St. Augustine's Eric Monroe, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, helps run the Saints offense.
The departures raised questions.
How would St. Augustine High fare in the tough new Open Division sans four-fifths of the starting core that led the team to a state title last season?
Certainly, the Saints would retain a critical piece in senior Trey Kell. The 6-foot-5 guard had 30 points and 11 rebounds to help St. Augustine defeat San Francisco Sacred Heart Cathedral in the Division III state basketball final.
But who would round out the roster alongside the San Diego State signee as the Saints prepared to face a playoff field that includes powerhouses like El Camino, La Costa Canyon and Torrey Pines? Who would replace the production of graduates Brent Jones, Brynton Lemar, Drew Madsen and Nate Samaniego?
With the San Diego Section Open Division quarterfinals set to begin, coach Mike Haupt has answered each question thoroughly.
Top-seeded St. Augustine (26-2) hosts No. 8 Vista on Saturday after toppling every San Diego challenger, bowing only to two out-of-area opponents.
“I think a lot of teams thought this would be a one-man team, and that one guy couldn’t carry it,” Haupt said. “First of all, he’s special. He goes for 40 against La Costa Canyon and carries us through some tournament games, but we have a number of good basketball players.”
This isn’t quite a Quentin Tarantino flick — a production crafted around an ensemble cast or a host of actors who receive equal screen time and/or plot importance.
The leading role belongs to Kell.
Everyone in the county knows it. And the Western League Player of the Year delivers brilliant performances regularly, averaging 23.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. But this isn’t “Castaway” or “127 Hours,” either, where the protagonist acted alone.
A wealth of characters — Martin Tombe, Eric Monroe, Johnny Peterson, Daniel Caya, Otto Taylor and Dallas Haupt — support Kell in various roles and contribute to the 66 points St. Augustine scores per contest. Think niche actors — your Christopher Walken or Steve Buscemis, who specialize in certain areas.
“Sometimes, players think roles are bad,” Haupt said. “No. What we want you to do is what you do well. If you’re a great rebounder, go rebound. That’s your role. That doesn’t mean you can’t do other things. But it’s about trust, trusting that the coaching staff knows how to put their respective pieces together to create the best whole. And I think you see that with this group.”
Tombe, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, crashes the boards and solidifies the offensive post. Monroe (6-1 sophomore) and Haupt (6-0 senior) command the offense, attack the basket, drain 3-pointers and dish the rock. Peterson (6-3 senior) knocks down perimeter shots, too. And Taylor (6-0 freshman) is your sixth-man type, who provides a spark off the bench and creates his own shot.
“Each player knows what we are supposed to do, what we bring to the table and we accept and respect that responsibility,” Monroe said. “No matter what, every single guy will put their ego aside and do whatever is asked of us to get the victory. We all have moments on the court and when it’s our turn, it’s our turn.”
Together they complement Kell. And keep defenses honest. You pack the paint, double Kell or shift extra defenders to his side, he’ll kick it inside to Tombe or outside to one of the shooters for open looks.
You close out on the shooters and leave Kell in isolation with his defender, he’ll pull up or puncture the interior for a field goal or two free throws. Either opens the floor and involves the entire unit, giving coaches migraines.
Pick your poison.
Isolations. Pick and pops. Screens. Curls. Spot-up 3-pointers. All become options based on the defensive looks.
“That’s when we’re the most dangerous as a team,” Tombe said. “When everyone is involved, when everyone is converting field goals, it makes it tough for teams to defend against us. Any one of us can hit a shot and Trey knows that, so he is always willing to pass up his own shot for the best look at the basket each possession.”
One year after St. Augustine won a state title, Trey Kell and his new supporting cast earned the No. 1 seed in the top-echelon Open Division. Saturday’s quarterfinal matchups:
(8) Vista at (1) St. Augustine, 7 p.m.
(5) Hoover at (4) Torrey Pines, 7 p.m.
(6) Mission Hills at (3) La Costa Canyon, 7 p.m.
(7) Lincoln at (2) El Camino, 7 p.m.