SACRAMENTO, Calif. –
Salesian celebrates a 70-56 win over Price on Friday afternoon at Power Palance Pavilion in Sacramento.
Photo by Todd Shurtleff
National Top 100 point guard Dominic Artis
announced plans to leave Bay Area powerhouse Salesian (Richmond)
for Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.)
Losing a future Pac-12 Conference playmaker – Artis is committed to Oregon – would be a crippling blow for most high school basketball programs. But not so for Salesian, who knocked off Price (Los Angeles)
70-56 on Friday afternoon at Power Balance Pavilion to capture California's Division IV state title and likely secure a spot in MaxPreps.com's final national rankings April 2.
"I think it made us stronger," junior guard Markel Leonard
said of Artis' departure. "I felt like it was my time to step up and lead."
"I think it galvanized the kids," said Salesian athletic director Chad Nightingale, who has been at the school since 1993 and beamed with pride – no pun intended – Friday as both his boys and girls teams played for titles in Sacramento. "I think they looked around and said, 'Look what we still have.'"
Artis sent Leonard words of encouragement via text Friday morning, but the Pride (34-2) were headed to Sacramento feeling pretty good about themselves already riding a 26-game win streak. Salesian – ranked No. 24 nationally this week – dominated in the postseason, winning eight contests by an average margin of 30.5 points per game.
Jabari Bird scored 24 points Friday against Price and is a sought-after talent by major college programs.
Photo by Todd Shurtleff
After stumbling out of the blocks in the opening quarter against Price, the Pride outscored the Los Angeles school by 20 points over the 24 minutes.
"We've been hearing all week about how we weren't battle-tested down the stretch of the season," Salesian head coach Bill Mellis said. "We had to answer that question a million times and I respectfully disagree. That was a motivating factor (against Price)."
In the last four years under Mellis, the small Catholic college prep school of 519 students has become an elite program in the state of California and recognized nationally. The Pride own a record of 133-11 on the court during that span (10 victories during the 2010-11 were overturned via forfeit) with a pair of Division IV state titles. They also reached the final in Sacramento last March.
"Last year when we lost we were crying tears of sadness," said junior star Jabari Bird
, who led the way Friday with 24 points. "This year it's tears of joy. We are a whole different group this year. We got down early and showed how tough we were coming back."
Salesian's schedule this winter included a trip to Fort Myers, Fla., for the prestigious City of Palms Classic. A brutal four-game stretch over six days awaited the Pride, including national power Montverde Academy (Fla.)
, Kentucky state champ Trinity (Louisville)
, Florida Class 7A state champ Blanche Ely (Pompano Beach)
and New York City Catholic league champ St. Raymond Boys (Bronx)
"We came away from that feeling pretty good," Leonard said. "Everybody thought we were going to go 0-4 and we went 2-2 (beating Trinity and St. Raymond by 19)."
Expect to see the Bay Area boys in more national events like the City of Palms Classic in 2012-13 as nine players on the roster could return, including five-star recruit Bird, Leonard and fellow juniors Mario Dunn
and Jermaine Edmonds
. Sophomore Jawian Harrison
leads a promising contingent of young guards.
The unlikely ascension and newfound expectations of the program were defined during a giddy post-game media and photo session by Leonard.
"I always dreamed of winning a state championship and that's why I came to Salesian," Leonard said. "Salesian wins basketball games."