BOYS’ BASKETBALL /// Westlake Warriors
Look up gritty in the dictionary.
But don’t Google it . . . a Philadelphia cheesesteak devouring, googly-eyed radioactive orange berserker will haunt your dreams from now until the end of time, or at least until the end of this story.
Try it one more time.
Look up gritty in the Unabridged New World Snot Otter Dictionary, and the Westlake Warriors appear.
No local high school boys’ basketball team has endured more adversity than Westlake.
Two players transferred out to a rival school in the offseason. A senior captain and Acorn All-Star phenom suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason finale in late October. The starting point guard went down with a season-ending injury after 10 games. The road Warriors have played only six home outings all winter.
“No matter how this last week goes or if we get into the playoffs or not, I’m proud of our team. I’m arguably more proud of this team than any team I’ve coached in the (eight) years I’ve been here,” said Kyle Kegley, the Warriors’ indomitable head coach. “Every team has their own identity. This team has been special on its own self with the adversity that’s happened.”
Kegley said this has been the most emotionally taxing season in his time at Westlake.
No matter what else transpires, Westlake will finish this winter with a winning record for the sixth time in eight years with Kegley.
The Warriors entered Thursday’s regular season finale at Oaks Christian with a 16-11 overall record, including 4-5 in the Marmonte League.
River Ortiz, a 6-foot-3 senior shooting guard who has missed the entire season with an injury, has attended every practice, film session and game.
“It’s next man up,” Ortiz said. “I’ve been on varsity for three years. Maybe I’m a little biased as a second-year captain, but this year compared to all the other years, there’s nothing like it. We’ve all come together. The chemistry is just on another level. We know not to take anything for granted. . . .
“I’m so proud of them. We’re all proud of each other.”
Aidan Delavari, a junior point guard, suffered an injury early in the season. At the time of Delavari’s setback, he was first in assists, first in steals and third in scoring.
Austin Maziasz and Kayden Elsokary have played well.
Maziasz, a 6-foot-5 sophomore forward, is making the most of his expanded role. He leads the team with 18.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and roughly one block per outing through 26 games.
“It’s been the next-man-up mentality,” Maziasz said. “We really had to embrace each other. It’s definitely been hard offensively to score enough points, but our defense has stepped up big. We’ve improved a lot. I think we’ve done a much better job defensively. Really our defense is what’s kept us in games.”
Maziasz scored a career high 39 points in Westlake’s 88-76 win against Chatsworth on Dec. 13 while outdueling freshman sensation Alijah Arenas, who scored 36 points. Arenas, who blitzed his way to 56 points in a Jan. 21 game, is the son of Agent Zero, former NBA All-Star Gilbert Arenas.
Maziasz praised Kegley for driving the team forward through adversity.
“Kegley has drilled into us to keep pushing forward no matter what, the mindset of no excuses,” Maziasz said. “He’ll hold us all accountable. Whether it’s the last person off the bench or the first person in the game, everyone knows they have to take ownership of what they do.”
Maziasz, a 4.6 GPA scholar athlete, enjoys spending time with his family. His mom, Ashley, was Division I soccer goalie at St. Mary’s College in Moraga. His dad, Dan, played baseball at De La Salle High in the Bay Area.
Elsokary, a 6-foot-3 junior combo guard, has been thrust into the point position.
“It’s just been hard, obviously, but the way we’ve found success is not letting our struggles get to us,” Elsokary said. “We have a certain closeness that I haven’t experienced before. We’re all really close to one another. We all have each other’s backs. We all get excited for each other.”
In addition to racking up 14.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.2 steals per game at press time, Elsokary is the team’s best perimeter defender.
“Everyone has stepped up in one way or another,” he said.
Elsokary excels in the classroom. He sports a 4.6 GPA.
Danny Bao, a junior forward, crashes the offensive glass. Cyrus Torabian, a senior guard, provides versatility and toughness. Dante Deshautelle, a junior guard, is a reliable perimeter defender and improved scorer. Those three Warriors fortify the starting lineup alongside Maziasz and Elsokary.
Connor Zhang, a 6-foot-5 senior forward, is one of the team’s top rebounders.
Braylon Butout, a sharpshooting junior guard, is also a standout wide receiver in football.
Adam Taylor, a senior, and Rylan Miller, a sophomore, are steady guards.
Jon Gillette, Jamel Morgan and Lee Garson are assistant coaches. Michelle Menichetti, a WHS senior, is the team manager.
Ortiz had surgery three months ago and he’s still in a walking boot. He’s engaged and committed to this team.
“I want to be there every day,” he said.
The returning All-Marmonte and All-Ventura County star was emotional after the Warriors defeated Thousand Oaks 68-56 on Jan. 27 in the upset of the year.
“How hard we played that game, that made it all up. I’ve never seen us play that hard,” Ortiz said. “To play that perfect, it made my year even though I haven’t been able to play basketball.”
Ortiz wants to get healthy for the AAU club circuit in the offseason. He wants to play at the next level: He will try to catch the attention of a Division II or III school this summer, but he will also consider playing at a community college or prep school.
Ortiz, who notched a 4.2 GPA last semester, played tennis and water polo his first two years of high school. He wants to study the business of cinematic arts in college. His favorite movie is “The Social Network.”
“We had a real shot to win league this year, and I think we will again next year with our guys healthy,” Maziasz said. “I think we’re going to be good next year. Teams should be ready.”
Find sports editor Eliav Appelbaum on Twitter @EliavAppelbaum.