Deer Valley faces heavy opposition from formidable foes Liberty, Freedom and Heritage. But the Wolverines found another adversary during Monday’s Martin Luther King Classic at Cal’s Haas Pavilion – themselves.
Against Franklin of Elk Grove, a six-point Wolverine lead in the fourth quarter evaporated to a 54-51 Wildcat victory. While timely Franklin defense and double-digit scoring efforts from Victor Rustin and Theo and Darin Johnson helped doom the Wolverines, Deer Valley players also mentioned the lack of team unity as a factor.
“We came out hard, but we just had some selfishness problems,” Wolverines junior guard Kendall Smith said. “We could’ve played better defense. We should never break down. We’re a team – we should always have each other’s back. Tonight we didn’t do that.”
After playing to a tie in the first half, Deer Valley opened the third quarter on a 6-1 run, initially putting some distance between themselves and the Wildcats.
Franklin tied it up late in the fourth quarter on a Darin Johnson layup. Smith gave the Wolverines a 51-49 lead shortly afterward.
With a little over a minute remaining, Theo Johnson sunk one of two free throws to cut the lead to one. The Wolverines then fouled Kelton Newman, who nailed both shots from the charity stripe to give his team a 52-51 lead they didn’t give up. Deer Valley tried to get the ball to its big men – junior center Marcus Lee and senior forward Noah Labonte – in the last few seconds, but they were unable to get a clear shot.
Franklin upped the ante with 17 seconds left on a layup from Rustin. A Smith three-point attempt with time expiring failed, ensuring the Wildcat victory.
“We have a young team and this is the first time that they’re getting to play on this type of level,” said Deer Valley head coach LeChet Phillips. “We have to learn how to play together and compete all 32 minutes of the game.”
The non-league loss dropped Deer Valley to 11-6 overall. Senior guard Olajuwon Garner and Smith each contributed 15 points. The Wolverines earned a 79-62 win over Heritage last week in the BVAL opener and face crosstown rival Antioch on Friday.
Phillips knows that while this will be a tough BVAL season, his team still holds the pennant. It’s up to the other schools to change that.
“I think we’re in good shape,” Phillips said. “Our section is wide open. We want to make a good showing in league. We’ll build on that and get back to our winning ways and we’ll just go from there.”