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High School Team Preview: NorCal--
Alameda St. Joseph-Notre Dame--(Oct. 20, 1998)

"This is our year, we're not fighting any ghosts from the past. I've told my players that whatever they accomplish, it will be their year."--Gordie Johnson, head coach, Alameda St. Joe's.

Gordie Johnson is now in his second fully year as the head coach at Alameda St. Joe's.  Last year he inherited the varsity head job when long time coach Frank La Porte died during the summer of 1997.  The pressure and hype of living up to the legend of coach LaPorte, and the pressure that it put on the players last season, was tremendous.  Last year, St. Joe's not unexpectedly won the Northern Regional in the CIF State Championship and earned the right to play Westchester, the Southern Regional Champions for the State Title at the Arco Arena.

Last year's team was supposed to be as good, if not better than even the teams which played in the seven year span of the "Calvin Byrd-Jason Kidd" eras (176-36 overall record, and 2 State Championships) for the Pilots.  Last year's team was  ranked by The Sporting News as the No. 2 team in the West, and the No 9 team in the entire country.  And they had some great players on the roster, five division one players in all, including Ray Young, who is now at UCLA, and at the start of last season, he was rated as one of the top 10 players in the country by several magazines. He was the All-State Junior
Player of the Year in 1996.  The team also featured Rene Jacques (6'-1" SG) and Nate Murase (5'-11" PG) both of whom are now at Sac State, and Hondre Brewer (6'-11" C) who was recruited by USF.

Last year's team didn't have a year that turned out like they planned though.  After getting to the State Finals, the Pilots only shot 29%.  They were without Hondre Brewer for the entire season, and Nate and Jacques shot miserably.  Ray Young didn't exactly play the game of his life either, and the result was that  Westchester won 52-40 to take the 1997-98 State Division I Championship.

But to hear Gordie talk about it today is to hear a man who harbors no bad feelings about the experience. "Hey, we might not have made it all the way, but I can look at this from both sides.  We made it to the State Finals, and I told my guys that they had nothing to be ashamed about. They should be proud of what they accomplished instead."

And as we've said before, that was then, this is now. And the Pilots are really almost a completely different team than last year, save for the few returning starters like Justin Davis (6'-9" Sr. PF), Grant Snell (6'-6" Sr. C) and Blandon Ferguson (6'-4" Sr. SG/SF).  Gone from the roster last year is Jason McGlaston (6'-0" Sr. PG) who reportedly transferred out. And rather than beat around the bush about who's on this team, here's the roster:

Justin Davis (6'-9" Sr. PF)
Grant Snell (6'-6" Sr. C)
Blandon Ferguson (6'-4" Sr. SG/SF)
Kevin Butler (6'-1" Jr. PG)
K.J. Rosales ((6'-1" Sr. PG/SG/SF)
Seth Jones (6'-4" Jr. SF/PF)
Andrew Severens (6'-7" Sr. PF/C)
Ryan Franklin (5'-9" Sr. PG)
Dave Silva (5'-10" So. SG)
Rulon Maobley (6'-0" Jr. SF/PF)
Stephen Rodrigues (6'-0" Sr. PG/SG)
Mike Morgan (6'-3" Sr. SF/PF)
Jonathon Musson (5'-8" Sr. PG/SG)
Jonathon Price (6'-0" Jr. SG/PG)

The team this year starts with Blandon and Justin, the two "big" names. Blandon, was again an All League power forward last year, and this year will playing his fourth year on the varsity.  Gordie describes him as a cross between "Chauncey Billups and Adrian Dantley." Blandon can drive, has very good jumping ability, and can get great hangtime, is considered by many to be one of, if not the best player in Northern California at his position. Blandon didn't live up to his ability in the State Final, but this summer he played very well.  He's really more of a small forward and even though he was asked to play the post a little last season, he will revert to his natural 2/3 positions this year where he's got great outside range and the ability to slash to the basket. Right now, Blandon is being recruited by Washington, Washington State, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State and will try to take official visits shortly, but he will not sign until the spring.

