A number of successful high school basketball programs in Southern California wear the small-school tag. La Verne Lutheran lives it.
"If you blink, you’ll miss us," said its boys’ basketball coach, Eric Cooper.
But college recruiters know Lutheran is located just off the Foothill Freeway, in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains. The play of the Trojans over the last three seasons–the length of time the 150-student school has fielded a varsity basketball program–has certainly put them on the map of general high school basketball fans as well.
(The infrastructure that went in to building the program is detailed in this story from earlier this season).
Lutheran looks to take another step into the limelight Saturday at 3 p.m., when it plays Los Angeles Windward in the Southern California Regional Division 5 championships at Colony High in Ontario. The winner advances to the state final March 26-27 in Bakersfield.
Don’t be surprised if this game ends up as close as their last meeting March 4 in the Southern Section Division 5AA final at Colony. In that game, Bruce English sank a 15-footer at the buzzer to lift second-seeded Lutheran to a 62-61 victory against the top-seeded Wildcats. Seconds earlier, Windward standout Wesley Saunders had scored off a drive to give his team a one-point lead.
What makes the Trojans such a strong small school is the depth of their starting five.
C.J. Cooper, the nephew of Eric, is a 5-foot-11 junior point guard who is being recruited by San Diego State and Montana State. Grant Jerrett is a 6-8 sophomore forward who has scholarship offers from UCLA, USC, Washington, Arizona and Nevada-Las Vegas. Xavier Jones is also a 6-8 junior forward with exceptional shot-blocking abilities.
English, a junior guard, and freshman guard Eric Cooper, the coaches’ son, are also key parts of the team.
The only senior, 6-7 forward Jordan Salley, has been sidelined all season after injuring his knee last June. He has signed with Montana State.
In addition to its victory against Windward, the Trojans have a number of other results that solidify their standing as one of the top teams in Southern California.
They defeated defending Division 2 state champion Eisenhower of Rialto and City Section power Los Angeles Dorsey earlier this season at the Pasadena Rose City Classic. They’ve also knocked off Division 2 Southern California Regional finalist Compton and Central Section Division 1 champion Clovis East.
"Nine of our opponents were in section finals," Cooper said.
Definitely a small school with big-time results.