By Joshua Treadwell
Special to the Palisades News
As the much-anticipated high school basketball season gets underway, many young and hungry players have their sights set on gaining championship glory. This has been an elusive goal at Palisades High School, which has one exactly one City Section title (in 1969) in school history.
Nevertheless, the quest remains, and the Dolphins have added new methods to both their offensive and defensive prowess. The coaches, some having played collegiate basketball, believe in the poise of their players and what they can bring to the table this year.
Head Coach Donzell Hayes was a gifted guard when he played at Pali from 1992 to 1996, and through his passion and understanding of the game and this specific environment, he hopes to make the Dolphins a championship contender.
Having faced the turmoil and obstacles of being both a Palisades student and athlete, Hayes has a set of values and skills that were enhanced when he played basketball at Saddleback College for two years and then at Southwestern Oklahoma State, where he set six school records for assists and steals.
After college, Hayes started teaching young kids the game, helping them become not only their best selves on the court, but also to be the best people they could be as well, holding each of his players to a high academic and moral standard.
Five years ago, he became an assistant coach for Coach Vejas Anaya at PaliHi. He learned the new style of the Pali system, embracing its defense-first mindset. He became head coach last year, and the Dolphins finished 16-14 overall and 7-5 in the tough Western League, finishing third.
Hayes seems to be excited about his current team, which features mostly juniors. When asked about the importance of certain players on his roster, he said, “All players are key, as they all add a special piece and ingredient to overall flow and success.”
Hayes said that two key players this year are returning junior guards, Nick Kerkorian and Anthony Spencer. “They have the necessary tools to lead the offense and play defense,” he said, and added, that “forwards Teddy Suisman, Avi Massaband and Kevin Eng are tenacious and intelligent.” He said they add speed, strength and basketball IQ to the program.
At center position, the contenders are seniors Ryan Hinton and Ari Sallus, and junior Roman Hartwell. Coach Hayes welcomes a Crespi transfer, 6-2 junior Will Jani to the roster as a guard/forward.
Hayes believes that even with the addition of new pieces and ways of playing, his coaching style will most likely remain the same.
Having played for this program during the 2015-16 season, I can most certainly attest to the importance that coaches place on defense.
Although Coach Hayes believes the Dolphin offense may not be tops in a league that includes powerful Westchester and Fairfax, “Attention to detail and aggressiveness on defense can lead to victory.”
Traditionally, he will stick with the basic 2-3 defense, which cancels out perimeter threats, while also the man defense, which places each individual on another, in hope of using each player’s IQ to stop scoring outbursts.
All of these methods, although quite simple and traditional, if executed correctly, can be the difference between a championship run or a crushing playoff defeat.
Coach Hayes, confident in his young core, believes this season will pave a new path for his Dolphins. He hopes to instill confidence in his players, which will in return give them the upper hand and give them the most probable chance at victory.
One important message Hayes preaches is taking one game at a time. The Dolphins have played in several preseason tournaments and have a 2-5 record, which includes a 74-47 loss to Alemany High School, a 67- 63 loss to Blair High School, and a blowout win over St. Monica High School 70-32.
These games have showed the true spirit of the Dolphins, proving their toughness and resiliency even through defeat.
Last Friday, the Dolphins lost to Santa Monica High School 75-65. At half the teams were tied 36-36, but the Vikings pulled away in the third quarter, scoring 22 to the Dolphins’ 10, which provided the winning edge. Senior Cole Jacobs led the scoring with 17 points and sophomore guard Anthony Spencer scored 16.
League starts January 8 with a game at Venice, and marks the beginning of a new chapter in Palisades basketball history, and I, along with hundreds of die-hard fans, expect nothing less than a great and true brand of basketball. PaliHi faces Fairfax at on January 17 and Westchester on January 22. Both games are at home.