OAKLAND, Calif. - It would be easy for players to swagger around the Bishop O'Dowd (Oakland, Calif.) gymnasium these days. Slap backs. Read the glossy press clippings. Swap passages from glowing blogs.
Despite the fact that their basketball teams appear primed to do something no other San Francisco Area school has ever done — finish atop the boys and girls Metro rankings the same season — the Dragons aren’t prepared to be anointed kings and queens of the Oakland campus.
Though soaring to new heights, both teams rely on a grounded, blue-collar approach.
“Not even close,” O’Dowd senior guard Nick Capiti said. “There’s so many talented teams and players up here nobody really stands out above the rest. ”
The schools soccer teams have been ranked nationally this winter. The girls volleyball squad reached the state semifinals in the fall. In the spring, O’Dowd’s swim, track and baseball programs are all first rate.
In a school of 1,180 students, some 800 kids thrive on 55 different teams.
“Besides that, everyone is so into their school work and trying to get good grades,” said fourth-year girls starter Robie Mayberry, a 6-foot senior who leads the team in scoring, rebounds and assists. “Sports is huge, but we’re all trying to get into college.”
Mayberry doesn’t need to worry. She’s already signed a letter of intent to Pepperdine and teammate Mikayla Lyles, a 5-8 super shooter and defender, has signed to Cal. The team’s only other senior, 5-8 point guard Alexis Bostick, took a trip to Oregon State on Friday and is expected to commit this week.
Few teams boast three Division I teams on one roster, but that’s simply where the female Dragons begin. The back end of the Bay Area’s No. 1 squad (20-3 overall) is perhaps the most skilled, talented and tallest freshman class in the state.
Breanna Brown (6-3), Oderah Chidom (6-2) and Kendall Waters (6-1) gave first-year coach Malik McCord some much needed brawn to what looked like a vertically-challenged group, and Bostick’s sister, 5-2 Ariel Bostick, added some absolutely electrifying point-guard skills.
McCord was an assistant two years under head coach Kevin Cushing, who built the program but stepped away to spend more time with his family last season after winning O’Dowd’s first North Coast Section title since 1993.
“We thought we were going to have to play (Mayberry) into the post until girls 6-3, 6-2 and 6-1 walked into the door (during tryouts),” McCord said. “Obviously we’ve been very, very blessed.”
Imposing and energized
The second-ranked boys received a similar blessing last season when 6-8 Brandon Ashley and 6-6 Richard Longrus Jr.. arrived and started as freshman. Both are considered two of the nation’s top sophomores and along with 6-5 senior Jordan Barton make up one of Northern California’s most imposing front lines.
When Capiti, an athletic and strong 6-foot-1 senior point guard, is at his best, 3-point shooters
and James Thomas Jr.
. are connecting, and a very deep bench is energized, the Dragons (21-3) are pretty much unbeatable around these parts.
The boys have won 16 straight since a rigorous nonleague schedule that included losses to Southern California powers Loyola (Los Angeles) and Price (Los Angeles), and Taft (Woodland Hills, Calif.). They’re ranked 19th in the state by MaxPreps and 226th nationally.
Last season, the Dragons handed St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.) legendary coach Bob Hurley his most lopsided defeat ever, 69-40 in the first round of the MaxPreps Holiday Classic.
That was the high-water mark, however, and the Dragons under-achieved at 20-8.
With a load of talent in the junior varsity and freshman ranks, their national rank figures to rise rapidly and head coach Doug Vierra sees less and less signs of over-confidence or inconsistency.
“We’re really playing well right now,” boys head coach Doug Vierra said. “It’s a good group. They know they can’t relax. We’re getting more consistency which will be key down the stretch.”
The girls have won 15 in a row since a 64-55 loss to the nation’s No. 3 team Brea Olinda (Brea, Calif.) on Dec. 30.
Other than a 74-70 win over a tough 22-4 St. Joseph (Santa Maria, Calif.) squad on Martin Luther King Day, the Dragons haven’t been challenged.
Not by a long shot.
The closest margin during 14 Hayward Area Athletic League games is 25 points and O’Dowd’s average margin is 47.9 points.
“That’s probably not going to help us in the long run,” McCord said. “But this is a great group of girls. We have great senior leadership and the younger kids are hungry to play.”
The freshman girls are more than a little hungry.
Pulling in same direction
Waters can play the wing or post, can drill a turnaround jumper and is a great shot-blocker.
Brown runs like a gazelle and is a rugged inside presence.
They call Chidom “Slinkey” because despite her size, she can slink rapidly to the basket from the wing.
McCord calls Ariel Bostick a “human highlight passer” who despite her diminutive size plays much taller “because she can jump out of the gym.”
Mayberry, the team’s heart and soul, said the freshmen were required to do all the things she had to do when she was a ninth-grader: carry the water bottles, put the balls in the rack, load team bags.
“We’re starting to lighten the load on them now,” she said good-naturedly. “They’ve earned their keep and our respect.”
Both squads are heavy on balance and depth with different leading scorers almost every lopsided game. They also support each other, often rooting right behind each other’s bench.
“We get hyped up watching them with all their dunks and ally oops,” Mayberry said. “But we also have fun and give them a hard time. I mean right now there is only one team on campus that is No. 1 in the Bay Area.”
O’Dowd’s boys are No. 2 behind defending state Division IV champion Salesian (Richmond, Calif.).
“The two programs definitely push one another,” Vierra said. “But in a very healthy, constructive way.”
Said McCord: “It’s definitely a family atmosphere and we’re all pulling in the same direction.”
The boys are the favorite to win the Northern California Division III title and reach the state finals in Bakersfield.
The girls, meanwhile, have giant roadblocks in Sacramento (Calif.), a team it already lost to, and St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.), the nation’s top-ranked team.
“It’s a long road to Bakersfield but our goal is to get there together,” Mayberry said. “Right now proud of what we’ve accomplished thus far but just living in the moment.”
Capiti said going to school every day is a pleasure, not something you always hear from teens.
“It’s just a great environment at O’Dowd,” he said. “You go to school and work hard. After school, you play sports and play hard.
“What people think of us, where they rank us, it doesn’t really matter. We just support each other, do the right things and hopefully at the end of the season both teams will be playing back-to-back games in the state finals.”