Maintain faith in boys basketball program


Photo Courtesy of Rod Miles

Students cheer on Malik Huff as breaks the press during the state championship game in Sacramento’s Sleep Train Arena.

Otis Lyons, Sports Editor

Packing into the cozy confines of the Carl ‘Red’ Brown Gymnasium has always been a regular, twice-a-week activity for the local community. While only the senior class can remember the 2014/15 boys basketball season as attending students, many of us recall boasting a strong middle school student section at each home game.

Three years and two coaching changes removed from the historic era of the school’s basketball, the attendance, enthusiasm, and support has noticeably declined.

While there is still a strong group of faithful students who attend each home game, the overpowering presence of white and green filling the Pirate Cove, the senior student section, has diminished. Now, the pull-out bleachers on the baseline are only used in special rivalry games, a contrast to the constant sell-outs of the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

While most MCAL basketball fans would attribute the decline in turnout to a decrease in talent, that is not the whole story. I firmly believe that if the student body keeps faith in the current setup, then they will be rewarded with positive results.

The program undoubtedly saw its most recent raw talent in the class of 2015. The likes of Malik Huff, Jasper Verduin, Dane Wells, and Cade Yongue would all be the MVPs of any other team. Combine all of their talents together, and throw in current Eastern Washington standout Jesse Hunt, and you have a statewide success story.

The ‘Jesse Hunt Era’ was a perfect storm of quality talent, strong passion, and stable management, led by Coach Doug Donnellan. In 2014, the team reached the state championship in Sacramento, with the senior class consisting of only three players, including starter Sam Dines. The following year, the team intended to surpass the success of the NorCal champion 2014 team, with the majority of the firepower returning.

The star-studded 2015 team fell one game short of the state championship, losing a thriller to Campolindo 50-44. With that, the program said goodbye to five of their best ever players, and a strong supporting cast. Although the likes of Skylar Chavez and Brandon Vergara would take the reigns as the new leaders on the court, they would not be helped by the tumultuous coaching change that left Brett Mitchell as the leader on the sidelines.

The 26-year tradition of the Doug Donnellan coaching era had ended abruptly, and with it the student body began to fade away from the Pirate Cove.

The years following the ‘Jesse Hunt Era’ didn’t lack talent. Names like Chavez, Vergara, and Inua Ramos were worthy of Donnellan Era honors, yet they weren’t deployed with the same excitement seen in Donnellan’s tenure. After a haphazard two years, Mitchell was replaced with the winningest MCAL coach of all time, Bret Tovani.

This season, murmurings throughout the disgruntled community have predominantly voiced skepticism over Tovani’s methods. I will admit that I was appalled with the preseason form of the squad, where a disconnected side went 5-7, losing to the likes of Redwood, Mills, and Piedmont by double digits.

However, Tovani hasn’t won the most MCAL games in history for nothing. We, as fans, need to trust the process, because while the preseason may have looked ugly, I am confident that it was a smoke screen for a postseason run that will see the squad outperform most expectations.

If you have been uneasy over the lack of scoring, don’t worry, this is a pattern seen throughout Tovani’s past teams. In his five years as Branson head coach in the early 2010s, only once did his team average more than 55 points per league game in 2013-14. What’s more, they never conceded more than 50 points a season, an impressive defensive feat.

In comparison, the more free flowing 2015 team with Coach Donnellan averaged 64 points a game. While previous teams have offered a more exciting spectators’ experience, Tovani has found a way to shut teams down defensively. It may not be as rousing to watch a game finish in the 30s or 40s, but trust that Tovani knows how to win, and he has figured out a way to do so at San Rafael, Branson, and now here.

Whether or not we get to see a dunk and 10 fast breaks a game, we will see a team with many more wins than losses. With Tovani, we will no longer see delirious Marin Catholic crowds as their team goes on unassailable 10-0 runs; defensively we will be too tough for that.

This year, MCAL has seen one of its more open fields in years, and we have a chance to once more prove we are a constant threat for a pennant. Although Hunt, Huff, and the rest have vacated the halls, current talent is up to par with most past teams.

With seniors Noah Bice, Danny Roland, Ian Casey, and Austin Clack, fans should have no reason to leave the bleachers empty. Juniors Gabe Leary, Cooper Janssen, and Max Arquilevich will continue to lead the program next year. Coupled with Coach Tovani, high hopes should still be on the horizon for the boys basketball program.