It didn’t take a fancy toast, formal announcement or long-winded speech for those in attendance to realize something special was happening that spectacular December morning.
Two-thirds of the Orange Lutheran boys’ basketball team had paddled out on rented surfboards at daybreak, just hours after concluding a confidence-building performance at a holiday tournament in Hawaii.
Some players had barely surfed before, others quite often, but they were together as Lancers when the sun rose that morning and the sky lit up in bright rainbow colors.
The players could feel themselves bonding.
“It was a really fun experience for us,” says senior point guard C.J. Hankins.
Just a few miles from that group were the remaining four players and coach Chris Nordstrom, who wasn’t about to let his non-surfers sleep in. He had them up before dawn and trekking to the top of Diamond Head State Monument, a three-quarter-mile, 560-foot climb, just so they could enjoy that same sunrise.
They initially weren’t as enthusiastic as their surfing teammates, but soon were feeling that same bonding sensation.
“Once we got up there, they were, ‘Oh, this is pretty amazing,’” Nordstrom says.
That final day capped a near-perfect week for Orange Lutheran in which the Lancers flexed their muscles on the basketball court as well. They beat a local team by 37 points in the first game, then shocked Miller Grove High School of Lithonia, Ga., which has won six consecutive state champions, with a 40-38 defeat. Orange Lutheran’s only loss came by eight points against Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland, one of the top programs in Northern California, as the Lancers finished off the tournament with another one-sided win against a team from Honolulu.
“We played some really, really tough games,” Nordstrom says.
The experience should help prepare Orange Lutheran for the start of Trinity League play Friday against Servite. The Trinity League is overflowing with talent-rich teams, including four-time defending state champion Mater Dei, which is led by 6-10 forward M.J. Cage. One of the benefits of playing in the Hawaiian tournament is that it enabled the Lancers to test themselves against a similar player in 6-10 Ivan Rabb of Bishop O’Dowd.
“When you’re playing in that league, you’ve got to be prepared for that kind of talent,” Nordstrom says.
Hankins was impressed with the level of the competition in Hawaii, but more impressed with how his team responded to the challenges.
“It just shows what caliber of a team we are,” he says. “That was just the beginning, so I’m excited for the rest of the year.”
The rugged tournament in which the Lancers played four games in four is why Nordstrom scheduled the team to fly home late Sunday, giving them a chance to enjoy a day of Hawaiian-style recreation together.
It might have been the coaching move of the season for Nordstrom, allowing the players a chance to spend quality time together in a beautiful environment and grow even closer as a team.
Hankins noticed the difference. When the Lancers arrived in Hawaii, he saw a team that still splintered into groups in their down time, but when they flew home it felt like a true brotherhood.
“It really just brought us all closer together,” he says. “There are no boundaries anymore. We’re all tight.”