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By Darian Nourian
The San Clemente boys basketball team made history last season by winning its first league championship since 1975. As the Tritons enter the peak of offseason play, the team is looking to the future in hopes of making history again by winning consecutive league titles, which has never been done in the program’s history.
The Tritons have been preparing for next season ever since they lost to Millikan of Long Beach in the second round of the CIF-SS Division II playoffs on February 19 and are off to a hot start in summer league and tournament play, jumping out to a 13-2 record in the exhibition format.
On June 30 the Tritons won the UCSB Team Camp Tournament up in Santa Barbara to give them their first tournament win of the summer. The team went 8-1 in the tournament and capped it off with a 29-19 win over Carlsbad in the finals.
“I am really proud of our team’s play over the course of the weekend,” said San Clemente head coach Marc Popovich, who enters his seventh-year at the helm. “We had a lot of players step up into roles they aren’t used to playing and I was just really happy to see us come out on top in just our second tournament of the summer.”
The player that has stepped up the most, according to Popovich, is Saddleback Valley Christian transfer Gage Shelmidine, who has quickly taken the reigns of the Tritons offense as the team’s point guard.
According to Popovich, the reason why the final against Carlsbad was so low scoring was that the games in the tournament were only 22 minutes long. Despite the short-clock format, the Tritons only loss was to Arroyo Grande of San Luis Obispo in pool play. Some notable teams that San Clemente beat en route to their championship include Santa Clara of Oxnard and University from San Diego.
After losing two all-league players to graduation, senior guards Cody Bean and Jimmy Bankson, Popovich believes that it is time for his returning varsity players to lead the young team.
One such player is last year’s Sea View League Most Valuable Player, junior forward Sam Darnold, who has emerged as a two-sport standout at San Clemente.
“Sam really turned up edge in Santa Barbara this past weekend and has just been doing great things for us and our program,” Popovich said. “He has of course been splitting time with football and has also been doing a great job of communicating with both coaching staffs.”
A player that Popovich felt went under the radar last year and has played a crucial role in the Tritons success, especially on defense, is returning junior guard Nick Crankshaw. Crankshaw was limited by an ankle injury but was big for the Tritons on the defensive boards in Santa Barbara, according to Popovich.
“With such a young team, Nick has emerged into our team leader both on and off the court,” Popovich said. “He has become very vocal on offense and defense, played through injuries and I am really proud of his development as both a player and a leader.”
Another varsity returner who Popovich expects to play a big role this summer is sophomore guard Cole Fotheringham.
Prior to the UCSB Tournament, the Tritons participated in the Saddleback Classic, where they were undefeated, going 4-0. The team beat Santa Fe Christian, Tri-Cities Christian and Yorba Linda.
The team is also playing in the Dana Hills Summer League, where they are 1-1 so far. They beat Saddleback Valley Christian in their first game and then went on to lose to Mission Viejo.
The Tritons played Laguna Beach in a summer league game at Dana Hills on Tuesday, July 2. Results weren’t available at press time.
With only four returners from last year’s league championship varsity team, Popovich wants his team to use the summer to learn how to play with each other and get as many minutes as possible under their belt as a team.
“Summer is important for experience,” Popovich said. “I am going to be putting together different groups on the floor in order to see who responds and will be most likely to do so during the regular season.”
As the team continues to gain more experience throughout the summer, they may very well continue to gain a bit of confidence as well, given their busy and successful summer schedule.