"A thunderbolt is something beyond your control, a phenomenon that one day strikes you, your team … your city. … A ‘breakthrough' is a positive thunderbolt. It enables the team and winner within to grasp and to realize their mission."
Pat Riley — "The Winner Within" OAKLAND, Calif. —
Dennis Flannery, a big Pat Riley fan, isn't sleeping well these days. He's too excited for the players on his McClymonds (Oakland)
girls basketball team and all their historic breakthroughs.
The school-record 26 victories. The first Oakland Section championship since 1976. The first ever CIF Northern California playoff victory, a 67-60 Division I win over Armijo (Fairfield) on Wednesday.
Saturday the Warriors (26-3) are actually seeded higher than the queens of Northern California high school basketball, Berkeley
(19-11), which they play at Oakland Tech in the quarterfinals.CIF girls basketball brackets
Not bad for a program that lost for decades, disbanded some seasons for academic and participation issues and was completely overshadowed by a state-championship boys program that featured such NBA legends as Bill Russell, Paul Silas and Joe Ellis.
"It's the first we've ever practiced in March," Flannery said. "Isn't life wonderful? Our 15 minutes of fame has turned into 30. Andy Warhol would be turning over in his grave."
Better than the wins and title, Flannery said, is a team GPA of 3.34. Sure, it's splendid that McClymonds shares the ball, led by 6-foot-2 sophomore Daisy Powell
(14.4 points per game) and three others who score in double figures, but there's four girls who carry GPAs above 3.9, led by senior Iakiriyya Karimusha
"We're just trying to get them prepared for life," Flannery said.
And that's what Flannery, 66, relishes the most about this team — how they deal with lightning bolts, adversity, stress. A retired parks and recreation manager in both Pittsburg and Oakland, and 14-year girls coach at Holy Names (Oakland), Flannery said the Warriors don't flinch when punched.
Even if it's among themselves.
, a fearless 4-11 junior guard, said the team didn't mix well at first, losing two of its first three, both winnable games. They've since won 25 of 26.
"There was lots of arguing," Gaines said. "We were even fighting each other on the court during practice. I thought it was going to be a bad season. But we calmed ourselves. Smoothed things out. We learned to love each other. We're like family now."
In the 48-41 Oakland Section title win over Oakland Tech, the Warriors couldn't make an interior or mid-range shot. They adjusted and went long range, making eight 3-pointers, three each by Baines and Ahjahna Coleman
. They trailed almost the entire way against Armijo — couldn't hit from the perimeter — so they went low to the powerful Powell, who reminds some of Courtney Paris and is the sister of Damon Powell, a high-flying 6-5 forward who helped the Warriors to their 2008 state crown.
"They don't dwell on the negative and what they can't control," Flannery said. "They keep their poise and swagger and find a way to always kick it into gear."
That may be because of all the thunderbolts the players face in their real lives on the tough, lean streets of West Oakland, considered one of the nation's most dangerous cities. The Oakland Police reported during 2011 that Oakland averaged three street shootings per day and as of Nov., there were 115 homicides in 2012. Whisked away
Since he took over since 2007, Flannery said the personal hardships are countless. He's had players whose families have been evicted from their homes and cousins murdered on the street.
When practice runs late, Flannery makes sure players are driven to their doorstep, but in one instance two seasons ago, two girls who lived within two blocks, requested to walk. Flannery obliged.
"The next thing I get a call from the girls whispering in a nearby market," Flannery said. "A shooting was going on. Someone got murdered."
With three girls already in his Honda Civic, Flannery high-tailed it to the market and whisked away the two girls without harm, although severely cramped.
"Life and games take on different meaning around here," Flannery said.
Games are like a giant breath of fresh air for 5-11 senior forward Breannie Robinson
, the team's leading rebounder. Her father died from AIDS when she was 4, and her mother contracted the same disease near the time Robinson was born.
The 18-year-old is her mother's caregiver, according to Flannery. Robinson, who transferred from Envision Academy at the start of the school year, said her mother also suffers from early stages of dementia.
"That's a lot more than any teenager should have to navigate," Flannery said. "Basketball is her release, her safe haven."
