Foothills Christian Turns a New Leaf
By Andrew Smith
Clairemont (1/18/2014) – Before facing off in the Martin Luther King Showcase on Saturday night the last time Foothills Christian and Horizon met on the court was in last year’s C.I.F. Division V championship game at Cox Arena. The Panthers won that game 53-37 to claim their second victory of the season against the Knights and that’s hasn’t been soon forgotten.
“There was definitely a little more motivation tonight especially after last year,” said sophomore star T. J. LEAF. “Especially in that finals game. I thought they embarrassed us a little so I wanted to come out and show them we can handle them.”
It took a half to figure out what Horizon was trying to do to Leaf defensively, but a couple minor tweaks in the locker room at half resulted in a Knights 20-4 run to start the third quarter and they eventually ran away with a 64-47 victory.
Two possessions. That’s all it took for the Panthers (5-7) to do away with their 2-3 zone to start the third quarter. Foothills’ (8-7) guards JAVIER GUERRERO and LUIS SALGADO both finished the game with 4 assists, but each lobbed up a pair of alley-oop passes to Leaf who was stationed on the inside block and it was quickly good knight to the zone after a pair of thunderous dunks.
Leaf went off for 31 points on 14-of-21 shooting from the floor, but he also added 12 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 blocks. More impressively though, he accounted for 8 of the Knights’ 21 assists and that matched the entire Horizon team combined.
“It was one of the best games I’ve ever seen him play in high school ball,” head coach BRAD LEAF stated. “He was just phenomenal tonight.”
The size advantage for Foothills played a key role on the defensive side of the ball as they out-rebounded the Panthers 43-18, but with all the tall trees in the paint – and one Leaf – they played a lot of one-on-one on the outside and settled for a lot of lazy 3-point shots or floating runners not daring to get near the rim. Horizon finished the game shooting 18 for 53 from the field (34 percent) and 3 of 21 from long-range.
6-foot-8 senior DANE NORMAN helped on the boards by collecting 9 and Salgado claimed 7, while Guerrero nailed a couple of treys. KEITH GRANT was also extremely efficient going 4-of-5 from the field with 6 rebounds – all coming in the second half – but the real story was the obvious “leap” Leaf has taken from freshman to sophomore year.
“I really worked hard all summer long on jumping and getting more strength,” Leaf admitted. “I’ve gotten a little bit taller and longer, but my athleticism has gotten a lot better.”
No doubt that the talent has always been there coming from a family tree full of basketball genes. Dad played professional ball, older brother TROY LEAF broke the San Diego Section scoring record and claims T. J. might be taller but he has the better shot. But it’s undeniable that there’s a vast improvement in his game.
“He’s growing up,” said his head coach. “He’s not a little kid anymore.”
Foothills Christian: T.J. Leaf 31 (12 reb, 8 ast, 4 stl, 3 blk), Javier Guerrero 13 (4 reb, 4 ast, 1 stl), Keith Grant 8 (6 reb, 1 stl), Dane Norman 6 (9 reb, 1 ast, 2 blk), Luis Salgado 3 (7 reb, 4 ast), Jordan VanOmmering 3 (4 reb, 4 ast), J.R. Rivera (1 reb, 1 blk)
Horizon: Holden Haskett 18 (3 reb, 2 ast, 1 stl, 1 blk), Ethan Underwood 9 (4 reb, 3 ast, 2 stl), Micah Goeglin 7 (1 ast, 2 stl), Jacob Beneventi 6 (1 reb), Anthony Dumas 3, Drake Hills 2 (3 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl), Jasper Rysedorph 2 (3 reb, 1 ast), Anthony Oseguera (4 reb)