CORONA, Calif. — "We before me" is a mentality nearly every high school athlete has heard before.
But in the world of elite high school basketball, it's something that is not always on full display.
But if you head down to Corona and into the Centennial High School basketball gym, one of the first things you'll notice is that for head coach Josh Giles, basketball is all about the team.
“Guys here, they understand the big picture," Giles said. "They don’t have banners for how many points they scored, so what’s most important is whether or not the team wins.”
Walk into any one of his practice sessions and it's easy to see that this group of Huskies is more than just any team — it's a family. Throughout their high-energy drills, the group is playing together as one, challenging each other to be better, and laughing along with each other throughout.
“This is probably one of the best groups I’ve had," Giles said. "When you come into our practice, it’s very loud, enthusiastic and it’s constant talk, yelling and screaming. But in the end, it’s very positive.”
It's that positivity and spark that has helped them become not only one of the top programs in the Inland Empire, but also in the entire CIF Southern Section.
This year, the Huskies are 18-1 on the backs of a starting lineup that doesn't include a single senior. To junior point guard, Donovan Dent — who is the starting five's lone upperclassman — it's not about being the star player, but about becoming the star team.
“We all know if we went to another high school, we’re capable to go like 30 or 40 points. But here, we keep it to 20 points and get about 10 or so from our bigs. With that energy it’s so hard to lose," said Dent. "We’re not gonna be selfish because that’s not how you win championships.”
And a championship is definitely what they have in mind this season. The last year and playing through a global pandemic may have changed the course of their season, but it hasn't changed the objective.
“All these games compacted into two weeks, it’s crazy, and my body is sore, but we still gotta fight to the end," said sophomore shooting guard Jared McCain. "I’m here to win three state championships. We fell short of it last year and I’m trying to do it this year.”
Centennial enters the postseason ranked as the No. 2 overall seed in the Open Division, a group that features several of the nation's top programs — with the likes of Sierra Canyon, Mater Dei and Etiwanda.
To McCain, Dent and sophomore guard Kylan Boswell, the team's defense and overall chemistry are what will make the difference in the postseason.
"I feel like if we’re hot then no one can mess with us," Boswell said. "We just need to make our shots, give the ball to the bigs and do what we need to on the court... That will set us apart."
"Other high schools, from what I’ve seen and heard, they don’t focus on defense as much," McCain added. "Talking on defense is one of the main things you have to do in college, and I think we do an amazing job. When we do that, no one can stop us."
The Huskies will get their first test on Friday night against Harvard Westlake. While they may be without Boswell, who is currently in Colorado for national team training, Giles is confident in his team's ability and potential.
“The things that separate you are little things. Are you diving? Are you boxing out, taking a charge?" he said. "All those little things are the ones that will separate you when you’re playing a team that is just as good or maybe even a little better.”
Plus, the Huskies are always better in packs, and it's that focus on the team that may just win them a championship.
"[Giles,] he mentors it, but we believe in it," Dent said. "We’ve been saying in the locker room that a lot of people are already looking forward to next year because we’re all young, but we wanna win this year... This is our year."