Sharpshooter is the best way to describe 6-foot-3 senior David Elliott of Lake Balboa Birmingham. Anytime and anywhere, he's prepared to shoot, and when the ball is going in, the Patriots don't lose.
Forget that there were 15 City Section championship banners hanging from the wall at Westchester High on Saturday night in the Open Division championship game. There was nothing intimidating about the tradition on display, only added motivation for Elliott to bring one back to Birmingham. And it happened.
The Patriots (11-3) came out hot, opening a 12-point lead by halftime on the strength of seven threes and never lost their confidence in earning a 73-68 victory over the top-seeded Comets (12-1).
Elliott finished with 30 points. His success was contagious. James Nobles, his future Loyola Marymount teammate, had 16 points. Kris Cook had 15 points. Birmingham made nine threes compared to the Comets' one. Westchester's primary scoring was guard TJ Wainwright forcing his way into the key on drives. He had 29 points.
“That was my No. 1 goal to put up a banner at my school and I did that,” Elliott said.
It's time to start paying attention to what Birmingham coach Nick Halic has been accomplishing. He's earning a reputation for being able to develop players and win championships. The Patriots knocked off Westchester in 2017 for Halic's first City title. This one was even better by winning on Westchester's home court, something that rarely happens with the exception of rival Fairfax's occasional road victories.
The game plan was to pressure Westchester's guards and battle for every rebound. The Patriots kept winning the competition for loose balls, leading to points. The lead was as large as 17 points in the second half but the key basket was off an offensive rebound from Jacquan Parchment with 37 seconds left after the Comets had closed to within four points.
Westchester was trying to give coach Ed Azzam a 16th City title that would have tied him with Crenshaw's Willie West.
Halic was born in 1982, three years after Azzam took over as Westchester's head coach at age 25. "It's such a tiring job," Halic said. "I can't imagine anyone coaching for that long."
After the game, though, Azzam, 66, announced he would retire after the regional playoffs. "It's time," he said.
Assistant coach Dewitt Cotton was a JV player at Westchester in 1982-83, when the Comets went 0-10 in league and were getting crushed by Crenshaw. "He's pretty much the same," Cotton said. "He's always the teacher."
Not until 1990-91 did Westchester win its first City title. Halic understands how tough it is to beat the Comets, with Azzam the winningest coach in City history at 932-286, according to CalHiSports.
"He's a legendary coach," Halic said. "His teams always play hard. I don't think anyone gets close to his record."
Halic certainly is on his way.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.