By Shel Segal
ROSEMEAD – The Rosemead boys’ basketball team got off to a slow start, losing a plethora of nonleague games under first year coach Gilbert Jimenez. Then something started to happen.
They started to come together.
Working with each other and not against, the Panthers are poised to surprisingly win the Mission Valley League title and receive a CIF Southern Section postseason berth.
The five seniors on the team – guards Andrew Diaz and Michael Gradillez and forwards Brian Villa, Najem Azimi and Greg Parham – all gave different reasons why this happened. But there was a certain common denominator in their answers.
“We have so much fun together and we built chemistry over the years,” Diaz said. “(Jimenez’s) been tough, but has helped us out a lot.”
Azimi agreed that Jimenez makes the team work hard, but added that has made them a better, more cohesive, squad.
“He makes us run, but we still do it,” Azimi said. “He’s cool. He pushes us to win. That’s good.”
Gradillez said he has made a lot of friends on the team, harking back to the idea that good chemistry makes winning teams.
“It’s good to be able to hang out with these guys,” he said. “It’s fun.”
Villa agreed and added the team does a lot of activities together off the court.
“Every game we play we go to McDonald’s as our team dinner,” Villa said. “We get to spend time together and talk about what we’re going to do in the game.”
Villa added that the team’s desire to play well is still something of a new thing.
“We just started having the hunger and wanting to win,” he said.
Add Parham: “We just started clicking.”
Gradillez said there were other reasons for turning the team around.
“We wanted to shut everybody up by winning and we did that,” he said.
Villa added building a good legacy is another part of that reason.
“We’re seniors and we want to leave a good impression,” Villa said.
“We’re hoping to leave behind our hard work ethics for the underclassmen to win it next year,” Diaz said.
Jimenez said it did keep him up at night in the beginning of how to get this team on track.
“It’s been good, but it’s been getting them to change their culture here of how they work, the expectations and accountability,” Jimenez said of his players, including these five seniors. “We’re trying to turn it around. It was a struggle at the beginning: New coach, new system. It was hard to get all of us on the same page, but now we’re on the same page, which is evident by the little success we’ve been having.”
Jimenez said these five seniors have really stepped up as leaders on the team.
“For the most part they’ve taken a hold of the team and have led us in all categories in 90 percent of our games,” Jimenez said. “I keep harping on them about the legacy they’re going to leave. But if they win their next two games, their names will go up (in the gymnasium) as Mission Valley League champs. That’s something to aspire to.”
(Shel Segal can be reached at