Justin Davis was a transfer from Berkeley High School last year, and was  the Most Valuable Player in the East Bay Athletic League (EBAL) as a sophomore. He was recruited by Cal, but they reportedly just dropped out yesterday after Justin questioned his committment and spoke with the Cal coaches about possibly opening up his recruitment.  Recruiting USA is reporting that he'll sign with Stanford; others report he'll likely sign with UCLA; we're willing to admit we just don't know. Justin played phenomenally this summer, and demonstrated he can score from just about anywhere on the floor, driving, slamming, shooting from close in or the perimeter.  He's a real workhorse, who has also developed the ability to play the post, which he had to do last year in the absence of  Hondre Brewer. He's one of the most tenacious players around and wherever he ends up, he'll be a major impact player for as long as he stays in college.

Anchoring the frontline, will be Grant Snell, who is in his second year as a varsity player after playing most of the preceding year on the jv before suffering an ankle injury.  He's just a huge guy, 240 lbs, and has developed great touch with his huge, soft hands. If St. Joe's had a football team (they don't), Grant would certainly be on it.  He's also one of the best free-throw shooters on the team, and is also developing an amazing touch from the arc, going 20 for 20 on his three point shots in the fall league.  He's currently being recruited by Boise State and Sonoma State.  Grant will be a tremendous impact player at the post, and he's also developed some very quick footwork, developing into the best post player on the team this season.

Kevin Butler (6'-1" Jr. PG) will try to hold down the point spot this year. He's small (about 155 lbs.) but quick and agile with incredibly long arms,  "the kind that sort of drag on the ground," Gordie joked. "Seriously, this guy can block shots, and make passes most other guys his size can't make because of those long arms."  Gordie describes him as a sort of Gary Payton type of player as a defender,  and as far as what type of offensive player he is, he's a "Kevin Butler" type of guy; really an original.

K.J. Rosales will also be playing his third year on the varsity, and while he may not be as well known as some of the other guys, and ended up playing mostly in the shadows last season, he may just be the best defender on the team. He's got incredibly quick feet, and can play either the 1, 2 or 3 spots with ease and capably.  He's a good shooter, not quite as good as Rene Jacques, but still a very good developing perimeter shooter who can also slash to the hole and finish. He's currently also being recruited by Sonoma State, and will also probably sign late.   Last season, he and Grant were backup players but this year, the show is theirs.

From here, any number of players will be vying for playing time. Seth Jones is up from the JV and he is an excellent perimeter shooter out to about 17' and is also an excellent rebounder who will handle the three or four positions in  Gordie's motion offense.  Andrew Severens will also help out at the post, and at 250lbs., he may be just as strong and big as Grant, and it should be a truly scary sight to see them both in at the same time as will happen from time to time this season.

This team is not unlike a lot of others, as they will be "guard-heavy" but then that's just because there are more 5'-11" guys than 6'-11" guys around.  Backing up at the point will be Jonathon Musson, Stephen Rodriguez and Jonathon Price, with Ryan Franklin getting the call off the bench most often. Ryan is a second year varsity player,  who was the starting point
guard on the junior varsity two years ago. He's a quick, tenacious defender with great speed, a decent shot and can take the ball to the hole and finish or push the break, and is really best trying to create his own shot. Actually Gordie says that he's got a little too much street-ball right now, and he'd like to see him be more of a passer than a creator of the shot off the dribble; but then you never know when you'll need some shooting from a little 5'-9" point on the pull-up J.  Rodrigues is a good defender, who also plays baseball and who will see his share of minutes while Musson and Price are both quick players with good handles; Musson is probably the better pure shooter, and Price just has a nose for the hoop, is a real scorer off the drive and just finds a way to get to the hoop in traffic.

