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Rebels ready to make history

Basketball: Flintridge Prep has a chance to clinch first CIF title in program history going up against Muir.

March 04, 2011|By Gabriel Rizk, gabriel.rizk@latimes.com

GLENDALE — As the No. 1 seed in the CIF Southern Section Division 5-AA playoffs, the Flintridge Prep boys' basketball team could be widely considered to be the favorite going up against Muir in the division championship game today at 6 p.m. at Mater Dei High.

With the division's most dominant big man in Kenyatta Smith leading the charge, the Rebels haven't come close to losing a game over their current postseason run, which has the program on the threshold of its first-ever CIF title.

But third-seeded Muir (18-10) has made its living by defying the odds over the course of its own impressive run to the finals and, while welcoming its underdog status, certainly isn't in awe of the Rebels (22-6).

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"We're very loose, we understand that [people] have us as an underdog, which we love," Mustangs Coach Gamal Smalley said. "We've played [the Rebels] in scrimmage games, we know them, we grew up with them, kids played travel ball together and everything, so it's not as big as deal to us as it might be to the rest of the world.

"We're just going to come out and roll our sleeves up to play and we know that we've done it before. We'll be up for the task."

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Muir's journey to the finals has been the way its team has pulled together and raised its play after losing two of its best players late in the regular season. Deshawn Hayes, who was leading the team with an average of 18.2 points per game, was dismissed from the team in early February around the same time that Tevin Polk (9.3 points per game) was rendered ineligible.

"Since they dismissed Hayes, one of their better players, guys have stepped up for them," Prep Coach Garrett Ohara said. "I think the key is they have a few good scorers right now in [Dion Nelson] and [Jelani Mitchell]."

Mitchell and Nelson, who are averaging 16.7 amd 11.5 points per game in playoff wins over Oxford Academy, Western Christian, Bosco Tech and Santa Clara, have picked up the scoring slack, but its largely been a team-wide effort that's carried the Mustangs this far.

"[Hayes] was an exceptional player, perhaps the best player in the [San Gabriel] Valley," Smalley said. "Without him, our guys had to really dig and other guys had to step up, as often is the case with teams that lose such a big scoring presence.

"Guys stepped up and played team ball and we got this far, so we're really excited about it."

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