It’s a Thursday afternoon at Compton High, and the school’s girls’ basketball team is in the gym. Five coaches are on hand and nearly 20 players—enough for a full-court workout with coaches talking to each position group—while still more players wait on the sideline, eager to get in.
It’s a scene that, for many years, was unimaginable for a team that struggled not only to be competitive but to simply sign up enough players to keep the program going. Now, under the guidance of seventh-year head coach Derrick Anderson, Compton finds itself in a place it hasn’t been in several decades: the top. The team was No. 1 in Division 4AA in the first CIF rankings that came out this year.
It’s become a sports cliche to talk about “coming from the bottom,” but when Anderson talks about where the program was when he inherited it, he’s telling the truth. Compton has just two winning seasons in the last 20 years and has lost twice as many games in the last 14 seasons (210) as they’ve won (104).
Anderson’s first practice as head coach was attended by just five players—that was his entire roster for a frosh/soph, junior varsity, and varsity team. Aside from the flagging enrollment, there was also the issue of basketball experience or lack thereof.
“There’s not a lot of AAU kids or travel ball teams in Compton,” Anderson said. “A lot of our girls haven’t picked up a basketball until ninth grade. My first practice every year always starts off with a test on ‘what’s the three-point line, the baseline, the sideline.’ We go over that every year.”
It’s a dilemma that has faced new coaches at many of the Moore League’s struggling programs. The biggest difference between most of those coaches and Anderson is that he stayed.
“He’s stuck through some really tough times at that school, it’s admirable that he’s still there and he deserves whatever success comes their way,” said Millikan girls’ basketball coach Lorene Morgan. “You always want to beat everyone you play but when we’re not playing them I think everyone is rooting for them, too.”
Anderson’s first years, he had to get a team ready to play a national powerhouse such as Long Beach Poly or a deep, talented team such as Millikan knowing that they wouldn’t get much rest.
“We didn’t have enough players to practice all the time and so a lot of us weren’t in shape,” said senior Shayna Sanders, one of a few four-year varsity players on this season’s team. “There were five or six of us for a game so we really don’t have any subs, and we’re playing Long Beach Poly with 20 kids. It was hard.”
Sanders said that she considered quitting at one time, but decided to stick with it.
“It was coach D,” she said. “Because he’s determined, I’m determined. Because he stayed, I stayed. He’s a father figure for a lot of us. I’m glad we all stayed because look at what we have now.”
What Compton has now is a 9-3 record and a real chance at a CIF-SS championship, something that’s been unimaginable for a program that hasn’t hosted a playoff game in more than 30 years, according to Anderson.
The ultimate vindication of the Compton program was that CIF No. 1 ranking to start the season. Anderson didn’t bother assuming a tough guy posture about the honor, rather, he was open in talking about how much it meant to him.
“It was emotional, it was unbelievable,” he said. “Compton No. 1? I just couldn’t believe it. I jumped up, I was running around, I called all the coaches and players just excited. All the work we’ve put in, it hasn’t been easy, just trying to get any kind of success, anything positive to build on. To be No. 1 for however long it is, it’s an honor and a testament to these kids and what they’ve done.”
This year’s team has legitimate senior talent with Sanders, who already has a 30-point game along with several 25 point efforts. She’s not the only senior that stuck through the hard times to find success, Janae Owens has also been a four-year starter. Sanders is a 5-10 force in the post while Owens is a 5-4, lightning-quick point guard. Leading a talented group of underclassmen is Makayla Smith, a six-foot power forward.
Sanders, a member of Compton’s early college program, has a 4.07 GPA and attends classes at Compton College a few days a week.
“The program is growing quickly,” she said. “We’re all doing better with grades than when I was a freshman, so we’re all eligible, and we’re growing a family here.”
Compton is 9-3, on pace to win more games than they have in any year this century, and has only three seniors on the roster—they’ll return 10 varsity players next season. The immediate challenge is to try and earn an automatic playoff berth by finishing in the top four in the Moore League, needing to edge out Poly, Millikan, Wilson, or Lakewood, the four teams that have held those positions the last few years.
“We’re just going to continue to play hard,” said Anderson. “Try to get this game, and then the next game, and then the next game. I don’t like to put too much on them, just try to keep them in the moment. We’d love to be top four, and I think we have the players to do it.”
If they don’t sew up a top four spot, they should have a good possibility at an at-large bid, which would give them a chance to make more history in the playoffs. Sanders admits that the team is already feeling a deep sense of satisfaction about how far they’ve brought the program, but said that they’re still hoping for more.
“We’re so happy to see it, from where we came,” she said. “We’re really happy to be where we are, but at the same time, we have to take advantage of this moment.”
Compton will open Moore League play at Millikan at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 12.