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High School Team Preview:
North Coast CIF: Bishop O' Dowd--(Oct. 28, 1998)

"The game has really changed. No one just goes out and plays at playgrounds. Everything is leagues where a kid takes eight shots and goes home. It's really affected the quality of the game."--Mike Phelps, head coach, Bishop O'Dowd High School

Bishop O'Dowd High School is located in Oakland, California on a hillside overlooking the bay. O'Dowd was founded in 1951 by Archbishop Mitty of San Francisco, and the school first opened with 120 freshmen. For years, the school was run by the San Francisco archdiocese, and then in 1962, Oakland got it's own diocese, and ultimately the school came under the administration of the Congregation of St. Basil.   Today, the student body is composed of 1050 men and and women,  and a  95 percent college enrollment rate of Bishop O'Dowd graduates. This is not your average high school, but rather a true college preparatory school and it draws students from all over the Berkeley-Hayward-Oakland area of the east bay.

Mike Phelps is the head varsity basketball coach at O'Dowd. He's been coaching for 28 years total, 20 at O'Dowd. "I'm really a math teacher. We don't have separate P.E. courses here,  so we don't really get a chance to work with the team before the second Monday in November when practices start. My real job is to teach math," Phelps told us.  Mike is unmarried and has no children of his own, a native of the Bay Area and a graduate of Cal State Hayward.   He's proud of his association with O'Dowd, and has no plans to leave anytime soon. "I really enjoy being here. This is a great place."

And while he's certainly high on the school and his team, he's not as high about what he views as the slow overall deterioration of the sport of basketball, especially in the Bay Area. "The biggest problem that I see today with basketball, particularly in the Bay Area, from a skills point of view, is that no one really plays basketball just for fun anymore. It used to be that kids would go to the gym or the park after school or on weekends, and that's where the game was learned and played.  Now kids go home and play video games. Everyone's afraid to hang out at the local parks, and the gyms are either closed, or because of liability issues, we can't open them up.  So the usual places where the great players learned the game just aren't available or people are afraid to go. No one just plays all day anymore, no one is shooting 800 shots a day just learning the game.  What I see are kids who come in believing they are players who have grown up doing nothing more than shooting baskets in their driveway. And  leagues, which have really tried to take the place of parks and gyms, are really not the answer either. In leagues, a kid shoots maybe eight shots in a game, and then goes home. That's not teaching him how to play the game. What I've seen in the past 20 years, is a steady decline in the skill level of the incoming players. Sure there are still lots of natural athletes, but most of them rarely have the skills they need to play high school ball as freshmen. They have to learn the game from scratch, and if they're lucky, they get a coach who can help them do that."

But Mike is still pleased with what he sees as the commitment O'Dowd has to athletics. "We've been fortunate to get really smart, really good kids here," Phelps told us. "Most of our kids don't really have any pretensions of playing in college. Sure, it's nice if they get the chance, but most of them will go on to college anyway just on the strength of their academics. At O'Dowd, the average GPA is 3.2, so that gives you some idea of the quality of people we're dealing with."

O'Dowd plays in the North Coast Section of CIF, in the Hayward Area Athletic League, which features teams such as Arroyo, Castro Valley HS, Hayward HS,  Moreau Catholic HS, Mt. Eden, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, and Tennyson. O'Dowd won the league last year and then lost to De La Salle in the North Coast playoffs.   Between a 16 game league season, a fairly tough pre-season schedule and the playoffs, O'Dowd is looking for a full year. "We could play at the Division III or II level, but we always play up in Division I.  We want to play against the best competition."

The team this year returns a lot of good players, and notwithstanding Phelps' general dismay about skill levels among high school players in general, this is a pretty talented team, with a lot of depth among those on the roster (it's just not deep in numbers of players at each position), and they should be considered the favorites to take their league again and challenge De La Salle, St. Joe's and several others in the North Coast Section and NorCal Regionals.

Like a lot of schools in NorCal and in SoCal, tryouts will be on-going, and it's a bit early to set the rosters. Lots of things can change, and there will probably be more than a few players who will show up on the team who aren't featured in this preview. But Mike was at least fairly certain about a few players. Here's who he told us will be on the team:

Derrick Lambeth (6'-4" Sr. SG/SF/PF)
Tony Champion (6'-8" Sr. C/PF)
Justin Logan  (5'-11" Sr. PG/SG)
Jeff Pon (5'-11" Jr. PG/SG)
Jason Silva (5'-9" Sr. SG)
Jason Comte (6'-2" Sr. SG/SF)
Gary Hill-Thomas (6'-3" Jr. SF/PF)
Ryan Madry (6'-1" So. PG/SG)

As you can see, the roster is not particularly deep in numbers, but there are at least three potential,  and one confirmed Division I player on this team.

Tony Champion, a big, strong tough player, has already committed to play at Sacramento State next year (along with Bo Segeberg (6'-9" Sr. C/PF) from Wrightwood in SoCal), and he's just improved tremendously over the summer from where he was a year ago. Tony is very large, and must weigh at least 230 or more, at least he did the last time we saw him at the Double Pump West Coast All-Stars Camp and at the Slam-N-Jam NIT. He's pretty good at running the floor, but was carrying a lot of weight this summer, and we understand that he's slimmed down a bit, maybe having lost about 15 pounds since the beginning of summer. He's a good post player, who can move others out of the paint, rebounds very well and has a decent touch around the basket.  On this team and in this league, he'll be a major force, and this summer he proved that he could keep up against Division I caliber competition.  Tony was one of the key players at the second session of West Coast All-Star camp, and he was named to the "Best of the Best" All-Star team, among the top 24 players out of the 300 or so who attended the session.

