By Mitch Stephens
CONCORD, Calif. – Following his team’s second stranglehold of a state power in three days – a 45-34 shutdown of Monte Vista (Danville) on Wednesday - De La Salle basketball coach Frank Allocco said the pieces are all coming together.
Jeff Powers, a long and strong 6-foot-7 forward signed to Denver University, is drilling 3-pointers, rugged 6-8 junior John McArthur is effectively working the post, athletic 6-foot senior Jordan Estrada is locking down lethal scorers, versatile 6-6 senior wing Beau Levesque is filling every gap and rock solid 6-foot Cal-bound senior guard Brandon Smith continues to maestro the show.
But when pressed about one significant missing piece, Allocco admitted his heart still pings somewhat.
Just how good with the nation’s 12th-ranked team be had Hollis Thompson stayed?
“It’s hard to say,” Allocco said. “But he definitely wouldn’t have hurt.”
There’s an understatement.
The rangy 6-6, 180-pound forward, who has signed a letter of intent to Georgetown, had transferred to De La Salle from Loyola (Los Angeles) in Sept. after a family split.
He spent the fall working closely with Allocco and running open gyms with his future teammates. His easy-going demeanor fit in nicely with the Spartans. His very skilled game, quickness and hops would fit in anywhere.
“More than anything we all were emotionally invested in Hollis,” Allocco said. “I couldn’t wait to work with him and coach him this season. Not just as a great player but a great kid.”
But just days before the season began, Thompson’s dad transferred jobs to Atlanta. The younger Thompson considered staying with the family of one of his De La Salle teammates. But, understandably, he joined his father in Georgia.
According to Allocco, Thompson isn’t playing high school basketball this season and will enroll early to Georgetown.
“There’s no doubt Hollis would have helped us in many areas,” Allocco said. “But I think we could have helped him also far beyond basketball. Family splits are a very tough thing. We wish him nothing but the best.”
With Thompson gone, it took the Spartans time to adjust both physically and emotionally. For the first time in Allocco’s career he was going to coach a sure-fire blue chip recruit.
He’s won three state titles with teams largely built on skill, cohesion, toughness and defensive prowess. Allocco has coached and molded Div. I players to be sure, but none as completely skilled and athletically packaged as Thompson.
Just as quickly as the Spartans had to adjust to a new talent and personality coming in, they had to readjust and configure their plan of attack when he left.
“We definitely had to make some adjustments,” Allocco said. “It probably contributed to our slow start. I know it took me at least a month to get over it emotionally. I really was attached to the young man.
“But everything works out. Time heals all and the pieces on our team are all coming together.”
Powers led the Spartans (15-1, 5-0 East Bay Athletic League) with 16 points on Wednesday and was 7-for-7 at the free throw line. Levesque added nine of his 11 in the second half.
Blessed with a quick release and soft touch, Powers came into De La Salle with a shooter’s mentality. His dad Robert was a lights-out bomber for nearby Las Lomas (Walnut Creek) and later starred at Diablo Valley College and semipro leagues.
“If you play at De La Salle you have to be able to shoot the ball,” Powers said. “My dad for sure taught me how to shoot but the coaches here have taken me to another level. It’s all about coaching here. I think we have the best coach in the state and one of the best in the country.”
As important as shooting is, De La Salle’s bread and butter is on the defensive end. “Everything starts, stops and ends with our defense,” Powers said.
The Spartans give up 33.2 points a game and have allowed more than 40 points only four times all season, once since Christmas. They've allowed less than 30 in six of their last 10 games.
After giving up just 17 points through three quarters while stopping McClymonds’ 49-game win streak on Monday with a 43-38 win, De La Salle didn’t allow a point for 10 minutes and 38 seconds after Monte Vista took a 3-0 lead on Wednesday.
Brian Barbour, one of the Bay Area’s top all-around players, scored 20 of Monte Vista’s 34 points, 17 coming in the second half. He said communication and guard pressure is the key for the Spartans.
Barbour missed his first six shots, but made 7 of his last 11. The rest of the Mustangs (15-2, 4-1) were a combined 6-for-21 from the field and scored just 14 points.
Before an absolutely packed De La Salle home game – it was jammed by the first quarter of the JV game and fans were turned away 30 minutes before the varsity contest - Monte Vista led just once in the game.
“They just talk so well and know exactly what they’re doing,” he said. “Nothing comes easy against them. We’ll make adjustments though. (Monte Vista) Coach (Bill) Powers knows what he’s doing. It will be much different next time at our place.”
All 12 Spartans are tenacious defensively, but if ever there was someone truly worth watching on that end it is Estrada.
Man-up defense doesn’t make the ESPN reel, but watch the super quick senior move side-to-side and dare not be amazed.
Estrada, along with Smith, did much of the work on highly skilled and potent Taylor Brewster who opened the game with a 3-pointer but never scored after, missing eight straight shots under heavy duress.
“(Estrada) is definitely an unsung hero for us,” Allocco said. “Personally, I think he’s a Division I kid.”
Estrada broke his ankle and didn’t play during the fall. Then when the ankle was just about healed, he fell off his crutches and dislocated his shoulder.
He made just one shot on Wednesday, a three-pointer, but looks like his offensive game is slashing to the basket.
“He’s just been healthy the last two or three weeks,” Allocco said. “He’s just going to get better and better.”
