By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Winning the section crown is gratifying for any coach. Doing so at your alma mater is that much more special.
For Donzell Hayes, leading the Dolphins to their first City boys basketball title in 51 years—followed by their magical run to the SoCal regional finals—is something he expected when he took over the program four years ago after serving as an assistant for one season under Vejas Anaya and as “interim coach” the next.
“Everything happens for a reason,” said Hayes, who helped the Dolphins reach the City Division I semifinals his senior year under former coach James Paleno. “This is what I envisioned when all the guys who are seniors now were sophomores. I had no idea how I’d get back here, but this is home. It wouldn’t have been the same doing it at any other school.”
Hayes is also grateful for the players who paved the way.
“This championship is for guys like Nick Kerkorian, who led us last year and whose brother Drew is on the freshman team,” Hayes said. “He’s been to so many games and I let him in the locker room. And for other former players like Chris Kurihara, who called before the San Ysidro game asking if he could break down film.”
The “Pali Family” includes Brian Haloossim, who was Hayes’ JV coach during his days at Palisades in the mid 1990s.
“Now his son Jayden is on my frosh/soph team and I’m coaching his son with the teaching that Brian gave me,” Hayes said. “It’s so special. When we lost Anthony [Spencer] for the season last year, that was tough but it was meant to happen. We had to go through the experience of not having him to learn how to persevere. How is it possible to appreciate the highs without the lows?”
The City championship game at Southwest College almost felt like a class reunion for Hayes.
“I had some of my classmates show up at City finals… the love was everywhere. My wife is also interwoven into the fabric of this program,” Hayes said of his bride Roxane, who graduated from Palisades in 1997, a year behind him. “She bakes the team cookies and brownies. That’s all her.”
Then, there are his coaches.
“From 1 to 16, all these young men bought in and played a part in creating history,” Pali High assistant Darren Morrison said.
“It’s the most exciting season I’ve ever been a part of,” varsity assistant and head JV coach Matthew Jackson added. “I liked the way the team overcame every obstacle to become champions.”
“I think they believed in and loved each other, their coaches and the system,” Hayes said. “This team was the basketball version of ‘Manifest Destiny.’ I’m never going to forget this group.”
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