Newport Harbor High senior Brian Robb is the Daily Pilot High School Athlete of the Week.

Newport Harbor High senior Brian Robb is the Daily Pilot High School Athlete of the Week. (Scott Smeltzer | Daily Pilot / December 14, 2012)

The Newport Harbor High boys' basketball season began much the same way as last season.

Brian Robbs is well aware of how the Sailors won early, reached the Coyote Classic title game at Buena Park High. The trip to the championship game in their first tournament this past week ended the same way as last season's finale: a loss.

The difference this season is the Sailors have continued to win after their first setback.

The difference this season, Robbs said, is the Sailors believe they can win every time they step on the court.

The difference this season, Robbs said, is the Sailors back their coach, Bob Torribio.

Not everyone on the team was on the same page with the coach Torribio took over for last season as the interim coach.

Torribio is in charge now at Newport Harbor. Larry Hirst is gone. The interim tag Torribio held three times in the previous four seasons with Hirst taking leave of absences for personal reasons, his health and to spend time with family, is gone as well.

Robbs and the rest of the team know that Torribio is the leader for the long haul. The Sailors can rely on Torribio and they can depend on Robbs as well.

Robbs' game has grown. The 6-foot-5 forward has emerged in his senior season. He's averaging around 11 points and seven rebounds per game.

Robbs almost led Newport Harbor (6-2) to its second tournament title game in as many weeks. The Sailors lost to Warren of Downey, 75-45, on Friday and now they have a chance to finish third at the Cantwell-Sacred Heart tournament in Montebello.

If the Sailors can win Saturday's game in the tournament, they will have as many victories as they did all of last season. Their seventh win last season came on Feb. 3.

The Sailors have turned things around in a hurry. A lot of it is because of Robbs' play.

"He's come along very strong," said Torribio, adding that Robbs is making 57% of his shots, 50% of his three-pointers and 73% of his free throws. "Hirst did a great job of allowing Robbs to develop at his own pace. This is his third year [on varsity]. He's done a great job of maturing. He had his ups and downs."

With the constant losing in the past, there were more downs for Robbs.

The Costa Mesa teenager said he transferred to Newport Harbor because of academics. Robbs got a quick lesson on what it's like to be on a losing team. It wasn't fun.

The Sailors went 3-17 in Sunset League play the last two seasons, failing to make the CIF Southern Section playoffs each time. Since Robbs has been at Newport Harbor, the only time the program has made the postseason was in Robbs' first year at the school, but he wasn't on varsity.

The goal for the Sailors, Torribio said, is to return to the playoffs. League opens next month and Robbs has loftier expectations for the team, which is ranked 11th in the Division 2-A poll.

"Win our league," Robbs said. "That's our plan. We know we're a great team and that we can make a run for it this year."

Torribio said he's glad Robbs is positive about the Sailors' chances of bringing home a league title. It has been 11 seasons since they last won a league crown.

During Hirst's 16 seasons at the helm, Newport Harbor won one league championship, coming in the Sea View League. Since they moved to the Sunset League six seasons ago, the Sailors' best finish was in 2007-08, when they placed second, one game behind Los Alamitos.

The league championship goes through the Griffins. Los Alamitos has claimed the Sunset League title or shared it every season since the Sailors joined the league.

Only six teams have beaten the Griffins in league the last six seasons. Robbs can say he was part of last season's Newport Harbor team that upset the Griffins, handing them their only league setback.

Robbs is one of five key players back from that squad. The others are senior center Kevin Rakestraw, junior guard Nic Sargeant, senior guard Zach Wade and senior guard Robbie Rettig.

"We just learned a lot from last year with everything that just happened," said Robbs, referring to the coaching situation with Hirst and at one point going almost two months without a win. "With all the obstacles that we faced during that year, we've come together as a team.

"[Torribio] has helped us a lot. He's an amazing coach. He teaches us a lot on and off the court. He's outgoing, has a sense of humor, and is great to be around. You can have a good conversation with him and it doesn't have to be about basketball."

With the Sailors off to their best start in seven seasons, Robbs and Torribio are talking a lot about hoops.

david.carrillo@latimes.com

Twitter: @DCPenaloza

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Brian Robbs

Born: April 11, 1994

Hometown: Costa Mesa

Height: 6-foot-5

Weight: 200 pounds

Sport: Basketball

Year: Senior

Coach: Bob Torribio

Favorite food: Spaghetti

Favorite movie: "White Men Can't Jump"

Favorite athletic moment: "Getting my first double-double at the [Coyote Class] this year."

Week in review: Robbs averaged 13.7 points per game during the Coyote Classic, leading the Sailors to a runner-up finish in the tournament at Buena Park High.