Sacrifice, commitment paying off for Windward’s core four


Every high school sports program wishes to develop players when they arrive as freshmen through their senior season. It used to be a common strategy, until impatience and promises of greener pastures made the idea obsolete in the minds of some parents.

It still can happen, with Windward’s rise as a potential Southern Section Open Division basketball playoff team front and center.

Two seasons ago, four freshmen showed up. Then-coach Colin Pfaff told his athletic director, “By the time these guys are juniors, we’re going to be an Open team.”

Gavin Hightower, Jeremiah Hampton, Louis Bond and JJ Harris stuck together after seasons of 17-10 and 23-8. Now they’re junior starters and have helped lead Windward to a 23-3 record.

Second-year coach DJ Gay, 34, has worked hard on and off the court to convince his players to make the needed sacrifices and commitments to succeed as a group. They’re probably a year ahead of schedule, and it shows what can happen when united.

“I didn’t know how good they were” when he was hired before last season, Gay said. “Of course, I knew about Gavin. The other three, one of them was JVs, the other didn’t play much and Jeremiah was a role guy. I had a chance to watch them a couple times on film. My first week with practice I let them get up and down in open gym to see what they naturally liked to do. I saw I definitely had some valuable pieces.”

Windward guard Gavin Hightower goes up for a shot against Lynwood.

Windward guard Gavin Hightower goes up for a shot against Lynwood.

(Nick Koza)

Playing extensively as sophomores helped them prepare to become even better as juniors. Hightower, the point guard, is averaging 15 points and seven assists. Harris is averaging 14 points and six rebounds. Bond is at 11 points and six rebounds. Hampton is at 13 points and five rebounds.

Gay, a standout player during his days at Sun Valley Poly and San Diego State, was coaching in San Diego when he was hired to replace Pfaff, who moved to Northern California for family reasons. Gay spent lots of time last season trying to build confidence and having one-on-one meetings and conversations.

It helps that the four juniors have listened, learned and embraced the idea of building something as a group and trusting their coach.

“We’re ahead of schedule,” Gay said. “All four are gym rats and love to learn and buy in.”

Hightower has made the biggest sacrifice, lowering his scoring average to be more effective as a point guard and help the team succeed. Bond has come on after a wrist injury last season left him on the sideline for weeks. Harris has become a prolific three-point scoring threat, and Hampton is Windward’s “Swiss army knife,” as Gay puts it, filling in and contributing wherever needed.

Windward is in the Open Division conversation but has two challenging games left, hosting Campbell Hall on Wednesday night and playing at Brentwood on Friday in its bid to go unbeaten in the Gold Coast League. Even that might not translate into an Open Division playoff spot in a season with at least 12 outstanding teams.

Gay would enjoy the opportunity to be considered one of the eight best teams in the Southern Section.

“I made the move to Windward to compete against the best,” he said.

The Wildcats will need to complete the task this week.

Playoff pairings for Southern Section boys’ and girls’ teams will be announced Sunday at noon. City Section pairings will be released Saturday.

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