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Palisades boys and girls basketball make history, earn national recognition

The Palisades Charter High School girls basketball team advanced to the CIF State Championship, but the tournament was canceled the day before. (Courtesy: Michael Arnold)

LOS ANGELES (BVM) – Adam Levine said he always keeps it real with his team. The second-year girls basketball head coach at Palisades Charter High School believes his constant honesty is something his group values.

“If we play a team where we might get our butts kicked or a team that’s not very good, I let them know what I think,” Levine said. “I think the kids appreciate that.”

The transparency Levine prides himself on just might have prepared the Dolphins for the worst news they could’ve received.

After falling two points short of a state finals berth during the 2018-19 season, Palisades returned with plenty of talent and high aspirations. Led by senior Jane Nwaba – named the City Section Player of the Year – the Dolphins won the L.A. City Section Open Division title and CIF Division II Southern Region title to advance to the CIF State Championship.

Following a 15-point victory over 29-8 Santa Monica to advance to the state championship games scheduled for March 13 and 14 in Sacramento, the tournament was canceled a day before due to COVID-19 concerns.

Levine said he saw the writing on the wall with the NBA and collegiate athletics already canceled at that point. Due to Levine’s honesty, his group of girls would have to as well, even before the CIF would officially announce a cancelation.

“Before our regional game, I kind of wanted to motivate the girls by saying ‘Hey, don’t look ahead to the state championship because there might not be a state championship and this is probably going to be our last game,’” Levine said. “So I was kind of realistic with them from the beginning so it wasn’t like all of a sudden it was taken from us so quickly. I didn’t want to seem like a Debbie Downer, but I was hoping that it took away from their disappointment.”

Although the Dolphins were robbed of their opportunity to win the program’s first state title, Levine made sure his team knew how lucky they were relative to other athletes nationwide.

“Look at the NBA and all of the college teams that didn’t even get playoffs at all,” Levine said he told his team. “We’re pretty lucky that we got pretty much everything in and we ended on a good note. We didn’t play that last game, but we have a ton of memories.”

A few of those countless memories Levine referred to came from the presence of NBA talent at Palisades basketball games.

Nwaba’s brother, David, is a four-year NBA veteran who has played for the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers and currently the Brooklyn Nets. As a professional in the same sport as his sister, David was unable to make it to most of Jane’s games to start the season.

However, when David suffered a season-ending ACL injury in December, he began going to more and more games as the Dolphins’ special season neared the postseason.

“I don’t like our players to talk to anyone outside of us at halftime, but I wouldn’t really stop it if an NBA player is talking to his sister at halftime,” Levine said. “Once in a while he would say something quickly to calm her down and good things happened.”

In addition to David, LeBron James and recording artist YG took in a Palisades basketball game this season, but for another team on an outstanding run.

The Palisades boys basketball team squared off against San Ysidro in the second round of the state tournament with James and YG in attendance to see Mikey Williams, the No. 1 freshman in the country.

“It was insane, man,” Palisades boys basketball head coach Donzell Hayes said. “It was such a beautiful season. That, I never could’ve seen coming.”

As the Lady Dolphins put together a special season, so too did the boys.

Led by eight seniors, Palisades won its first Division I City Championship in 51 years and was a Regional Section finalist for its best finish in school history. As a Palisades alum, the special season meant even more for Hayes.

“To be able to go on my path, come on as an assistant, take over as head coach and bring one home for what I consider home is what makes it so special for me,” Hayes said.

The unique success of both of Palisades’ basketball programs wasn’t contained to the L.A. area or even the state of California.

To honor some of the countless high school athletes whose winter and spring sports seasons were cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, particularly seniors, ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt began a campaign to take nominations to make it onto SportsCenter under the hashtag “senior night”. After catching the attention of Van Pelt on Twitter, he shouted out both of the Dolphins’ programs for their special season and each of the team’s seniors by name.

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