Viewpoint boys basketball thrives in win against rebuilding Taft

Taft’s Ben Amoona shoots against Viewpoint’s Elie Netzah, Dec. 8, 2023, at Viewpoint High School. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

Taft’s Aldrin Mac drives on Viewpoint’s S. Safahi, Dec. 8, 2023, at Viewpoint High School. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

Viewpoint’s Aeneas Grullon is fouled while going to the basket between Taft’s Ben Amoona (22) and Martin Dikov (23), Dec. 8, 2023, at Viewpoint High School. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

Viewpoint’s K. Lee reacts after being called for traveling in their game against Taft, Dec. 8, 2023, at Viewpoint High School. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

Viewpoint’s Elie Netzah is fouled during a rebound against Taft, Dec. 8, 2023, at Viewpoint High School. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

Viewpoint’s J. Boudai falls to the court while trying to secure a loose ball against Taft, Dec. 8, 2023, at Viewpoint High School. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

Viewpoint’s K. Lee (24) secures a rebound between Taft’s Ben Amoona and Ali Frydman (0), Dec. 8, 2023, at Viewpoint High School. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

Taft’s Adi Frydman drives between Viewpoint’s Lamont Koonce (22) and
Aeneas Grullon (11), Dec. 8, 2023, at Viewpoint High School. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

Taft head coach Jonathan Willis watches his team play against Viewpoint, Dec. 8, 2023, at Viewpoint High School. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

Viewpoint’s J. Boudai (2) blocks a shot by Taft’s Justin Gooden, Dec. 8, 2023, at Viewpoint High School. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

Viewpoint’s Aeneas Grullon drives against Taft, Dec. 8, 2023, at Viewpoint High School. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

Taft head coach Jonathan Willis talks with an official during their game against Viewpoint, Dec. 8, 2023, at Viewpoint High School. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

Taft head coach Jonathan Willis talks to his team during a timeout in their game against Viewpoint, Dec. 8, 2023, at Viewpoint High School. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

Viewpoint’s Lamont Koonce (22) is fouled by Taft’s Jayden Thomas, Dec. 8, 2023, at Viewpoint High School. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

Viewpoint’s Lamont Koonce shoots against Taft, Dec. 8, 2023, at Viewpoint High School. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

Viewpoint head coach J.J. Prince gathers his team during a timeout in their game against Taft, Dec. 8, 2023, at Viewpoint High School. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

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CALABASAS — Two boys basketball teams donning the same jerseys as last year met for a nonleague matchup Friday night, a game in which Viewpoint defeated Taft 58-40.

But both the Viewpoint and Taft teams are vastly different from the teams of last year, jerseys aside.

Viewpoint was 2-5 at this time last year on its way to an underwhelming season and no playoff appearance. This season, the Patriots came into Friday night’s contest 5-2 and on an upward trajectory.

“I think the difference this year in comparison to last year is we have far more experience,” Viewpoint head coach JJ Prince said. “Even our younger guys in the sophomore and freshmen classes, they are more experienced with what we’re looking to do. The juniors also have a year under their belt now of high-level varsity basketball, so that contributed to our early-season success.”

Last year was a historic one for Taft, which capped the season by winning the City Section Open Division title.

But the ensuing summer brought a multitude of changes. Head coach Derrick Taylor was gone, and a handful of players transferred out.

Enter first-year coach Jonathan Wills, who is using his past experience as a professional player and a coach at the collegiate level to help bring Taft back to prominence.

The Toreadors have faced a gauntlet of competition this season, playing powerhouse teams such as Notre Dame, Shalhevet and Viewpoint on Friday night.

But Wills isn’t shying away from the challenge.

“These are big shoes to fill. Coach Taylor is a legend in my eyes. It’s tough, but it’s still basketball,” Wills said. “The schedule is what it is. I’m not trying to stat-pad wins. I want these guys to play good competition because iron sharpens iron. We have to learn how to play basketball on the fly against tough competition.”

The majority of the Taft team is filled with players who have no varsity experience.

So while Wills is learning what it takes to coach at this level, he’s bringing the weight of a whole team with him.

“This is a whole new group of guys who haven’t played varsity basketball. I’m trying to get them to understand the different nuances of the game,” he said. “Talking on defense, sharing the ball, making the right read. Trying to get these guys acclimated to that kind of setting and what to look for on the varsity level.”

For Viewpoint, the players from last year’s squad have grown and are applying what they’ve learned to this season.

The Patriots play in the ultra-competitive Gold Coast League, so having seasoned players like team captain Aeneas Grullon, who recorded a double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds Friday, and sophomore guard Monty Koonce, who scored 16 points, is a huge advantage.

“I think where he’s gotten significantly better from last year is the small winning details,” Prince said about Grullon. “Trying to make the right play on every single possession. Now it’s, ‘How do I make everybody around me better.’”

Prince is very familiar with building a program back up, like he did with Viewpoint several years ago. So he knows well what lies ahead for Wills.

His advice to the new Taft coach: patience.

“Staying committed to the players he has, that would be my advice. Patience.”

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