To say that Compton is a surprise participant in the Division III Southern California regional final would be an understatement.
This is a team that finished last season 10-18 and 4-8 in the Moore League and was 3-9 this season when the calendar switched to 2010, yet will face second-seeded San Diego Lincoln Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Galen Center with a spot in the state final on the line.
Coach Tony Thomas said the team, which features only two seniors in its regular rotation, simply grew up.
"A lot of our guys are new to the varsity level," he said. "We always had the talent and the potential, we just took time figuring out how to put it all together."
Compton went 9-1 in January and finished second to Long Beach Poly in the Moore League, yet still had trouble attracting believers. They were seeded seventh in the Southern Section Division 2AA playoffs, yet advanced to the final before losing to Murrieta Valley, 50-44.
For the state playoffs, the Tarbabes (21-13) were seeded fifth in Southern California, yet have defeated fourth-seeded San Diego Hoover and top-seeded Rialto Eisenhower en route to the regional final.
"Everybody is surprised, but I’m not," Thomas said. "They look at our record and say we have 13 losses. But they don’t realize that five of those losses are to CIF champions and nine of them are to teams that made the state playoffs."
Part of the problem was a gym that needed repairs and had to be shut down for two weeks in December.
"We weren’t practicing regularly," Thomas said. "We weren’t working on things that needed work."
The development of junior point guard Allan Guei has been instrumental in the turnaround, Thomas said. Guei was a shooting guard the past two seasons but has learned the new position and is now a Division I recruit as a point guard.
"He started out with a scoring mentality, but his all-around game has developed very quickly," Thomas said. "I trust him out there and trust what he’s doing with the ball and that allows me to coach areas of the floor away from the ball. I don’t have to be watching the ball all the time. That’s huge."
Lincoln (27-2), the San Diego Section Division II champion, is on a 22-game winning streak. Their last loss was an 87-68 setback to Compton Centennial on Dec. 30. Compton defeated Centennial, 67-60, on Jan. 18.
"We don’t put too much into that," Thomas said. "They lost to Centennial early in the year. We know how much things can change from the beginning to now."