Dave Silva is a young off-guard up from the JV team which finished 13-1 last season, and he was the leading scorer on the team as a freshman.  He's an excellent shooter from out to about 18' and he's even got a decent three point shot, but just needs to be more consistent with it; for now he's a bit streaky. He's a very quick defender, and we'd expect to see him play some major minutes at the two position. 

Backing up Blandon at the 3/4 spot will be Rulon and Morgan.  Rulon is another young guy up from the JV last year, who has a great nose for the ball, and he'll go out and grab the rebound, dive for the loose ball, and generally work really hard setting picks and doing the dirty work.  Morgan is the kind of guy who "makes things happen," according to Gordie, and we expect that he'll also see some significant time during his senior season as a situational player.

While Gordie told us he thought this was a senior-heavy team, on balance it doesn't look a whole lot different from a lot of other really good, talented and deep teams, and certainly is no more "senior-heavy" than last year's St. Joe team.  And "best of all, we've got some really great players with talent you wouldn't believe on our JV this year," Johnson told us. "So we've got plenty to build on for next year and the year after."

St. Joe's is really a Division V school if you want to strictly consider enrollment figures.  It's located on an island (really) in the San Francisco Bay, just west of Oakland.  But Frank La Porte, their long time coach, always moved the team up to play in the Division I playoffs.  And it seems that at least that tradition will continue, as Gordie intends to have Alameda St. Joe's play "up" in Division I again this year. "It's something we've always done, and as far as I'm concerned, we always will. We want to be the best, and you've got to play the best." 

Johnson says that there are any number of teams who, depending upon the division they ultimately play in will look good.  El Cerrito (Andrew Gooden) "looks strong," and then there's De La Salle, which Johnson says "has really re-loaded."  He also thinks Bishop O'Dowd with Tony Champion looks very good as does St. Ignatius (Luke Whitehead).  Johnson believes that this is not the year for either Vallejo ("they lost everyone") or St. Francis, and he has no idea about any other schools in the area.  Nor does he seem concerned. "Most people think we're down.  That's fine.  Maybe we'll catch some of them sleeping. I think we're about as quick a team as I've ever coached, and we will beat a lot of people who will underrate us. That's fine with me." 

As an example of how good Gordie thinks this team will be against the competition, he cited the spring, summer and fall league record this group of players has compiled: "We figured it out a few days ago.  Since the end of last season, and since we've had this group together, they've compiled a record of 68-5.  Not bad."  

St. Joe's will be doing a little bit of pre-season stuff this year as in year's past.  This year they will again host the St. Joe's Island Classic, a very small two-day four-team tournament which this year will feature Merced High, Berkeley St. Mary's and Montgomery from Santa Rosa.  St. Joe's will not be playing St. Mary's because they are in the same league, so this is really more of a round-robin type of event.  The Island Classic will be at St. Joe's on December 4th and 5th.

Then from December 10-12, St. Joe's will be playing at the DeLa Salle Classic, which will feature teams like Vallejo, Oakland Castlemont, Skylikne, Berkeley St. Mary's, San Mateo/Burlingame Serra, De La Salle, and El Cerrito. In short, most if not all of the "big guns" from NorCal.

On December 17, St. Joe's leaves for Florida and the Kruel Classic and then they'll appear at the Beach Ball Classic from December 26-31.  League play starts just after the first of the year, and like their counterparts in SoCal, there will also be an MLK Classic event in NorCal, which will feature several of the best teams in the area facing off.  The NorCal MLK event is scheduled for Monday, January 19, 1999 at St. Mary's College.  St. Joe's is scheduled to play Sacramento Lakewood. 

This is going to be a tougher year for St. Joe's in many respects, and in many it will be easier. At least they won't have to carry the weight of expectation and destiny that they thought they had to last year.  Just the same, they'll always be St. Joe's, and they will always carry the weight of their great history with them and the expectations that it brings.  Still, Gordie is right.   This is a new year, and it's this team's year to do what they will.

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