Ever wished, really, really hard for a second chance?
Javonte Sales and Davon Potts did. And they’re getting their do-over Saturday night.
The Gahr High teammates, co-captains and good friends are ready to lead the Gladiators into the CIF Division 2AA finals at the Anaheim Arena in an 8 p.m. championship game with Mayfair.
Two years ago, Sales and Potts were starting sophomores on the Gladiator boys basketball team that lost to Harvard-Westlake in the CIF championship game at the Honda Center.
Rather than holding on to anger or bitterness, both used that loss as a learning experience and worked twice as hard to get back to the finals. This time, however, they’re not “just happy to be there.”
“A lot of the younger guys ask, ‘What’s it like when you walk in there? A lot of the younger people were there watching us play and saw some of the pain we suffered when we lost,” Sales said. “I’m not much of an emotional guy, but I remember it like it was yesterday. It was shocking. The tears just started falling and I didn’t even know they were coming.
“We have to go out there and take it. Nobody’s going to hand it to us. That experience is prepared us.”
“Learning from my past experience, I know this year that as a team we have to stick together as a family and focus,” said Potts, who is soft-spoken but intense. “(We need) to actually seize the moment instead of being satisfied that we’re in the championship. We have to go in there and try our best and execute everything we’ve done in practice all week. The whole thing (we learned) from two years ago is to not be satisfied.”
First-year coach Ricky Roper took this coaching position knowing “they were going to win no matter who came in I just needed to fit in.”
Once he got to know Sales and Potts, he believed a return trip to the finals was quite possible.
“The first time they were the supporting cast. Now, they are our two guys that make it go,” Roper said. “They’re just winners, champions. When your best players are our hardest workers, you stand a great chance. They’re even better people.”
Sales is the point guard for the Gladiators, who finished the regular season as the second-place team from the San Gabriel Valley League. Quick and a strong decision-maker on the court, Sales averages 14 points and seven assists per game and put up a season-best 27 points and 12 assists against Ayala during this playoff run.
“He’s a real quiet, humble kid,” Roper said. “He’s soft-spoken around teachers, but on the court, he’s real vocal – a real competitor and wants to win. He’s very hard on himself too. He won’t demand anything of anybody that he wouldn’t demand of himself.”
Potts, a 6-foot-2 swingman, averages 22 points a game but has elevated his offensive output in the finals. In the past two games he scored 33 against Riverside North and 32 in the semifinals against Foothill.
“He always wants to be in the gym and is always trying to improve,” Roper said of Potts. “He’s just not afraid of the moment. This time of year is different. He’s not afraid of it at all. All of our guys handle it, but he never lets it bother him.”
The team has so much respect for the pair that Roper asked them both to speak to the team at practice. Roper also had his players practice a couple times at The Pyramid on the Long Beach State campus to familiarize themselves with a larger venue.
Potts said he spoke to his teammates about not getting caught up in the hype that surrounds a big game like this.
“We have to watch for people trying to fill our heads with things like, ‘Go out there and win a ring,’ or ‘You got this,’ “ Potts said. “We don’t block anybody out because we know people are going to say what they need to say. We have to stick to what we can control.
“If we just stick together as a team and believe in ourselves, we’ll be fine.”