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Top Seed A Tall Order for Undersized SHC
It was a few hours after Sacred Heart Cathedral's boys basketball team lost a stinging Division III state-title game last season, and Khalil James ‘13, on the drive from Sacramento to San Francisco, couldn't take it. He had to move forward.
The point guard broke out his phone and texted fellow junior Herman Pratt ’13.
"I told him that we had to make it back," James said Tuesday. "We had to work even harder in the offseason and get back and win that ring back."
James said Pratt was texting him the exact same message.
"That sort of set it in stone for us," James said.
Most would attribute the exchange to emotion. The Irish lost an eight-point halftime advantage and eventually a 71-67 game to Alemany-Mission Hills (Los Angeles County) that day.
A couple of months later they lost their two top scorers and rebounders - All-Metro 6-foot-6 front-liners Josh Fox ’12 and Taylor Johns ’12, who combined for more than 30 points and 20 rebounds a game - to graduation. They also graduated the team's best three-point shooter, Tyler Petroni ’12.
But here they are.With no one in the program who seemed capable of replacing them and no one taller than 6-2 set for the 2012-13 roster, the text exchange appeared to be wishful thinking - a defense mechanism to a painful defeat.
The Irish, with an unglamorous 18-11 record, are the top Division III seed heading into the Northern California tournament, which begins Wednesday. Sacred Heart Cathedral hosts the winner of the San Marin-Novato and Casa Roble-Orangevale (Sacramento County) matchup Saturday.
The Irish certainly benefited from Bishop O'Dowd-Oakland (26-3) being pulled up from Division III to the Open Division, but even a No. 2 NorCal seed seemed highly improbable heading into the season.
But behind the gritty and versatile guard play of James (5-8), Pratt (6-0) and junior DeOndre Otis ’14 (5-9) - all key contributors last season - the Irish have wins over NorCal Open qualifier Serra, Division I qualifiers McClymonds-Oakland, Bellarmine (twice) and Division IV co-favorite Riordan (twice).
"To people outside the program, yes, I'm sure us being in this spot surprised a lot of people," Sacred Heart Cathedral coach Darrell Barbour said. "Frankly, if someone told me after last year we'd be in this position, I'd say they were a little crazy.
"But honestly, we expect to be good every year. ... The top seed? It's just a number at this point. We have a lot of work to do. But we embrace the challenge."
And ignore the deficiencies, the most glaring being height.
"We don't talk about it," Barbour said. "We never make excuses. We are who we are and we have basketball players."
Fearless ones, Barbour said. And that allows the Irish to overachieve. Ball movement, speed and defense help, too.
"We have tons of heart," James said. "And we play together."
He admits watching Johns throw down a windmill dunk or throwing an alley-oop pass to Fox for a slam was fun.
"That always got the crowd and us going," James said.
"Taking charges gets us fired up," James said. "Getting a five-second count. Forcing teams into a turnover or making a steal gets us pumped too."
"All these guys are tough in the clutch," Barbour said. "They don't shy away from the moment. They just make plays."