game to be canceled just one quarter into last year’s showdown at PHS.

As of now, PHS is expected to play home games at PCC, but they can’t even practice there, so Brooks is considering Maranatha and Marshall for future ‘home games.’

Hamilton knows the Bulldogs time to take their game to the next level is now.

“We started off playing tough games, and I think that will help translate into Pacific League games,” Hamilton said. “Our major goal is to go undefeated. Tavian (Percy) brings everything we’ve been looking for since last year.”

Percy so far is second in scoring with 126 points, and second in rebounding with 54.

And for his part, Percy is happy to be part of the Bulldog family.

“My role is to just play hard every game and take open shots. I know they have three stars, (Hamilton, Mason, DBII) but I came in to try and help them win a state championship,” Percy said. “Bryce knows how to play the game well and he’s going to have a big year.”

As mentioned, Mason is down about 5 points and 2 rebounds from his sophomore campaign, but his coaches and teammates believe that once he’s healthy, Mason will be back to form and that could be the difference for the Bulldogs.

Omari Moore will also be a key to PHS either making it 14 titles in a row, or some new blood taking over the Pacific League penthouse.

Muir (7-4) as mentioned is feeling good after this past weekend’s division championship at Damien when they defeated Bonita in the final round.

They also played in the same tournaments in Las Vegas and at Maranatha like the Bulldogs.

In Vegas and La Verne, both PHS and Muir competed in different divisions and/or brackets, so January 19 will be the first time the crosstown rivals will face off.

The Mustangs have had some steep highs and occasionally their turnovers and some missed free-throw attempts have caused some disappointment.

But what no one can argue is that, and regardless of competition or schedule, Muir is playing as balanced as anyone in the area.

The symmetrical relationship between their offensive and defensive production has been key to coach Simaine Stewart’s success thus far.

Muir’s victory over Rancho Cucamonga (13-1 at the time) is probably their signature victory of the year, but nothing quite matters more than what they do against their rivals at PHS.

One thing that really stuck in Stewart’s craw last year was seeing PHS, Blair and Maranatha all in the CIF-SS finals, and themselves in the stands.

He’s used that as motivation and believes his program belongs in that rare air.

Hunter Woods, the MVP of the Silver Division in the Damien Tournament, has been the Mustangs’ leading man, and his versatile production has helped Muir get off to this start.

Woods averages 19 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists per game.

The 6-foot-6 forward is aggressive around the rim on both ends of the floor and his teammates count on him to do a little of everything.

Muir is also getting really solid play from its guards.

Tiyon Martin and Simaine Stewart Jr., compliment and feed off of each other’s play.

The Mustangs guards (and stepbrothers) combine for 22 points and 12 assists per game thus far.

“We have good competition in our league like CV (Crescenta Valley) and Glendale, but we’re very confident we can go 14-0 easy,” Simaine Stewart Junior said.

When asking Martin what Muir needed to do to upend the reigning 13-time champs, the senior replied, “nothing, we just have to play our game.”

Haleem Jenkins has been huge so far and his 17 points per game is second for the Mustangs.

“We can beat Pasadena, because we have more pieces and stars than Pasadena,” Jenkins said. “We have to play consistent and play hard from the start to the finish.”

Tasson Aubry is another invaluable weapon for Stewart’s program.

The 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward averages 9 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks a night.

While Stewart knows kids are going to be kids and he likes their confidence, the Muir coach agreed with Hall of Fame pro wrestler Ric Flair’s motto of “to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man,” and for now, Pasadena is ‘the man’ until someone knocks them off.

“Woooh.”

Both January 19 and February 8 should be must-see competition between two schools that are not only so close in talent, but they also know each other’s tendencies unlike any opponents they will face throughout the season.

Quotable:

PHS coach Tony Brooks: “Going into league, we’re looking to play our best ball. When we go into league, we want to sharpen things up and get our responsibilities down. You have to manage. Injuries are part of the game. Guys need to step up when needed. I think Muir needs Pasadena and Pasadena needs Muir. We make each other better.”

Muir coach Simaine Stewart: “We need consistent play. When we played them the last couple years, we’ve split with them. That’s been our biggest thing is our consistent play throughout. The kids like each other more. They were always friends, but I think we had an issue of ‘who’s the man?’ Now, everybody accepts their roles.”

PHS senior Darius Brown II: “We aren’t playing as well as we would like. We had a tough schedule and didn’t do as well as we liked but we are going to find our stride. We know we are up there with the top teams in the state we just have to be able to prove it. 2. No pressure going into league. We will get our stride and continue to find ourselves. By the time league is over we should be up near our peak and be ready to win a title. League champions isnt a goal for us a cif and state title is. But at the same time we have to come in every game with a respect for every team but a swagger about ourselves

Muir senior Hunter Woods: “I feel like everyone is high on Pasadena because they proved themselves by going to the championship. I think people are doubting us because they don’t know enough about us. We have as much talent if not more than Pasadena. If our bench players outplay theirs, we’ll win by 10 points.”

2017-18 Pacific League Standings Through Jan 1:
Glendale (12-1)
Burbank (10-3)
Burroughs (8-3)
Muir (7-4)
Pasadena (7-5)
Arcadia (3-2)
Crescenta Valley (7-6)
Hoover (4-9)

Wednesday’s Pacific League Schedule:
Pasadena at Crescenta Valley at 5
Muir at Glendale at 5
Burroughs at Arcadia at 5
Hoover at Burbank at 5

Friday’s Pacific League Schedule:
Burroughs at Muir at 7
Arcadia vs Pasadena at PCC at 7
Crescenta Valley at Hoover at 7
Burbank at Glendale at 7

Statistics Through January 1, 2018

Pasadena Individual Stats (Per Game):
Bryce Hamilton: 27 points, 6 rebounds per game.. 52% from field/73% from FT line
Tavian Percy 12 points, 5 rebounds
Darius Brown II: 11 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds
Omari Moore: 5 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists
Darius Mason: 7 points, 4 rebounds
3 Pointers Made: Bryce Hamilton 21, Tavian Percy 19, Darius Brown II 15

Muir Individual Stats (Per Game):
Hunter Woods: 19 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists
Haleem Jenkins: 17 points, 2 rebounds
Tiyon Martin: 12 points, 7 assists, 2 steals
Simaine Stewart Jr 11 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds
Tasson Aubry: 8 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks

Team Field Goals:
PHS: 50%
Muir: 43%

Team Free Throws:
PHS: 72%
Muir: 69%