Wednesday, May 18, 2011

SC High Hoops Review 2010-2011

I apologize for the lack of consistency in writing this past few months.  All I can say is, there are times to write about life...and times to simply live it.  And I've been doing a good amount of living of late.  I'm a do my best to catch you's up with the latest greatest.  But warning..this may be a lengthy process!

photo by Paul Firenzi
In my 2nd season as an assistant coach on the Santa Cruz Varsity Boys Basketball team, we had a roller coaster ride of a year.  Heading into our final regular season game, we were tied for 1st and in need of a road victory coupled with an Aptos loss to give us the outright league title.  Well we went ahead and handled our business on the road with a 62-48 victory over Soquel.  And don't ya know, Aptos messed around and lost by 9 giving us the regular season title (which was a 1st for our staff!)

Keith Williams - by Paul Firenzi
But the true magic unfolded in the week to come as our post season tournament took shape.  After dismantling Soquel to the tune of 59-38 in the 2nd round of our league tourney, we advanced to the championship game to face Aptos.  But get this, although we were the 1 seed, the game was hosted at Aptos high school.  California is just flat out silly when it comes to logistics like this.  i.e. girls games are played before the varsity boys games.

Anyhow, it just so happened that the championship game fell on a Saturday.  This was troubling for me as my finances were in a bit of turmoil and Saturday night was the only shift I bar tended.  Torn as I was, I had to inform the kids I wouldn't be able to make the game.

Word of this trickled back to the parents, and before it was all said and done, they'd put together over $200 on my behalf.  It was absolutely humbling.  The one element that I consistently return to when speaking on Santa Cruz is the sense of community.  And never before had it been so prominent as then.

Zen Maki - photo by Paul Firenzi
The game itself was exhilarating.  Both teams came out hot.  My favorite kid, Zen Maki, set the tone from the jump, attacking the rim, finishing strong, and pulling up for cold hearted jumpers..Splash! The game was moving at an alarming pace and it characterized everything that's good about high school basketball.  Well, minus the crowd participation, but Santa Cruz is a surfer town.  :)

The 1st quarter ended with us up one 26-25.  We're talking 8 minute quarters folks..that's some offense!
By halftime we had seized control of the game, outscoring the Mariners 28-11 in the 2nd quarter, a championship seemed all but inevitable.  And when we stormed out of the locker room to kick em where it hurts to the tune of a 32 point lead there was no doubt the trophy was heading back to our way.  Then the lead turned to 25...and 25 became 15...Zen fouled out of the game and no one seemed to be stepping up to take the game by the horns.  With 4 minutes left, the lead was trimmed to 9.  I was astonished, but well aware that this is a game of runs.  Jonah Hodges, who stepped on for Zen at point, rose to the occasion, not only breaking down their pressure, but knocking down clutch free throw after free throw in the games' final minutes.  And at the final buzzer, We were Champions!! Again!!  91-81 Santa Cruz!

The vibe wasn't quite as celebratory after it nearly slipped away.  Not to mention, the core of the team had already won the title last year, and had their minds set on higher goals.  But it was quite an accomplishment none the less.  Back to Back league champs...pretty impressive.

Then we moved on to sectionals.  As the #2 seed, we did exactly what we were supposed to do.  we slaughtered our 1st round opponent Harker, 70-30. Then in the sectional semis, we ran the 3 seed Palma out of the gym...76-52.  This set us up for the moment all these kids had been hoping for all year long.  A rematch with Sacred Heart Prep.  At (24-2) they were the #1 seed in our section.  But more importantly, this was the team that ended our season last year on a heartbreaking 3-pointer with 3 seconds left in the game.  Revenge was in order.

