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Nikolas Khamenia leads Harvard-Westlake past Corona Centennial for Open Division crown

Raising his right arm in triumph after making a 3-pointer late in the first half Tuesday night before a sellout crowd at Centenary CrownThe noisy gym of Studio City’s Nikolas Khamenia Harvard-Westlake he was letting everyone know about this historic moment to decide that a trip to Sacramento to play for the Open Division state championship would be something he would never forget.

Time after time, the 16-year-old, 6-foot-8 sophomore born in Los Angeles to parents who came here from Belarus delivered baskets, rebounded, took a charging foul and even dribbled the ball like a point guard. He finished with 20 points as Harvard-Westlake defeated the top-seeded Huskies, 80-61.

“We have always known what he has been capable of,” said coach David Rebibo. “He showed it tonight.”

Harvard-Westlake (32-2) will play Santa Maria St. Joseph for the Open Division championship on Saturday night at the Golden 1 Center. The Wolverines had never reached the highest level before. They won back-to-back Division III state championships in 1996 and 1997 with the Collins twins, Jason and Jarron. They won a Division IV title in 2016. But defeating the three-time defending Southern Section Open Division champions with a team that has no transfer students other than Brady Dunlap as a freshman is truly a monumental achievement.

Centennial (30-4) hadn’t lost to a California team since May 28, 2021. And that was Harvard-Westlake doing the honors. The Wolverines were upset about having to play a regional championship game on an opponent’s home court, but now they’ve won four times at Centennial in recent years.

From the start, the Wolverines took charge and did whatever it took to win. “We bounced, we moved the ball, we hit the open man,” Rebibo said.

When Trent Perry, who finished with 25 points, and center Jacob Huggins were benched after being fouled twice midway through the second quarter, you’d think the Wolverines would be in trouble. But others stepped up, from Dunlap (18 points) to Khamenia.

“It hurt me last year to come here and lose to them as a freshman,” Khamenia said. “I wanted to win it for my teammates and my coach.”

Asked how he was able to take shot after shot, Khamenia said: “It’s just confidence and the coaches trust me.”

With 47 seconds remaining and a 21-point lead after Harvard-Westlake emptied their bench, Khamenia let out one of those primal screams to express the achievement.

Centennial then took out All-American Jared McCain in an emotional moment. McCain, who scored 21 points. he was trying to hold back tears when he hugged fellow senior Devin Williams and received a standing ovation at his last game.

“He’s a special talent, an incredible competitor,” Rebibo said of the McCain-bound Duke.