It was a good night for the Alemany girls’ basketball team. They were playing Valencia in the John Burroughs High Magnolia Park Optimist tournament on Friday, Dec. 8, and had their offense in high gear, scoring the game’s first 10 points in the first quarter, and opening the fourth quarter on a 16-0 run.
Senior guard Aminata Dosso was proving to be the best player on both sides of the court, scoring 24 points with six rebounds and five assists, while also disrupting the flow of the Vikings offense with her perimeter defense that included two blocks.
All in all, a tidy 61-40 victory was the result on this night. And the Warriors fortunes continued to be good ones the following night when they pounded Canyon High of Canyon Country, 71-50, to finish the tournament in third place. The victory improved their overall record to 7-2. (The one tournament loss to Roswell Sports Academy, an Australian team, won’t show in maxpreps.com because the service only lists games against USA teams).
Coach Johnny Garcia and staff are encouraged by the early going.
“What we’ve been preaching is a work ethic,” Garcia said. “If we get better every day, and work hard in terms of our conditioning and the stuff we need to get better at, the games could become easy. We can’t control the outcomes; but if we work and get better, the positivity will come out. Our hard work can bring the team victories.”
Then again it’s not like Alemany is making some quantum leap in the quality of their basketball. The Warriors were 25-9 last season and won the Mission League. They have not endured a losing season since 2007-08. And since claiming the CIF state Division III girls’ championship in 2013, they have not won fewer than 15 games.
But the Warriors are also under new management. Garcia became the head coach this season, replacing Bryan Camacho (now an assistant at Long Beach State). He brings a wealth of experience, having been a head coach or an assistant for travel teams, high school and community college men’s and women’s teams. He had been an assistant for Camacho at Alemany since 2011.
Still, like all head coaches, Garcia has his way of doing things. And the players would have to adjust.
“The transition in terms of the culture here, wasn’t a total change,” Garcia said. “[Assistant] Rodrigo Clemente is an associate coach. [Assistant] Coach Sixx Johnson has been here since 2014. The only thing different I’d say is we’ve focused more on the little things; we’re trying to run more open sets, and let the girls’ talents have more freedom.”
It seems to be working.
“It wasn’t too big of a change,” said Jasmine Hardy, 17, a senior. “Camacho was a really good coach, and so is Johnny. And he’s done a great job of taking over the program and getting us adjusted to the way he coaches.
“At first we were kind of hesitant, like ‘whoa, is he gonna change a lot of stuff?’ But we’re trusting him and believing in him. He can get us to where we want to be and where we need to go.”
“Probably the biggest thing is the repetition [in practice], just getting the experience of different things,” noted Malia Bambrick, 17, a senior. “We’ll scrimmage in practice, then stop and go over things — what can we do different that we didn’t do in other years.”
Garcia said he is “depending heavily” on his core group of six seniors. Along with Bambrick, Dosso and Hardy, Mackenzie Stoehr and Rebecca Castillo are also seeing the crucial minutes. Garcia likes most or all of his players on the court to be able to dribble well, pass, and take shots with the idea being that defenses cannot simply concentrate on stopping just one or two players.
The senior core has embraced the system, in part because they’ve been together for three years and know each other’s tendencies, and they like the unselfishness the system demands.
Unfortunately, the Warriors have already sustained a key loss; senior forward Jillian Archer, the tallest listed player at 6-3, sustained a knee injury in the season’s second game. Her return to action is unknown.
That makes Dosso, 18, a bit of a wild card. She came to Alemany from Paris, France last year, but didn’t play on varsity. She brings speed, athleticism and a growing confidence in her game and in the classroom.
“She’s having a breakout year,” Garcia said.
French is her native language. But Dosso, while admittedly shy, is feeling assured enough to do her interviews in English even if she occasionally takes time to make sure she is saying the right words.
“Here, [the basketball is] very aggressive,” Dosso said. “In France, it’s not like that. Here you have to be very aggressive all the time. You can’t slow down.”
She considers being a defender her primary role — “that’s what I do best” — but is showing a talent for going to the basket and getting points. She’s giving Alemany an unexpected scoring boost in Archer’s absence.
She also has the confidence of the other seniors who felt frustrated by the team’s showing in the playoffs last season.
The Warriors lost their first round Open Division game to Troy High of Fullerton and were relegated to the consolation bracket. They made it to the consolation championship game but lost to Windward High of Los Angeles. And their run in the CIF state Division I Southern Regional playoffs, after victories against Central High of Fresno, and Lakeside High of Lake Elsinore, was halted by Ventura High in the semifinals.
“Last year we were right there. We just fell a little bit short,” Hardy said. “The last game we lost to Ventura…was kind of unsettling. We knew we could do so much better than we did. But it was the little things that made a difference. Maybe, if we had gone a little harder in practice here and there, in the games it might have made a difference how we performed.”
Bambrick agrees. “Being that we are seniors, it definitely gives us that little bit of [urgency] because we’ve all been through the shortcomings of the previous years. Knowing that we’ve had those experiences, and knowing what we want to achieve this year, it helps that we want it even more especially since it’s our last opportunity as seniors.”
Even though they are third in the Southern Section Division I rankings, the Warriors don’t mind if they are off the grids of prognosticators forecasting this season’s top playoff picks. Last season taught them that being close wasn’t satisfying enough. They don’t know if Archer will return or how effective she would be if she does. They will only worry about what they can control, and plan on being a contender in March.
“This season is about showing and proving to people they’re wrong, that we have a great team, that we have great people — and we’re gonna go far,” Hardy said.