First it was chants of “O-T, O-T” that echoed throughout the Laney College gym Saturday. The happy players and coaches of Oakland Tech were celebrating their Oakland Athletic League girls basketball championship, a 72-42 win over Skyline High.
A couple hours later, that scene was repeated. This time, it was chants of “Cas-tle, Cas-tle,” as the Castlemont High boys team celebrated its 67-65 win over Oakland High.
The Tech girls played their best game of the season when it mattered most – playing hard and unselfishly in beating a Skyline team that won the regular-season OAL title and had beaten Tech twice before. Now the Bulldogs may get a home game for their Northern California playoff opener on Tuesday.
“This is great for these kids,” said Valerie Hartsfield, in her first year as head coach of the Bulldogs. “Now their focus is in it. At the beginning of the season, I didn’t know where they were at.”
Tech forward Marquetta Stokes, who led all scorers with 16 points, said she and her teammates were upset that she was the only Tech player selected to the All-City first team, the league all-star team that is picked by the league coaches and was announced at halftime Saturday.
“We wanted to show everyone who the really good players are,” she said, “and that’s what we did.”
The Oakland High-Castlemont boys final, before an estimated crowd of 1,500, was a showcase for some of the top players in Northern California. On Saturday, two stood above the rest – Castle’s John Green and Oakland High’s Jabari Brown.
Brown, a supremely talented guard who is considered to be among the top juniors in the country, helped bring Oakland back from a nine-point halftime deficit to tie the game late. But the Warriors couldn’t stop Green, the Knights’ gifted, athletic and emotional forward.
Green hit four clutch free throws down the stretch, capping a 25-point performance, as the Knights held on. After the final buzzer, Green pranced around the gym, mugging and yelling, before running into the stands to hug some supporters.
Green was also motivated by an All-City slight – he thought he should have been league MVP, when the award went to Oakland High’s dynamic point guard TJ Taylor. He doesn’t forget easily, either – Green said he’s been a good free-throw shooter since his dad beat him in a game when he was in the 6th grade.
“I didn’t get it, and that’s OK,” Green said. “I know in my heart, and everybody else knows that I deserved to be MVP.”
Now he and his teammates can enjoy the win before they find out where they play next. All four teams that played Saturday advance to the Northern California playoffs and next play Tuesday, with the winners receiving higher seeds and games that are either at home or nearby.
Green said the Knights are looking forward to seeing how they match up with the other top teams in the state.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” he said. “This is our dream.”