Dominic Brommer - photo by Paul Firenzi
Just before the jump ball, we learned that their best player, (coincidentally, the guy who hit the 3 last year) was suspended for fighting the game before ours.  Hence, seeming to give us an edge.  But that edge was lost minutes into the game, as we fell behind by 8 and played in a disheveled manner that can drive a coach crazy.  At one point in the game we'd missed 10 lay-ups.  Just chippies, that were right there for the taking, but it seemed to be nerves that had us coming up short, time after time.  Were it not for the heroics of our senior, Dominic Brommer, who dropped an uncharacteristic 10 1st half points, we would have been in trouble.  However, we went to the half down 2.

The 2nd half was a sloppy, back and forth affair in which neither team seized control despite being given numerous opportunities to do so.  Eventually, Sacred Heart willed their way to victory, nailing a few timely 3's and knocking down big free throws down the stretch to seal the game.  It was anti-climactic and down right mystifying when it was all said and done.  None of our go to guys showed up.  Part of that was a credit to SH's defense, but it looked to be the bright lights, big stage (the game was at Santa Clara University) that shook our guys a bit.

The weird thing about California hoops is, although we lost in our sectional championship, we were still allowed to compete in the State regionals.  I guess the thinking is, the 2 best teams can come out of the same section.

We entered the Northern California regionals ranked 5th.  This allowed us to host our 1st game vs Marin Catholic.  They boasted a 6'6" 350 center who is UCLA's top recruited O-lineman..... we ran them boys outta the gym early and often.  The final score was 87-69.

Next stop Colfax, we chartered a bus and took the 3 1/2 hour journey to play in their territory.  But not before stopping off at Cal Berkeley to get a tour of the basketball facilities by the Assistant Athletic Director and former Santa Cruz High grad, Foti Mellis.  We also swung by the track to get a few words of inspiration from last year's team captain and current track and field star at Berkeley, Taylor Kientzel.

Needless to say, by the time we reached Colfax, our boys were full of ambition.  And it showed! We stomped em from the opening tip.  Final score 72-43.

Lo and Behold, this team which I'd had my fair share of doubts about, was now heading to the state quarterfinals, to play against the #1 team in the state Salesian.  Just so happens their head coach was not only a Santa Cruz High grad, but also a good friend of our head guy, Bill Domhoff.  The match up pitted these two old friends against one another.
Ti Demeo- photo by Paul Firenzi

To call us underdogs entering the game was the understatement of the year.  Coach's approach was let if fly and ask questions later.  He wanted every kid to have absolute confidence and not to hesitate versus a seemingly more talented foe.

Salesian just looked impressive.  Their center was a 6'6" 290lb junior who's being recruited by every Pac-10 school around to play D-line.  The major difference between D-line and O-line is athleticism.  And unlike the kid we faced in our 1st round game who was bound for UCLA, this kid could move.  He was accompanied by Jabari Bird, who at 6'4" or 6'5"is the #1 rated sophomore in the state.

These boys lived up to their billing.  Attacking the rim and finishing with style and flare.  The game moved at a speed and level that could not be duplicated for kids in this area.  And for the most part, our guys looked intimidated in the early going.  At halftime we were down 14.  And there seemed to be no hope in sight.

As we neared the end of the 3rd period, coach seemed to throw in the towel.  He subbed in our last 5 guys so they could get the experience of playing on the big stage.  One of these 5 was a kid named, Etai
Levy-Richards.  At 5'7" he doesn't exactly strike fear in the hearts of men.  However, everyday, when practice finished, Etai was the one to stick around and play a little 21, or put up some shots.  This is a coach's dream.  Well all that hard work paid off in unthinkable fashion as he drained two inspirational 3's to bring us to within 9 points.

Entering the 4th quarter, we now had belief.  That is til, their point guard, Dominic Artis, split the double team with the games prettiest move and proceeded to get and and-1 to push their lead back to double digits with about 2 minutes left.  That one not only pushed the score out of reach, but slayed any remaining morale.   We ended up losing 85-66.

Disappointing as it is to end on a loss, it was still a season of great accomplishment.  One I'll forever remember as a coach and fan.  And hopefully, when it's all said and done, those kids can reflect on their achievements and be proud.  I know I am!