Three years ago Alfonso Alvarez decided to leave his JV basketball coaching position at La Quinta High School and take on a challenge.
He had the opportunity to rebuild one of the smallest, but one of the most successful programs back to its glory. His son, Taner, decided to come along for the ride.
Today, that switch has put them in a prime position. The father and son team will lead Desert Chapel High School basketball into the Division VI CIF Championship game.
The Majestic League champs take on No. 1 ranked Trinity Classical Academy at Godinez High School in Santa Ana.
“My nephew had played there, so I knew about the success of the program (small school power in the early through mid-2000s) and I talked to my son about having a better opportunity, academically and spiritually. It was good all the way around,” Coach Alvarez said.
The younger Alvarez, now a senior, had played on the Blackhawks’ JV team as a freshman, but the father said he could get lost in the mix, whether it was in the lunch line or at the foul line. He was concerned about the 3,000-plus students and wanted to do what was best for his family.
“The smaller classroom, more attention to detail was it,” said Alfonso, who has also coached at Desert Hot Springs and Cathedral City. “When the opportunity came up, it was also an opportunity for him to showcase his ability.”
Now, his family is among those in the Desert Chapel community and Taner Alvarez has etched his name on the family album.
As the school’s all-time scoring leader with more than 1,600 points, he knows he made the right decision.
“I felt very welcome and once I stepped on the basketball court, I knew it was right,” said Taner, who averages 22 points a game with six rebounds and four steals. “It did have an effect on me because I do miss the bigger environment and the competition, the intensity. But after what we did last year (earning a wild-card and advancing to the Final Four) I knew we could do something special here.”
With the lineup they have, the Eagles went from 14-13 last year to 23-4 this season.
With returners Alvarez, seniors Evan Armendariz, Max Casey and Roman Pellum (21 points per game, nine rebounds) and sophomore Kaleb Whan, the Eagles received a bonus when senior Jaleel Miles transferred from Desert Hot Springs.
Now the team boasts three 20-point-plus scorers and averages 75 points a game. (Miles averages 21 with nine rebounds and five steals). Their only losses were in the mega-MaxPreps Tournament against Division I Godinez (19-9), Division II Folsom (28-2), and Division III Shadow Hills (15-10) and at another tourney to Division V Brethren Christian (24-5).
Father and son like their chances.
The coach says the Valencia-based school (17-8 overall) and last year’s CIF runner up likes to run — when it wants to, is big (half the roster at least 6-1) and fundamentally sound.
“They don’t like to run and they don’t like pressure,” the coach said. “That’s why I like our chances. We push the ball up the court, try to find the best opportunity to score, put the players in the spot to do that.”
The Eagles must defend Trinity’s balanced attack led by senior guard Spencer Klehn and junior Ryan Brooks, averaging 12 points each. Three sophomores chip in nine apiece.
Added Taner: “We know what they can do. They had a pretty tough schedule, they like to rebound and can slow it down when they want to. But we’re ready.
“Last year we really didn’t know what we accomplished. We just kept going. This time, we said we’re gonna take it and run with it. Now, we’re not just competing for a championship we can win a championship.”