“We do well if we play together,” says Centurion head coach Terry Stonebraker.
UC started the new season with a rush, winning four of five games on the way to a number-seven ranking in CIF by MaxPreps.
The Centurions, led by 6-feet 6-inches tall Benito Hurtado, also had a high strength-of-schedule rating: 2.3. That means their early wins weren’t against cupcakes.
But the team’s performances haven’t been even. Stonebraker, who has seen a few decades of winters up Genesee Ave., is quick to acknowledge that.
“We’re up-and-down,” the wizened coach offered when asked if his team was worthy of the number-seven ranking.
But he’s also quick to point out the core of talent on his 2018-19 squad, led by a trio of seniors, including the imposing Hurtado.
“They have been starting together since they were sophomores,” said Stonebraker of 6-foot Ben Bruce and 6-feet 4-inches tall leaper Casey Granfors, in addition to Benito at the center spot.
“(Hurtado) is pulling down 14 rebounds a game, with 4 to 5 blocks. He’s averaging a double-double (in points and rebounds).
“He loves the boards. Most of his rebounds are on the defensive end.”
The coach remembers the leaner times of two years ago, when his mainstays were young and just feeling their oats. “Benito has developed slowly (over the years), working hard, each year just getting better.”
Bruce, who wears jersey number 0, is a multi-sport athlete who brings all that physicality across to basketball. “He has played well since coming over from football,” updated the coach. “When (Ben) stays within himself, he plays well.”
Granfors, of course, has received a lot of attention for his exploits as an all-CIF wide receiver for the successful Centurion football team the last few years. His leaping ability enables him to get to balls others can’t reach, but he has to avoid relying just on his natural skills over discipline and fundamentals in his basketball game.
“He’s a great leader,” said Stonebraker. “He’s not a rah-rah leader. He’s more an example to the others. They have more confidence when he’s out on the floor.”
Says UC assistant coach Gatluak Gully, like Granfors 6-feet 4-inches, who played under Stonebraker: “We’re working with Casey to play more under control.” Gully brings his own playing experience to the Centurions, as well as his life experience coming from South Sudan, having been born in neighboring Ethiopia.
Junior Kasen Dickerson, a 6-feet 2-inches tall guard, “is the field general,” said the head coach. “He handles the ball well, and sees the floor. He contains the dribble (as a defender) pretty well.”
In a rivalry game at La Jolla early in the season, Dickerson showed himself to be aggressive and capable of taking charge, imposing his presence at the point on offense.
Fellow junior Luke Minnick, a 6-footer, can fill up the basket quickly. “He’s a good shooter,” said coach Bob Allen, former athletic director at La Jolla High, who knows Minnick’s abilities.
“He’s been shooting the hell out of the ball,” says Stonebraker. “He had five three’s in one game already, four in another.” Even when the going was rough in the spirited rivalry game against the Vikings, the shooting guard succeeded on three treys and three two-pointers for 16 points.
In addition to being effective outside, he had some tear-drop layups driving in the middle.