You remember that Alemany High state championship boys’ basketball team? You should because it wasn’t that long ago (2011-12). That team won 33 of 37 games, including the last in 10 in a row, and claimed the Mission League, Southern Section 3A, and the CIF Division 3 state regional titles along with the Division 3 State championship over Northern California entry Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco.
The current Warriors are not that team. For one thing, the 2011-12 squad had 17 players and the 2014-15 has 11. The title team had six seniors, the current team three.
But these current Warriors may be turning into that team. Yes they are young; as far as conventional wisdom goes, they may be a year away. But ask the national champion Ohio State football team about being too young to win a title. If your talent and heart work in tandem with preparation and execution, nothing seems impossible.
What is raising hopes around Alemany High is the six-game winning streak the 15-6 Warriors brought into this week’s action going into their Jan. 28 road game at Crespi. (Ed. Note: Alemany defeated Crespi 59-58 to stretch their win streak to seven.) While the wins are good, it’s the evolving development of the team’s play that is a more critical indicator. Alemany endured a rough patch starting in the last week of December, losing five consecutive games (although the defeat to Chino Hills was later ruled a forfeit to the Warriors). The skid reached it’s nadir with a home loss to Crespi on Jan. 7.
But the Warriors then ripped off six straight wins. They didn’t just right the ship: they also mapped out a course to navigate the rest of the league season, and prepare for the section 3A playoffs.
“It’s about details,” Alemany Coach Tray Meeks said. “We talk about little things making the big things happen. And they’ve been doing the [little] things during the streak. More importantly, they have the faith to keep believing. And I think that is the toughest part.
“Being young players, you can start to question the coach, the staff, the plays, the defense, teammates —-but they kept believing, they kept after it. We had a couple of conversations, they had some player meetings to remind themselves what they are capable of, and we got going. And even after the first couple of games we won, we still had conversations about what we could do better. I don’t think we’re rolling yet. But no one wants to peak in January. I don’t want their best basketball now. The best is yet to come. And if they believe that, they will be okay.”
There is plenty of talent spread through the Warriors roster. But there are three main ingredients that must always be in the mix.
Forward Kevin Summers, a 6-7 senior, averages eight points but leads the team in rebounding with eight boards a game. He is willing to battle for the ball and help trigger the Warrior’s running game, as well as create space for leading scorers Daron Henson and Shacquille Dawkins.
“I want to get the ball to pass to these guys and make something happen. That’s my best way to contribute,” said Summers, 18, who has college recruiters considering him in football as well as basketball.
Henson, a 17-year-old junior who measures 6-8, could be primary inside presence like Summers. But his ability to shoot outside, especially beyond the three-point line, forces other forwards to guard Henson on the perimeter, where his quickness to the basket is another asset.
“I like to go inside, too,” said Henson, who averages 15.3 points and five rebounds. “But Coach likes us to play to what our abilities are. And I can shoot, so he lets me go outside and shoot. I can go inside, and I can shoot the hook shot with the left or right hand.”
The trigger-man of the Warriors’ attack is Dawkins, a 5-7 point guard who is not only lightning fast but can stay under control while moving at top speed. He leads the Warriors in scoring at 16.5 points, and averages four assists and three steals. He also leads them in resiliency and focus. Dawkins lost his father, Wayne, who died unexpectedly in August.
He said he thinks of his father daily, especially before games. “It’s hard not to get that criticism after a game now (that he would give),” Dawkins said. “I still get it from my mom, and I listen to her. But, the simple stuff he would tell me to do, I miss that.”
Meeks is impressed on how Dawkins has not let his grief intrude on the team. “He’s been extremely focused, he hasn’t complained, hasn’t had any issues. We had a moment where we had some discussions about it. And he’s been okay since then. He’s never been a problem or distraction. I think he’s been even more focused because he knows what his dad wanted from him. That kind of locked him in.”
What all the players have zeroed in on is continuing to build on the momentum they are creating.
Henson noted the losing streak “wasn’t about selfishness or anything. We were losing close games, and it was the [lack of] execution in the close games.” The meetings players had were to “remind ourselves to stay with the system. We had to come together even more, not break apart from each other.”
Dawkins notes that “everyone here respects each other. So it’s okay to get in each other’s face and tell them they’re not doing what they need to. And that includes me.”
But Summers — who played on the state championship team — said the biggest lesson the young team has learned is that “defense wins games. It’s not like, more on offense. It’s defense.” And he is seeing a team that has the ability to make the kind of playoff run the 2011-12 team made. “I think we’re capable of doing the same thing. We all work together, we all have that bond.”
All of which keeps Meeks and his staff excited about seeing this team reach its full potential — whatever it may be.
“I think we’re at the point right now where we’re just learning that we can be a formidable team by our actions,” the coach said. “They knew that on paper they should be one of the better teams around. We have talent in pretty much every position. But now I think they’re starting to understand that, as a team, they’re pretty good.
“Reasonable expectations? I leave that up to God. I don’t have any clue. I don’t say we’re not ready to win a championship because they can transform this thing in a (snaps his fingers). We had a five-game losing streak and someone said we were done. Now we’re on a winning streak. So I know we’ll be a tough opponent in the playoffs. I do know that. And depending on how it goes, the sky’s the limit. I won’t put a cap on us.”