With no proper way to summarize what just happened, no possible explanation that could convey the emotions of one of the most ridiculous endings in California high school basketball history, Corona Centennial senior Jared McCain kept it simple.
“I love you,” McCain exclaimed to senior teammate Aaron McBride, in a haze of celebration. “So much.”
One mistake from seeing his team’s dreams of three-peating for the Open Division crown extinguished, Corona Centennial’s Aaron McBride was in the right place at the right time. St. John Bosco’s Elzie Harrington pivoted, desperately trying to find an opening, lofting a pass to Brandon McCoy with five seconds left and the score tied.
But McBride, the steady Centennial senior, was there to tip it away and chase down the loose ball. And with a second left, he took flight just inside the free-throw line.
McBride slammed it at the buzzer and an arena of 12,501 fans shook, with teammate Devin Williams’ eyes bulging and vocal cords thundering.
Champions. Again, and again and again. The McBride end was a shocking punctuation to a 58-56 win and an Open Division title, cementing Centennial as the first program to three-peat at the section’s highest division.
“Regular season, playoffs, that’s the craziest ending ever,” coach Josh Giles said.
On Saturday night at Honda Center, the Huskies won with the same principles that have defined them for three years. With ferocious defense, blazing transition attacks and seniors McBride and Jared McCain’s steady leadership and ferocious competitiveness, they have the experience to weather any storm.
Three straight Open titles. Good luck finding a program to replicate that.
On paper, for much of the season, Centennial’s title seemed inevitable. But beneath the surface, championship fatigue no longer was an abstract idea — it was, to Giles’ frustration, extremely real.
There were times in the middle of a 29-3 season that Giles felt his group, coming off two straight Open titles, was bored. Sure, McCain had this third straight championship as his lone team goal left in high school. But Giles spoke in January like a prophet of doom, warning of a letdown if the Huskies didn’t start playing with more intensity. Talking on defense, Giles remarked, had become an “act of God.”
“Dudes need to start doing their job,” Giles said then. “We’ve got 15 or 16 guys, this is the biggest roster I’ve ever kept, and I’m asking myself why right now.”
In late January, their second-to-last regular-season game of the season, Centennial took a 26-point lead on Eastvale Roosevelt early in the second quarter — and blew it. By the fourth quarter, the Huskies were down five, eventually squeaking out a sloppy 77-71 win.
If they played like that come playoff time, Giles told his team, “you’re turning in your uniforms next week.”
But come playoff time, the Huskies outlasted Sierra Canyon, walloped Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and Bishop Montgomery, and rolled into Saturday’s final against an underdog St. John Bosco team that had surprised Harvard-Westlake in pool play.
Underdog to everyone except, well, them.
“Experience is worth something,” St. John Bosco coach Matt Dunn said Friday. “But sometimes, being naive is a positive thing as well.”
And Saturday night took every ounce Centennial had, facing a Bosco group with crafty shotmakers, aggressive rebounders and well-equipped defensively to face any Huskies challenge.
But composure and championship DNA in big moments is almost always undefeated.
And after a back-and-forth final few minutes, it was quiet senior McBride — first with a turnaround jump shot to tie the score with a minute left, then the stunning dunk — who came through.
McBride finished with 18 points on nine-of-11 shooting and 11 rebounds in a performance that won’t soon be forgotten.
So McCain’s words, for all intents and purposes, were perfect.