The Malibu High boys basketball team started its season last week after the tipoff of the 2018-19 campaign was delayed due to the Woolsey Fire.
The hoops squad went 0-4 in the four-day King Triton’s Clash on the Coast tournament at Pacifica High in Oxnard. The group then lost to Santa Paula, a Citrus Coast League opponent, at home on Monday.
In an interview before the Sharks’ first game, senior Tanner Sausser, the top returning player from last season’s playoff-qualifying squad, said he and his teammates were happy to start the season after the delay.
“Everyone loves the game,” he said. “They want to play and are playing hard.”
New Malibu head coach Luke Davis said the Nov. 8-9 wildfire caused the Sharks to be in an unusual situation. The team had to delay the start of its season, couldn’t participate in two multigame tournaments, had to cancel one game and couldn’t practice in the MHS gym until last week.
Davis, a past standout football and basketball player at Santa Monica High School, said members of the Malibu team were shooting for a return to normalcy via basketball days after the devasting fire.
“I was getting calls from players ready to get back in the gym,” Davis said. “They wanted to get some normalcy. Three of our boys did lose some things to the fire. Guys are happy to be around each other.”
Sausser said practicing at MHS again is a blessing.
“I’ve been shooting there for four years, so I know every nook and cranny of that gym,” he said. “Some guys are comfortable there.”
Even before the Woolsey Fire, the start to Malibu’s season wasn’t as simple as an uncontested layup. Two players, including the leading scorer from last year’s team, transferred to a different school, and on Nov. 6, the Sharks’ previous coach, Richard Harris, resigned from his post of four years. Davis, a past varsity football coach in Ohio and an assistant basketball coach at his high school alma mater last season, was hired the day after Harris left.
Malibu’s boys and girls basketball teams practiced in Santa Monica High’s gym prior to being able to go into the MHS gym last week.
Davis said the Sharks showed outstanding character by practicing in such a difficult time.
“They come from good families—have strong foundations,” he said. “These guys were worried about each other. They wanted to get back together and get things running.”
Malibu was defeated by Ventura, 77-27; Oxnard, 61-22; Heritage Christian, 83-32; and Frontier, 56-44, in last week’s tournament. Monday’s 48-47 loss to Santa Paula was the Sharks’ last contest of 2018. The Sharks’ season will continue after the new year begins.
Aside from Sausser, a three-point shooter on last season’s team, the Malibu is an inexperienced bunch at the varsity basketball level, with no player taller than 6-foot-2. Sausser said he and his teammates play with a lot of heart, and his coach said the team will etch out an identity based on up-tempo basketball.
The new coach said he kept most of the offensive sets Harris had been schooling the Sharks in.
“It wouldn’t be fair for me to just come in and change everything,” Davis said. “I want the kids to be successful.”
Sausser said everyone wants to show Davis what they are capable of.
“He has brought out a fire in everyone and everyone wants to play well for him,” the player said.
“Whether that is me scoring 30 points or zero points,” he said. “I want to get everyone involved, everyone happy. I want to lead the team to victories.”
Malibu next hosts Hueneme on Jan. 9. The Sharks then have games against other league opponents including Carpinteria, Filmore and Nordoff.
Davis said he hopes a lot of fans attend their contests.
“We are excited,” he said. “Its going to be tough, but we are ‘Malibu Strong.’”
Sausser said the Woolsey Fire brought the team and Malibu closer together.
“We are a tightly knit group,” he said. “I don’t see anything coming between us.”