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HomeNewsHarvard-Westlake defeats St. Joseph for state men's basketball Open Division title

Harvard-Westlake defeats St. Joseph for state men’s basketball Open Division title


Watching a 16-year-old sophomore basketball player blossom over the course of a five-month high school season and go from a player with potential to a player who takes 3-pointers in an NBA arena and plays such defense suffocating than the other team. star player is almost invisible explains how valuable the 6-foot-8 Nikolas Khamenia has been during March Madness for Harvard-Westlake.

It culminated on the biggest stage at the Golden 1 Center on Saturday night with Harvard-Westlake (33-2) clinching the No. 1 team in California after a 76-65 win over Santa Maria St. Joseph in the Open Division state championship. game. Although Harvard-Westlake has five starters who are sure to go to college, the player who elevated the Wolverines to state champions in the toughest division was Khamenia.

He defeated three-time South Section Open Division defending Corona Centennial last week with a 20-point performance. This time, he was assigned to guard the talented Tounde Yessoufou of St. Joseph’s 6-8, averaging 28.2 points. He limited it to six points in the first half and 14 points in 32 minutes. Khamenia also scored 16 points, hitting three 3-pointers.

Harvard-Westlake’s Trent Perry gets past St. Joseph’s Luis Marin in the first quarter.

(José Luis Villegas / For the Times)

Harvard-Westlake led at halftime 35-31. The Knights were able to hold on because 6-6 guard Luis Marin continued to use his size to maneuver inside and scored 15 points, making seven of his eight shots. As usual, the Wolverines were getting contributions from the starting five and Christian Horry came off the bench to hit a baseline 3-pointer that made his father, Robert, sit on the court and feel good.

In the third quarter, the Wolverines made a big adjustment. Brady Dunlap, at 6-8, was assigned to cover Marin, who suddenly stopped scoring. He made one shot the rest of the game. Harvard-Westlake had a 7-0 surge and took a 48-35 lead.

The players who needed to pass did so through Harvard-Westlake. Point guard Trent Perry, the Mission League player of the year, had 16 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. The 10 assists was a state record for the Open Division. Dunlap scored 16 points. Jacob Huggins had 15 points and 11 rebounds.

The legacy of this Harvard-Westlake team could be in contention to be the best in school history. The 1996 and 1997 teams that won back-to-back Division III state championships with the Collins twins, Jason and Jarron, have always been used as the yardstick for basketball greatness. The 1997 team went 36-1, ranked #1 in California, and only lost to national powerhouse Mt. Zion Christian Academy of Durham, NC Going 33-2 with close losses to the Henderson (Nev.) Liberty and Bellflower St. John Bosco were the only losses this season. And each time, the Wolverines responded with a vengeance, learning from their mistakes.

“I feel like it humbled us,” Perry said of a playoff group stage loss to St. John Bosco. “We got together and we did it.”

Said coach David Rebibo: “Sometimes a restart is a good thing.”

The future is also bright.

Three of his five starters are freshmen: Perry, Robert Hinton and Khamenia. Add in key sixth man Horry and developing first-year big man Dominique Bentho, and the Wolverines have the makings for another powerful starting lineup for 2023-24.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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