BOYS’ BASKETBALL /// Oaks Christian Lions
The Lions no longer toil in basketball purgatory.
Oaks Christian High’s boys’ basketball team—famous for its coaching carousel—opened this season with 12 consecutive wins.
Last year, the Lions stumbled to a 3-10 record before Christmas, never won a Marmonte League game and finished 4-24 overall.
“You could say it was embarrassing to be on the basketball court,” said Isayah Garcia, now a sophomore point guard. “This year, starting 12-0, we had that great start. It gave us a lot of confidence. We lost a couple games here and there, but we know what we can do—and we know we can be better as we keep going.”
Good things happen when good coaches get the opportunity to work for longer than the proverbial 15 minutes it takes Godzilla to sack Tokyo.
Mark Amaral, the team’s second-year head coach, is being given that chance.
The Lions respond to his instruction. They’ve averaged fewer than 6.5 turnovers through their first 19 games.
This team shares the ball and takes care of it, too.
Stevie Prudholme, a junior shooting guard, praised Amaral, who spent nearly three decades coaching in college and three seasons coaching pros in China.
“Coach Amaral, he’s really great. It’s a blessing (he’s here),” said Prudholme, who led the squad with 12.8 points per game through 18 outings. “He prepares us very well for games. He really has practice scheduled toward and geared towards who we’re playing. He knows the game really well. He really does.”
Garcia agreed with his teammate.
“He definitely brings a winning culture,” the point guard said of Amaral. “He wants to win, and so do we.”
Oaks Christian, 15-5 overall and 1-2 in league, earned a signature 55-47 win against Heritage Christian, one of the San Fernando Valley’s best teams, on Dec. 12.
“It was a big win,” said Stevie Amar, a sophomore forward who also excels at football. “We were the underdogs. A lot of people said we haven’t played big teams. For us to beat (Heritage Christian) proves a lot of people wrong.”
The Lions were ranked No. 1 in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4A poll last week. They’re currently second in the division.
Oaks Christian has taken giant steps, but so has Amaral, who said he’s become a better coach and mentor from the trying 2021-22 campaign.
“One of the biggest things we did this year that I didn’t do last year—that was on me—was spending time with these guys off the court,” Amaral said. “Last year, I was trying to figure it out. Not making that investment off the court, that was a huge mistake. . . .
“What I’m really excited about is being able to share with these guys my experiences I can recall on all kinds of things that I see on the court or off the court or in the classroom or even stuff in China. It’s fun sharing my experiences with them and also watching them grow figuratively and literally.”
Prudholme, a scholar athlete with a 3.86 GPA, is a dynamic scorer off the dribble who can drain buckets from beyond the arc. The third-year varsity veteran notched his career-high 25 points twice this winter.
“It’s obviously really fun to win. Playing with guys who also want to win is a big thing,” Prudholme said. “We all have that same goal. We all want to succeed as a team.”
The 6-foot-2 guard’s sister, Sophia Prudholme, an Oaks Christian graduate, plays soccer at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Stevie Prudholme made an unofficial visit to Notre Dame in September.
Garcia averages 10.6 points and a team-high 2.9 steals per game.
He swiped a career-high 11 steals against Channel Islands on Nov. 18. He’s not sure if that’s a school record.
“Honestly, I have no idea. I hope it is (a record),” said Garcia, an honors student with a 3.65 GPA.
The sophomore is a physical 5-foot-9, 165-pound guard with a sweet shot from the perimeter. He’s a stout defender who enjoys driving to the paint and creating offense for his teammates. The Lion said he’s still working on communicating and being more vocal on the court.
Oaks Christian wants to qualify for the postseason by finishing in the top-three of the Marmonte standings.
“We have to trust each other every game. We have to play together every single night to get that top-three and get to CIF and hopefully win CIF,” Garcia said. “We have to play together and trust each other.”
Garcia’s brother, Mikey, is a freshman on Oaks Christian’s junior varsity basketball squad.
Amar, who is 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, averages 10.8 points per game. He provides toughness and athleticism, and he’s an aggressive rebounder who can score with relative ease in the post.
“It’s a great group of guys,” Amar said. “We’re all really close. There’s a great brotherhood, and we enjoy playing together. . . . We’re a young team, but we play extremely well together. We’re going to be good this year, and I know we’ll be pretty good in the upcoming years.”
Amar, a tight end in football, has picked up Division I football offers from Arizona, Colorado State and UNLV. He wants to sprint and try the long jump in track and field this spring. His father, Steve Amar, won two state titles and four Southern Section crowns for Santa Clara’s basketball team before suiting up at Ventura College and UC Riverside.
Axel Eason is an athletic 6-foot-4 sophomore forward in the starting lineup. A quarterback in football, he has developed nice chemistry with Stevie Amar on the hardwood, too. Eason spent his freshman year at Sierra Canyon.
“Sky’s the limit for him,” the coach said of Eason. “It’s just a matter of reps for him.”
Nick Giarrusso, a freshman point guard, has a good feel for the game. He has also been starting.
Connor Claeys, a senior forward, is a glue guy, Amaral said.
Brett Johnson, a tough junior guard, shoots 36% from 3-point country.
Ricky Humphries, a senior forward, spent his sophomore year at Agoura.
Troy McGovern, a sophomore guard, transferred in from Newbury Park. His brother, Blake McGovern, is a Division I golfer at UC Santa Barbara.
Julez Smith, Castor Maynard, Kenny Dott and Franklin Marshall contribute for Oaks Christian.
“Every league game matters,” Prudholme said. “It’s going to be tough. Everybody’s capable of beating anybody. We have a really solid league this year. Defensively, that has to be the primary focus. If you can’t defend, you’re not going to win.”
Find sports editor Eliav Appelbaum on Twitter @EliavAppelbaum.