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St. Francis High basketball out to make history, change perception

Basketball: Golden Knights believe they've begun to change perception of school's program.

March 06, 2014|By Andrew J. Campa, andrew.campa@latimes.com
  • St. Francis' Evan Crawford (right) has helped change the perception and culture of the basketball program. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)
St. Francis' Evan Crawford (right) has helped change…

When the St. Francis High basketball team takes the court Friday afternoon at Azusa Pacific University’s Felix Event Center, the Golden Knights will have a chance to not only make history, but to continue a process of remaking an identity.

The second-seeded Golden Knights will face fourth-seeded Oak Park in the CIF Southern Section Division III-A championship game at 5:30 p.m. in the squad’s first-ever title visit.

Regardless of whether St. Francis (19-11) is victorious Friday, the program has certainly progressed from how it was perceived only a few years ago.

“When Jeff Stephens and I came to St. Francis six years ago, we were aware that we had to change the reputation,” said St. Francis co-Coach Ray O’Brien, who splits the duties with Stephens. “It’s always been a football school and our goal was to try to put it on equal footing one step at a time.”

Stephens and O’Brien inherited a squad that finished 10-15 in the 2007-08 season and hadn’t reached the postseason since the 2004-05 campaign.

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Yet, success didn’t happen immediately, as Stephens and O’Brien posted four straight sub-.500 seasons to begin their tenure, which hardly seemed like a departure from previous years.

“We knew that we were going to have to fight the good fight in terms of changing a culture and preparing a team to play in the always-difficult Mission League,” O’Brien said. “You look at the talent in that league and it’s amazing.

“A lot of our success comes from what we’ve learned being on [La Cañada High boys’ basketball coach] Tom Hofman’s bench and a lot of credit goes to Jeff. He’s a fighter and pusher and made those practices tough. But that toughness and that tone that he set has changed who this team is and how it plays.”

A young St. Francis squad also benefited from the transfer of a nearby talent.

“When I decided to come to St. Francis the decision was more of a family decision than anything,” said Golden Knights senior guard Kyle Leufroy, a Pasadena resident who lives five minutes from Muir High. “The team wasn’t that good, but there were some young guys I knew and had played with in Evan [Crawford] and Noah [Willerford].”

The fit seemed right for Leufroy, who transferred after his freshman year at La Salle and joined a solid, but inexperienced core.

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