Another All-Star selection this past summer to the "Senior All-Star Team" at the Double Pump West Coast All-Stars was Derrick Lambeth, a tough,  smooth-shooting player, sort of a slasher,  who can play inside or out, take the ball to the hole, or shoot from outside. At the camp, he was a great defensive player, altering or blocking shots, and he was not afraid at all to take it to the basket, and used his good court vision to get the ball to the open man when he wasn't open himself.  Derrick is getting some good looks from low to mid D-I schools, but probably won't sign until the spring. 

Another player who showed up in SoCal this summer was Justin Logan, another very good student, with a great three point shot, who can play very intense man defense. He's got a great handle and unfortunately during the camp he was hurt, but did manage to contribute a lot when the Bay Area Ballers played at the Slam-N-Jam NIT. He's getting some good D-2 looks, and could also play at the D-I level under the right circumstances. Last we heard about him he was think about Air Force, but his plans may have substantially changed since the mid-summer when we last saw him.

And if you'll permit us to digress a bit, just so you know, Champion and Logan were in some pretty good company this summer, as they played with the Bay Area Ballers team that made it to the finals of the Slam-N-Jam NIT  losing to Riverside Church.  That team featured, in addition to Champion and Logan, Joe Skiffer (6'-2" Sr. G) from St. Ignatius, Jaime Irvine (6'-5" Prep F), Chase Lyman (6'-3" Jr. G) from St. Ignatius, Brad Lechtenberg (6'-0" Sr. G) from Northgate, Patrick Dennehy (6'-9" Jr. F/C) from Wilcox, Robert Sayle (6'-6" Sr. F) from St. Ignatius, Christian Wiedemann (6'-9" Sr. F) from San Ramon Valley, and Justin Davis (6'-8" Sr. F) from Alameda St. Joe's. Also on the roster was Andrew Gooden (6'-9" Sr. C/F) from El Cerrito, but he didn't play with his usual group because he was over at the Best of Summer playing with Carlos Boozer and EBO instead.) 

But back to O'Dowd. 

Jeff Pon, a young and coming point guard, will probably play a lot of two guard this year, and he will be in training to take over the point next season. He's a very good student with a 3.9 GPA, a smart player, with a good handle, who can defend with good lateral quickness and has the handle to drive and penetrate as well.   The two guard spot will also be covered by Jason Comte as well, and he's an excellent set shooter and a good defender too. Gary Hill-Thomas, who will be at the wing and power forward spots, is probably, along with Ryan Madry, one of the two best athletes on the team. He's very strong, can jump out of the gym, and will have no trouble using his quick first step to take the ball to the hole. He's only a junior and his game will only get better and by the end of next year he could be a legitimate D-I prospect.   Likewise, Madry is also very athletic, has an incredibly quick first step and is strong enough to use his good handle to break the press, something that you don't see a lot of guards even attempt. Not that most coaches teach that either. . . pass out of the press is the conventional wisdom, but it's nice to have someone who can break the press alone.  Madry is a tremendous leaper as well and will be a probable starter on this team even though he's only a sophomore. 

As we said before, coach Phelps was fairly certain there would be additional players added to the roster, and he said O'Dowd will carry a minimum of 12 players. So we will certainly see additions to the roster which will increase the depth a bit, and certainly give some additional coverage at some of the positions so that the work-horses can get a rest now and then. 

With 16 game season in a 9 team league, there's little that they can squeeze in by way of preseason tournaments.  O'Dowd will play some exhibition games, opening up with a scrimmage against Logan on November 27, then they'll scrimmage Northgate on 11/30, and then they'll play St. Mary's on December 3.  From December  10-12, they'll be at the Sacramento Jesuit All-Catholic Tournament, which has been won the last two years by USDHS and which this year will feature Sacramento Jesuit, Bishop O'Dowd, St. Ignatius (Luke Whitehead), Oakland Sacred Heart, Jesuit, Carmichael Jesuit, Brophy from Arizona, and a few more.

Following that tournament, Bishop O'Dowd will play Riordan on December 22, and then they'll travel to San Diego where they'll play in the Nike Holiday Classic from December 26 through 31. Then on January 6, league play starts with San Lorenzo at home, followed by Moreau on the 8th (away),  Arroyo on the 12th (away), Castro Valley on the 13th (away), Tennyson on the 15th (at home), San Leandro on the 20th (at home), Hayward on the 22nd (at home), Mt. Eden on the 27th (away), San Lorenzo again on the 2nd of February (away) Arroyo on the 3rd of February (at home),   Hayward on the 5th (away).

On the 6th of February, 1999, O'Dowd takes a break and travels to SoCal for the 4th Annual Nike Extravaganza, where they will play Mater Dei at Cal State Fullerton in the evening session, which will also feature Dominguez v. Oak Hill, an exciting rematch of last year's great game.

Following the Nike, the season then continues on February 9 with Mt. Eden at home, followed by Tennyson on the 10th (away), San Leandro on the 12th (away), Castro Valley on the 17th at home, and finally Moreau Catholic at home on the 19th.

Mike wouldn't even venture a guess as to how they'll do in playoffs. Like a lot of other coaches we've spoken to, he recognizes a lot depends on staying injury-free and getting the right bounces in close games. We'll be looking forward to seeing O'Dowd down here in SoCal in February, and maybe for the return trip as the NorCal finalists.  Sure, they'll have to go through St. Joe's, St. Ignatius, Carmichael Jesuit, and a few others to get there, but they've already been to the finals twice before, losing to Crenshaw in the LA Sports Arena in 1983 in a 62-55 OT game, and then again losing to Manual Arts in 1988 at the Oakland Coliseum in a one point squeaker, 54-53, so they at least know what it takes to get there.  Whether they've got the stuff needed is something only time will tell. But we'll be watching.


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