Said Gaines of Robinson: "She's a real nice girl and fun to be around. She's real loveable. She's not a sad person. She not a mad person even though I know she's been through a lot. I'll tell you what though. She's really, really tough."
Robinson, plans to go to college and study either computer technology, psychology or journalism. She wants to write a book about her mom, AIDS and all that she's experienced.
She's thankful for basketball and her new second family at McClymonds.
"If I didn't have basketball, honestly, I'd probably be either selling drugs or in jail or in a grave," she said. "I don't want to be another statistic in West Oakland. I want to be something real good in life."
And she always feels good when she's on the court. Though raw in skill, she's a fierce rebounder and good around the basket, averaging 10.0 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
On Wednesday, during one sequence, when the game was tied late, Robinson took an entry pass, posted down hard, but was covered thoroughly. She passed back outside to teammate Romanalyn Inocencio, but the pass went right into the hands of defender.
The large home crowd groaned, Robinson took one stare to the floor, but then sprinted down court, where she immediately grabbed a defensive rebound even though Armijo had inside position.
"For a second, I was so disappointed I wanted to quit," Robinson said. "But I thought to myself, 'What am I doing? I got to get the ball back. I got to get a rebound. I have to help get us the win.' "
There have been many steps along Robinson's path where quitting would have been an understandable consideration and option. But like her life, Robinson chose to put her best foot forward, try her best, grab what's for the taking and help others.
Doing it on the court, however, is more invigorating.
"When I play, I'm in a whole different world," Robinson said. "All I think about is winning and making my mom and friends proud. I'm really proud to be a Lady Warrior."
That's music to the ears of Flannery, who takes no credit for the girls' success. Smell the roses
Instead he points to his assistants Kerry Burl and Brittney Nisenbaum, and his full-time partner Judi, his wife who keeps score at every game and has done so "every step of the way and life I've led."
He also credits the many McClymonds educators and counselors who helped him build a full-time and mandatory study hall, which helped build the structure — let alone the impressive grade point averages — of the program.
It's all worked out to what Flannery had hoped. After he retired, he earned a Master's Degree in social work and then fulfilled a longtime desire to coach at McClymonds. "I always wondered if someone came in with the right tools and established realistic expectations and show they really cared it could actually work," he said. "Believe me though, I had no delusions of grandeur."
The Warriors went 17-10 in his very first season — the previous three they went 15-39 — and 21-8 the next. After a pair of 14-13 seasons, McClymonds was 18-9 this season before putting it all together in 2012-13.
"He's wonderful," Gaines said of Flannery. "He's a really good coach. I love his coaching. Sometimes he barks, but at the end of the day, we know he cares about us."
Said Robinson: "I love all my coaches. They've taught me so much. Before I got here, I didn't even know what posting up was. I'm just so proud to be a good player on such a good team. I've had so much fun."
That's more music to Flannery's ears, who though a hard-driver, definitely encourages the girls to unwind and embrace the day and moment.
Following the Oakland Section title, he encouraged the girls to continue dancing on the court well after the final buzzer.
"I wanted them to take it all in and smell the roses," he said. "I can't tell you what a beautiful sight that was to see and how blessed I felt to be there and watch it. I remember that night, I just couldn't sleep. It was the best feeling of the world. I told them that no matter what, no matter what happens in their lifetime, that no one would ever be able to take that moment away from them. I wanted them to soak it all in."
Before the Armijo game, Flannery continued the "one moment" theme.
Clad in orange dress shirt, khaki pants and McClymonds black-and-orange stripped tie, Flannery made an impassioned speech about the once-in-a-lifetime moment, season and opportunity.
He finished it off by playing the original version of "One Shinning Moment," by David Barrett.
"I know it's schmaltzy," Flannery said after the game. "But I like doing schmaltzy things. What can I say? I'm chronologically advanced."
His grand voyage, whenever the season ends, will be a 100-plus page highlight book for every player with "coaches comments" on each game. For every senior, he'll write a message and present a copy of Riley's "The Winner Within."
"I wish their 15 minutes of fame could last forever," Flannery said. "But every journey must come to an end."
Said Gaines: "We're not ready for it to end yet. We want to take it to state. When I get old, I want to to tell people 'I remember back in high school when we made history and all made it to state.' I'm going to feel good about talking about all of this in the future."