WESTLAKE VILLAGE — A top-five ranking doesn’t usually garner second-guessing, but that wasn’t the case earlier this week for the Santa Clarita Christian School boys basketball team.
The Cardinals, a favorite to win their division, were ranked fifth in the opening CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA poll Monday.
True, they opened the season 1-4 up until hitting the road Friday night against Oaks Christian. But they pitted themselves against competition far, far above their own division.
“It’s not what we practice or play for,” said Cardinals coach James Mosley, “but it definitely got our attention.”
The Cardinals put the Southern Section on notice following their letdown in the rankings with a 76-63 win over Oaks Christian (5-5) – ranked No. 16 in Division 2A.
“We’re a very talented team, but we haven’t done anything yet,” Mosley said. “Yes, (the rankings) got our attention. But it was also a reminder to us that we haven’t done anything yet.”
SCCS (2-4) jumped out to 45-32 lead at the half and led by as many as 18 points early in the third quarter. Freshman Noah Veluzat, who had a team-high 21 points, hit one of his seven 3-pointers at the buzzer heading into the fourth quarter.
“He’s been dominant in practice this week,” Mosley said of Veluzat. “He’s one of those kids who listen to everything and touches every line, and when you do that, you’re going to have nights like this.”
Veluzat was the recipient of the bulk of Jordan Starr’s 10 assists. Starr also had 10 points to complete a double-double. Sophomore Kaleb Lowery added 18 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four blocks.
Like his coach, Lowery took note of the Cardinals’ surprising ranking.
“It kind of got into my head because we think we’re No. 1,” Lowery said. “I think that made us just practice harder this week. We’ll keep progressing and continue to get better.”
Andrew Thompson couldn’t quite match Veluzat’s night from 3-point range but had 14 points while making four 3s.
As the Cardinals look to usher in a new generation of winning with a plethora of quality transfers, including Starr and Lowery, they’ll have to do so without T.J. Lowery.
T.J., a 6-foot-7 senior forward and brother of Kaleb, had a procedure to remove a bone cyst and is unlikely to return this year. He’s yet to play in a game this season.
“That was a tough thing for us,” Mosley said. “We probably won’t get him back. But he’s definitely so much a part of our team with his encouragement and leadership from the bench.”
SCCS will take off next week from game action and will return to the court on Dec. 27 in the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic in San Diego.