Basketball team

Christopher’s boys’ basketball team wins the first League A title in the program’s history; for CCS – Gilroy Dispatch

No one would have thought this before the start of the season, but Chigozie “Chico” Okeke’s predicament would serve as a harbinger for the Christopher High Boys basketball team’s 2021-22 campaign.

Difficult start but closing in force. Sidelined for the first half of the season, the junior guard struggled on his return to the field at the start of the league season. However, Okeke has turned things around over time, highlighted by his best game to date in the Cougars’ 60-55 win over Palma on February 10.

Christopher then won his final regular season match against Alisal High on February 15 to claim a share of the Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division Championship, his first A-league title in program history. Depending on their seed, the Cougars (17-6 overall, 11-1 league) will open the Central Coast Division playoffs on Feb. 19 or 22. Okeke will be there, although it was far from a guarantee when he tore a tendon in his knee in October.

Okeke, a valuable player in Christopher’s four successful years, would be out indefinitely. Although the surgery was not necessary, Okeke had to wait a month before he could put weight on it.

“It’s been a long road back, a long journey,” said Okeke, who scored 11 points in the game against Palma. “I love these guys, they taught me a lot and I’m really happy to be able to share this moment with them because Palma have had our number for the past two years and it’s finally good to get them back.”

The Chieftains knocked out CHS last year and won the teams’ first league meeting this season, but the rematch would prove different. Tobenna Ezeokeke made sure of that. The senior winger set the tone from the start, driving hard to the basket and scoring on the team’s first two possessions. Bricen Buciak then hit a floater to make it 6-0, forcing a timeout for Palma.

The break in action didn’t stop the CHS onslaught, as the Cougars took a 23-7 lead after one quarter. CHS literally pickedpocketed Palma’s ball handlers in the first half, forcing 14 turnovers in Palma which led to 12 CHS points.

The Cougars’ length and ball anticipation created all sorts of havoc for Palma and propelled them to a 34-19 halftime lead. The Chieftains came back – just as you knew they would – beating CHS 37-26 in the second half.

The Cougars, who led by no less than 18 points, saw their once considerable lead shrink to four points, 59-55, with 32.8 seconds left. But that’s as close as Palma would get. Ezeokeke hit the forward for a 1-and-1 and Palma missed their penultimate possession, sealing the result.

“The difference right off the bat was Tobenna was doing what he was doing,” Okeke said. “He’s our captain, a great leader, and he helped keep our intensity going. We hesitated a bit, but we held on until the end. »

Cougars coach Adam Sax sees his players reacting now instead of thinking on the court, which is why they’re playing their best basketball of the season.

“The last two weeks they’ve come out of their shell a bit and started to be more aggressive on offense,” said Sax, who is in his first season with the CHS after solid stints in Palo Alto and the Valley. from Amador. “They are starting to drive with a certain tenacity, a certain aggressiveness, whereas they have seemed hesitant all year. But (two weeks ago), it was like, ‘Let’s go.’ We’ve started to absorb some contact and all that strength training seems to be helping them because they’re starting to use it a little more. Instead of settling, now they bring the ball to the basket.

Senior standout Rickey Becker had 11 points for the Cougars, who scored eight different players and everyone who got minutes contributed. Whether it’s backup Chris Naulls providing tough inside play or junior forward Christian Kjellesvig providing key baskets, Sax has a very strong nine-man playoff rotation.

Okeke was the first player to come off the bench against Palma and made an immediate impact with his ability to score and manage the ball.

“It took him (Okeke) a while to get his feet wet, but he’s starting to have some rhythm and we could use his ball handling,” Sax said. “He’s a good shooter and he can get to the rim, so he does a bit of everything. The more he plays, the better he gets. »

Okeke returned to action on January 12 in the league opener against Pacific Grove.

“I didn’t know what to expect and it was tough at first, but I found my rhythm and from there it got better,” he said. “I think this Palma game was my best so far because I contributed and got a lot of minutes. I’m glad the coach trusts me to help the team get the W.”

Sax was pleased with the team’s reaction when Palma came on late in the game. EJ Yufenyuy had some big baskets in the final four minutes to keep the Chieftains at bay. Center Braddock Kjellesvig had his hands full with Palma’s best player Joseph Finley, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound post.

But Kjellesvig, with help from his teammates, didn’t allow Finley (14 points) to come out and take control of the game.

“The guys persevered until the end,” Sax said. “They kept their cool, handled the traps, handled the pressure and managed to get the win.”

Whatever happens the rest of the way, CHS just wants to play his best and be at peace knowing he played to his potential. Until early January, the Cougars were still trying to figure each other out. It’s a different ball game now.

“Before, we were trying to get into the rhythm, and there was a lot of thinking,” Sax said. “But now the more reps we get, the better we get.”

This shows.

Bricen Buciak was a key player in the Cougars’ march to a Gabilan Division title. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

Sportswriter Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]