rolific Prep of Napa Christian put a bow on the best season in program history last week by winning four games in three days to claim the Grind Session Championship for the first time ever.
The Crew (31-3) defeated Our Savior Lutheran, 95-80, last Thursday in the finale of the end-of-season tournament hosted by the Grind Session, the league of elite prep high school teams Prolific plays in, at Marshall County High School in Benton, Kentucky.
While long road trips are a standard part of their season, this trip was anything but ordinary.
As the Crew advanced through the first few rounds of the tournament in the middle of last week, the sports world around the country, and the world, was falling apart around them due to the coronavirus.
Following the Crew’s 109-104 double-overtime win over Central Pointe Christian Academy on Wednesday, which was spearheaded by Jalen Green’s 45 points, the team left the court and checked their phones to find jarring news: the NBA season had been suspended.
“We were just shocked and super confused,” said senior Coleman Hawkins, who is signed to play at the University of Illinois next season. “We really weren’t taking it that serious, but once we saw everything getting canceled we starting taking it much more seriously.”
First-year Prolific Prep head coach Joey Fuca called the night “surreal,” but said the team remained in good spirits.
“You know, they’re high school kids,” Fuca said. “I mean, it definitely was a crazy turn of events. But our guys, I give credit to them for staying focused and taking care of business.”
Little did they know, Wednesday was just the beginning of a wave of cancelations of sports across the country. A day later, the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were canceled, the NHL season was suspended, MLB delayed its opening day, and, most importantly to them, the GEICO National Championship was postponed indefinitely.
The news about the GEICOs was the toughest swallow. The Crew had received a spot in the invitation-only tournament, which pits the top high school teams against each other to determine a national champion.
“We all took a hit with that because it was definitely our biggest goal, because Prolific has never been to GEICOs,” said Crew senior Nimari Burnett, a Texas Tech signee.
Prolific Prep watched all of this happen from afar. When news broke Thursday that Marshall County schools would be closing on Friday, the situation became much more real to the Crew. The team figured it was only a matter of time before its season, too, would come to an abrupt end.
But before that happened, Prolific Prep still had games to play. Because of the school closures, tournament organizers had to scramble to rearrange games in order to crown a champion a day earlier than intended. They moved the semifinal games up several hours and scheduled the championship game to take place later that night.
“We were kind of the last show in town,” Fuca said. “You know, college and the NBA were canceled, so I told the guys, ‘This might be your last game for a while and also it might be the last basketball game that might be going on in the world.’
“Everything was starting to shut down.”
With potentially the final two games of their season scheduled to take place over just a few hours, the Crew put their collective heads down and got to work.
“We saw everything getting canceled so we figured it was probably going to be our last games together,” Hawkins said. “That motivated us to go out and win.”
Playing on short notice, they caught a reprieve when their semifinal game against West Oaks Academy was ended at halftime after the opposing coach was ejected. That gave the Crew extra rest as they watched the second semifinal game, eventually won by Our Savior Lutheran.
After about an hour break, the two teams returned to the court for the championship game, where Burnett paced the Crew with a game-high 37 points to lead them to their first Grind Session title in program history.
“The championship game was honestly the best game we played all year in terms of everybody hitting on all cylinders,” Fuca said. “We’re very proud of our guys.”
The big win eased some of the pain from the postponement of the GEICOs, which haven’t officially been canceled yet and could still be played at a later date.
Fuca said he heard late May was a possibility.
“It’s kind of a weird spot,” he said. “It’s a good spot because I’d rather have a GEICO championship under our belt, but we’ll just keep waiting and seeing what’s going on here.”
While Fuca, Burnett and Hawkins all agreed it would be disappointing to not get a chance to play at GEICOs, they did say that even if they have played their last game of the season, they’d be satisfied with how it ended.
“It’s just sad knowing that the season has come to an end, but it’s awesome knowing that we did it in a historic way,” Hawkins said. “So it goes both ways for me.”
Trio selected to all-state team
On the heels of their Grind Session championship, the Crew learned Monday that Green, Burnett and Hawkins had been selected to MaxPreps’ all-state team.
Green was the named California’s Player of the Year and was a first-team selection alongside Burnett. Hawkins landed on the third team.
Green, a consensus top-three player in the nation and currently an undecided recruit, averaged 31.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5 assists per game this season on 42% shooting from deep and 84% from the free-throw line.
Burnett, a McDonald’s All-American selection with Green, averaged 25.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists this season while shooting 40% from three and 81% at the stripe.
Hawkins averaged 12.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and a team-high 6.5 assists for the Crew this season.
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