The Malibu High Sharks boys basketball team’s historic season ended earlier this month in the third round of the Division V CIF State Boys Basketball Championships.
Unfortunately, it closed in heartbreak.
Malibu was defeated by Chaffey 75-69 on March 5. The Sharks dominated the semifinal contest until Chaffey mounted a comeback and the Tigers’ Tyler Terry hit a game-tying three-pointer in the game’s closing seconds to send the game to overtime. The score was still knotted after the extra period, so the game went into double overtime. That is when Chaffey pulled away from Malibu and won the game.
Sharks head coach Richard Harris said Malibu had a great year, and the players competed hard in each of their 24 contests, but he wanted them to experience more.
“This is a great team,” he said. “It’s going to be said that Malibu had a great year, but I wanted them to have that next big step — like they won the championship and everyone is talking about them.”
Malibu’s top scorer, senior guard Cameron Nwede, credited Terry for making the basket that sent the game into overtime.
“It was like ‘Dang. That’s a tough shot,’” Nwede said. “We did everything we could to prevent that shot, and he made it anyway.”
Malibu led by as many as 15 points, but in the second half they missed some important shots, and Chaffey increased the defensive pressure to advance to the regional title game, one contest away from the state championship match.
“It was like they had two extra dudes on the court,” Harris said. “The athletic difference was a challenge and it took a toll at the end.”
Harris said getting over the loss has been tough.
“We could have gone to the state championship,” he said. “When you have that opportunity, you got to take it. For it to be taken from us in heartbroken fashion like it was … we had a seven-point lead in the last minute and they hit two — one very tough three and the miracle three at the end — to send it to overtime. It just leaves such a sour taste in our mouths. When you have a goal at the start of the season and its taken away like that, its very hard to overcome.”
Senior Dean Furlong, the Sharks’ 6-foot-6 guard, said the loss to Chaffey might dribble around his head for years.
“It is going to sting for a long, long time,” he said. “As a team, we all feel bad because it is a game we should have won and were probably favored to win.”
The 6-foot-2 Nwede had 32 points in the contest. Fulong had 12.
Malibu’s semifinal run in the Division V playoffs this month, and advancement to the semifinals in Division 5AA of the CIF Southern Section Boys’ Basketball Championships in February were first-time achievements for the Malibu program. Furlong and Harris called this year’s Malibu team one of the best in school history.
“It’s going to be hard to accept that we never went to a state championship game, but I will have fond memories of my teammates and coaches,” Furlong said.
Malibu defeated St. Joseph Academy 54-41 in the first round of the Division V playoffs on March 1, and the Sharks knocked off Edgewood two days later, 64-52. Malibu’s successful run in the postseason event, which was won by Stuart Hall, began a week after the Sharks were defeated 74-56 by Villanova Prep in the semifinals of the Division 5AA championships. Villanova Prep claimed the Division 5AA crown one victory later. Malibu won three contests in that tournament.
Malibu ended the season with a 17-7 record.
As Harris has said all season, Malibu’s success began with Fulong and Nwede, the Sharks’ top players.
“I’ve never had players as skilled and talented as Dean and Cam on the same team,” he said. “I don’t think people understand how good they are. They are the best players I have coached in high school. I have had college coaches calling me about them.”
Furlong was Malibu’s leading playmaker and best defender. Nwede rang up 30 points in a majority of the Sharks’ seven postseason matches.
In Malibu’s Feb. 18 win over Bosco Tech in the 5AA playoffs, Furlong scored 22 points and had six blocks. Oh and don’t forget him finishing a spin move with a dunk to put the game away. Nwede had 30 points and 24 rebounds in the same game. Nwede also had 30 points and 15 rebounds and made all six of his 3-point attempts in the win over Edgewood in the Division V playoffs on March 3.
“They are so exceptional,” Harris said. “You don’t get players like that in Malibu normally.”
Senior leadership from Nwede, Furlong, Stefan Colburn, Justin Lapinkski, and Nate Folkerts was key for Malibu, Harris said.
“They are accountable and dependable,” he said. “I could change stuff on the fly, and they would pick it up.”
Junior guard Will Caceres had high-scoring games for Malibu during the postseason. Lloyd Bema, Harold Bema, Brandon Alvarado, Henley Baldwin, and Asher Katz were also members of the team.
Nwede and Furlong were named to the All-Citrus Coast League’s first team on March 9. Caceres and Folkerts were named to the second team. Additionally, Sharks girls basketball player Casey Ovsiowitz was named to the league’s first team, and her teammate Hannah Kaloper was named to the second team. Lauren Lapajne, Whitney Shanahan and Yadany Alabez received honorable mention status.
The victory over Edgewood might have been the most impressive of Malibu’s boys basketball team’s five postseason wins. Edgewood is in a higher division than Malibu, but the Sharks still beat them on their home floor in West Covina.
“So many people stepped up in that game,” Harris said.
Nwede, who was hot from three-point range against Edgewood, said that was his best playoff performance.
“They were giving me open shots,” he said. “I’m grateful for my teammates because they were able get the defense to not focus on me and pass the ball to me in the right spots. I had the right places to shoot.”
Malibu only had two home games in the postseason, the first-round win over Santa Clarita Valley International in the 5AA playoffs on Feb. 11 and the victory over St. Joseph Academy on March 1. Furlong said the second home contest was special because Malibu’s crowd filled the gym with energy.
“It was so fun to have a home state playoff game,” he said. “Everyone on the team got involved in the game.”
Harris said some of California’s top high school basketball coaches have messaged him to say how impressive of a team Malibu was this year.
“I made sure to let the players know that so they aren’t feeling too down,” he said.
In Furlong and Nwede’s freshman and sophomore years, Malibu only won a handful of games. Nwede said this season opponents really saw what Malibu is capable of.
“There was stereotype around Malibu kids that we are weak and not good at basketball, but we were one of the best teams in our division,” he said. “It’s something no one can take from us. We went where teams wish to be. A lot of my friends that are at LA schools didn’t go as far as we did in the playoffs.”
Harris wishes the Sharks could have ended their amazing season with a championship cherry on top but appreciated the chance to coach the best boys basketball team in Malibu history.
“There are no words to describe the respect I have for this team,” he said. “In life, you learn a lot more from losing than you do winning. You have to learn to pick yourself up from a tough moment. No one wants to lose and learn the lesson, but we know what life is like. Life isn’t like the movies; it doesn’t always end with you winning the championship.”