GOOD ANKLE NEWS
Barbour, a 6-1 point guard, tweaked an ankle early in the second quarter Monday during a 61-42 loss to St. Mary’s. He had 11 points to that point and went scoreless the rest of the way.
He moved adequately in a straight line, but had no ability to cut. On Wednesday, he looked close to 100 percent and in the second half absolutely carried the Mustangs, who played a stellar defensive game themselves.
“I was definitely concerned on Monday it (the ankle) might really be an issue,” Barbour said. “Maybe it was adrenalin or just playing against these guys, but I really didn’t notice a problem tonight.
“This is the first time I’ve ever played in this gym and that’s true for a lot of our guys. That’s not an excuse, but it might have made a little difference. It’s actually a lot of fun playing here. The cheering sections on both sides were really into it. Can’t wait to play them at our place.”
That date is Feb. 13.
MONTE VISTA REVENGE
Monte Vista’s girls gained a measure of revenge on Wednesday with a decisive 53-42 win over a very good Carondelet (Concord) squad. Carondelet is the sister school of De la Salle.
The Mustangs (15-1, 5-0) streaked to a 33-12 halftime lead and was never really threatened behind the stellar play of Niveen Rasheed, a 6-foot guard headed to Princeton. She had 22 points, 17 rebounds, seven steals and four assists according to San Francisco Chronicle correspondent Harold Abend.
Monte Vista came in No. 20 in the state by MaxPreps.com/National Guard’s computer rankings, while Carondelet (14-3, 4-1) was No. 10.
Monte Vista coach Ron Hirschman is one of Bay Area’s most under-rated coaches. He took over a program in the late 80s that was absolutely the laughing stock of the East Bay Athletic League and has won 20 games just about every season since. The Mustangs are always at or near the top of the Bay Area rankings.
In this group, and in particularly Rasheed, he might have his best squad ever.
It's hard to imagine that either Monte Vista squad wasn't affected by the tragedy earlier Wednesday morning.
The Danville community was rocked by the murder of a San Ramon Valley High senior who was shot in the neck at his own front door. None of the players offered it as an excuse, but clearly the incident was at the forefront.
Danville is a tightly-knit and affluent area not associated with crime and especially murder. Especially of someone so young.
The deceased, Rylan Fuchs, loved basketball and was well known by not only San Ramon Valley students, but Monte Vista as well.
Fuchs’ mother and step father spoke reporters in this heart-wrenching story. See the final video clip from the step father Ron Harmon who after a long delay said it all. “What a waste,” he said.
SECOND-HALF SACRED HEART
Defending national champion Sacred Heart Cathedral girls basketball team came back from three halftime deficits last week to win, but the last one was truly noteworthy.
Down 33-31 against the Bay Area’s No. 2 team Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland), the Irish (14-1) went on a 39-12 streak in the second half to win going away 70-45 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Classic in Kentfield on Monday.
The three-time defending state champs were once again led by the terrific trio of Kamilah Jackson (18 points), Ki-Ki Moore (15 points, 10 rebounds, seven steals and six assists) and Tierra Rogers (13 points, seven rebounds). Sophomore standout Rayven Fox also had 13 points.
O’Dowd 6-3 sophomore post Brieanna Ashley was a menace down low with 12 blocks and nine points, but the Irish’s experience in big games and overall toughness prevailed. O’Dowd dropped to 14-2.
Sacred Heart has another big matchup on Saturday at home against two-time defending state champion and West Catholic Athletic League rival Archbishop Mitty.
Though the Cal-bound Rogers is considered a better recruit, the key to the Irish is the Washington State-signee Moore, a 5-9 point guard who reminds me a lot of former Oakland Tech star and now Cal standout Alexis Gray-Lawson.
On Sunday, Gray-Lawson busted for a career high 37 points in a huge Bay Area and national showdown 57-54 home win over Stanford.
Though Gray-Lawson is a lofty comparison, we’ve seen Moore fearlessly showcase all her skills, particularly in incredible clutch situations for the Irish the last four years. Washington State got a steal, which is what Moore does best.
BLUE CHIPPER GREENE COMMITS TO USC
Sacred Heart Cathedral senior Kevin Greene, a once highly sought-after basketball standout who was talked into playing football, verbally committed to USC on a full ride football scholarship on Monday.
Greene, a soft-spoken 6-foot-4, 245-pound defensive end, didn’t start playing football in high school until his junior season and recorded 24 sacks over two seasons.
He was a starter and mainstay on Sacred Heart’s basketball team as a freshman, even leading it all the way to the state Division IV finals. He’s been a starter on the hoop team ever since – he had 10 points and 10 rebounds in a 65-50 win over Riordan on Tuesday - but his focus obviously changed when Sacred Heart football coach John Lee finally convinced him to come out.
Lee has helped turn the once failing football program into one of the Bay Area’s best. Lee told me five years ago that he would do it and his energy alone has lifted the Irish to new levels.
A big turning point was moving the Irish from Independent status into the WCAL. That helped elevate the team’s status and attract athletes such as Greene, who told The Chronicle that he promised Lee a degree from USC.
He also promised Lee and his wife a spot on the sidelines when he helps lead USC to a Rose Bowl game.
Gotta love a kid who aims high and doesn’t forget who got him there.
Bay Area Confidential is an inside look at news, teams and players from the San Francisco Bay region, where Mitch Stephens resides and has covered prep sports for more than two decades. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.