It always came down to the knight and the dragon.
Sure, there was a treasure at stake, or maybe a helpless victim, but the basic idea was that the knight had to slay the dragon.
Going into this year's Nike TOC in Phoenix, Malik McCord and his national No. 1 Bishop O'Dowd (Oakland, Calif.)
Dragons are determined to come out the winner against last year's unbeaten national champion, the St. Mary's (Phoenix)
Knights — and the San Francisco Bay Area team is counting on experience to help make that happen.
"We lost the first one," said McCord about the team's trip to the Nike TOC last year in which they lost to a Pennsylvania team that wasn't nearly as talented – but count that as lesson learned. O'Dowd went on to win the next three, but the Dragons feel they should have won four.
"No matter what division you're in," said McCord, "you can't take anyone lightly."
And this year, with the calendar compressing all the brackets into three days and three games, the competition may be even stiffer.
O'Dowd opens with
Rock Bridge (Columbia, Mo.)
, and should the Dragons win the first game this year, they'll draw either Centennial (Las Vegas)
or Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.)
, two nationally ranked teams with loads of elite talent.
Then again, the Dragons are loaded with talent too, which is why they're No. 1 in the nation. Start with 6-3 wing Oderah Chidom
, a Duke commit who tore it up for USA Basketball this past summer. Add 6-2 post K.C. Waters
, bound for Cal next year, 6-4 Breanna Brown
(Virginia Tech) and 5-4 point guard Ariell Bostick
(San Diego State), and you've got a powerful collection. And that doesn't even include talented sophomore guards Asha Thomas
and Aisia Robertson
, who also project as BCS players.
"Our goal is to finish No. 1," says McCord, who saw the potential in the team when the four seniors were freshmen at the Oakland school. "The national championship was a goal of this group."
But McCord and his players also understand that there's no margin for error. "Each game is a national title game," he said, so the Dragons don't feel any added pressure in Arizona.
They are aware, however, of St. Mary's of Phoenix, No. 4 in the nation, lurking on the other side of the bracket. These Knights don't have to travel to slay their dragon, as just like last year, they will not venture outside the borders of Arizona. They do, however, have to watch out for Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
, which reloaded with transfers and is once again in the top half of the national rankings.
St. Mary's is still potent, though, having lost only two players from last year's team. Chantel Osahor
, Danielle Williams
, Dominique Williams
, Brandee Walton
and Chloe Johnson
are all high Division I players, and junior shooter Courtney Ekmark
has already committed to UConn.
And in addition to sleeping in their own beds, they will also be very comfortable with the lack of a 30-second shot clock, which O'Dowd plays with in California.
"You have to prepare," says McCord. "If they spread the floor, you have to know what to do – and if you're down 15, you're going to get stalled out. It's frustrating.
"I would like to see some of those teams play with a shot clock," he said.
Another thing McCord would like to see is more respect for Bay Area basketball, so this trip is about more than just Bishop O'Dowd.
"SoCal gets all the love," he said. "I feel like we represent the Bay."
They certainly do, but there are also a bunch of other talented Bay Area schools in Phoenix this weekend: St. Mary's (Albany)
, St. Mary's (Stockton)
, Salesian (Richmond)
, Carondelet (Concord)
, Archbishop Mitty (San Jose)
, Miramonte (Orinda)
and Marin Catholic (Kentfield)
are all capable of winning their brackets — and there are plenty of strong brackets.
Still, the focus will be on the romantically-named Division E, where Knights and Dragons will resume their mythic struggle, with the prize being a huge step toward the national championship.Click here for the complete Nike TOC brackets