Lincoln coach Jason Bryant is trying to guide the Hornets to a fourth straight appearance in the San Diego Section Division II finals.
The foundation toppled before his eyes.
Heading into tonight’s section Division II semifinal against defending champion La Costa Canyon, Lincoln coach Jason Bryant recalled reaching rock bottom and slowly climbing back
“It has been a roller coaster, sort of like the Dow Jones with plenty ups and plenty downs,” said Bryant, whose team started 6-2 and finished the regular season 11-14.
“We had a collapse, but we put together a win streak and now we are in the semifinals. Hopefully there are no more valleys and we can stay at the peak and keep it going.”
Senior Tyree Robinson was the first domino to fall.
The University of Oregon recruit broke his foot five games into the season after landing on a teammate in practice. A crippling loss, for sure.
Robinson — a jack-of-all-trades and unquestioned leader of the San Diego Section’s preseason No. 1-ranked boys basketball team — averaged 21 points, three assists, six rebounds and two steals for the Hornets, who’ve won two of the past three section Division II titles along with a state championship in 2010.
Doctors expected Robinson to be sidelined six to eight weeks, possibly derailing his ability to participate in the playoffs.
Tyrell Robinson, Tyree’s twin, was the second domino.
“We had a conversation,” Bryant said. “Tyrell told me he wanted to focus on recruiting, which would mean stepping away from the team. I was in full support of it. I’d much rather him play, but I’m always in support of kids going to college.”
Amid reports that Oregon football coach Chip Kelly was joining the Philadelphia Eagles, Tyrell needed time to contemplate his future. He took official recruiting visits to USC and Washington along with Tyree. Fifteen points, five assists and four rebounds per game out the door. Just like that.
In addition to losing the Robinsons — football and basketball recruits for the Ducks — Lincoln’s roster was weakened by ineligibility.
The blowouts followed. Cathedral Catholic and Bishop Montgomery pummeled Lincoln by 41 and 45 points, respectively. Mission Hills routed the Hornets by 22. St. Augustine trounced them by 40 points.
Lincoln did manage a 33-31 victory over Scripps Ranch, which finished the season 5-19. Plus there was a 45-41 victory by the Hornets over 8-16 University City.
“It was very tough,” Hornets senior Kevon Mitchell said. “But Coach Bryant never doubted the ability we had on our team. He told us we still had a shot at CIF, but it would take plenty of work. We had to play no matter what.”
On the eve of signing day, Bryant smiled again. Tyrell finalized his decision to remain a green and yellow Duck and announced his return to the Hornets.
Lincoln limped into the playoffs and — after much debate by the seeding committee — was dropped into the No. 12 spot in the bracket.
Down went fifth-seeded Morse. The first-round upset shocked few people. With Tyree’s foot healed, the self-proclaimed “Horrible Duo” — Tyree and Tyrell Robinson — were together on a basketball court again. Next was No. 4 San Ysidro edged by Lincoln 53-52 in the quarterfinals.
The roller coaster ride had a silver lining, Bryant said. Other contributors emerged on the team in the Robinsons’ absence.
Players like Mitchell and Daniel Melifonwu developed more confidence, which has made Lincoln a stronger, deeper team than before.
“Someone had to score points,” Melifonwu said. “I worked on my rebounding and shot blocking and scoring to help the team.”
Added Mitchell: “The coaches were skeptical of what I could bring to the table because it was my first year here. During that period, I tried to show what I am capable of on the court.”
Standing in Lincoln’s way tonight is La Costa Costa, which ended the Hornets’ title hopes last season and defeated them again in the Southern California Regional final. While a challenge, Bryant thinks his team can make some noise now that the Hornets can attack using several options.
“They’re a great team. It won’t be easy,” Bryant said. “But we have enough talent to compete and reach the finals again. Hopefully, we can play well enough to get there.”