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St. Francis, La Cañada High boys' basketball teams have semifinal fever

Basketball: Golden Knights and Spartans to battle in CIF Southern Section Division III-A game with hopes of advancing to title contest.

February 27, 2014|By Charles Rich
  • File Photo: St. Francis' Evan Crawford drives the lane to make a layup against Arcadia's Gagan Tut in the La Cañada Holiday Classic boys basketball tournament at La Cañada High School on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013.
File Photo: St. Francis' Evan Crawford drives the… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

Two schools, separated by only a long driveway, will see their respective boys' basketball teams play Friday night for something more crucial than just city bragging rights, but for the right to play in the CIF Southern Section Division III-A championship contest.

Certainly no strangers to one another, second-seeded St. Francis High and third-seeded La Cañada have topped off their final preparations and are set to meet in a semifinal game at 7 p.m. at Maranatha High in Pasadena.

Along with the players being familiar with one another, St. Francis co-Coaches Ray O'Brien and Jeff Stephens once worked under the tutelage of veteran La Cañada Coach Tom Hofman, who has more than 600 career victories.

There's a buzz that's been created leading up to the contest immediately after the Golden Knights and Spartans won their quarterfinal games Tuesday.

"Both the players and coaches already know each other," said O'Brien, who, along with Stephens, ran La Cañada's lower-level teams for years before moving on to St. Francis for the 2008-09 season. "We see them in the spring and summer and then during the season, so there's that mutual respect that you continue to build.

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"We are very close. Tom and I have breakfast every Saturday during the Mission and Rio Hondo League parts of the season. Tom is very generous to have shared and continue to share his success with Jeff and I."

Hofman, who guided the Spartans to the Rio Hondo League championship, has often credited Stephens and O'Brien for being catalysts in shaping the face of the Spartans for more than two decades.

"They were always a great help to the program," said Hofman, whose has led La Cañada to CIF-SS championships in 1992 and 2011. "They were a big influence to the program when they were here. It's going to be fun for the coaches to coach this game, and there will be a lot of positive energy from the players on both teams.

"The key [for La Cañada] will be our defense because St. Francis does a nice job of passing and getting to the basket. We know our defensive rotation will have to be good."

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