Salesian, Mitty at the top to start
It was a dream season for Mission’s boys basketball team in 2016-17.
The Bears went 35-1. They won the first Northern California and state championships for San Francisco public schools. They finished No. 1 in The Chronicle’s Metro rankings, another first for an S.F. school.
Guard Niamey Harris was Metro Player of the Year.
Harris is now at City College of San Francisco. The next two leading scorers, Jamion Wright and Jayden Foston, also graduated.
With the 2017-18 season right around the corner, the Bears have to start all over again.
Mission’s attitude: Bring it on.
“These guys actually have got a little chip on their shoulders,” Mission coach Arnold Zelaya said. “They know a lot of people think there’s going to be a big drop-off this year. That it’s going to be a big struggle. They don’t.”
Neither does Zelaya, whose team returns 10 of its 15 players from last season, including 6-foot-3 forward Robert Lee, and twins U’Jah Pratt (5-11) and Ijah Pratt (5-8).
All three are on Mission’s football team, which could prevent a strong start of the season. Then again, Harris broke his collarbone in the Turkey Day Game last season and missed the first six basketball games.
“We went 6-0 in those games, so these guys know how to win without him,” Zelaya said. “We’re going to be just as fast as last season. It’s a very resilient group. They’ve won a lot of games.”
With a big offseason from 6-5 Anthony McBride, Adrian Otis and Ben Knight, the Bears won a lot of summer games over good teams, including St. Ignatius. They played Sac-Joaquin Section power Folsom close and split two games with University, which might have its best team in school history.
“There won’t be a big dropoff,” University coach Randy Bessolo said of Mission. “They play so hard, and they’ve got some size and shooters. They’re by far the best team in the AAA.”
The competition to be the best boys team in the Metro Area is up for grabs, but Salesian-Richmond, led by one of the nation’s top point guards, James Akinjo (Connecticut commit), begins at No. 1.
“I like this group,” longtime Salesian coach Bill Mellis said. “These guys have put in a lot of work, they get along great and they play really hard.”
Two Salesian starters from last season, Jamario Bibb and Derrick Langford, transferred to El Cerrito, but the development of Josh Jefferson (6-5), Manny Adeoye (6-9) and the McClanahan twins, Jaden and JoVon, makes Mellis smile.
“We’re going to be pretty good,” he said.
So is St. Ignatius, which surprised many last season by using its small lineup to win 23 games. With the return of virtually its entire roster, including All-West Catholic Athletic League guards Brandon Beckman and Darrion Trammel, the Wildcats are considered WCAL favorites.
“I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Mitty coach Tim Kennedy said, “but no one is unbeatable in this league. Everyone has a stud, and anyone can beat any one on any given night.”
That’s sort of the impression throughout the Bay Area, said Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland coach Lou Richie, whose team possesses the most experienced and talented backcourt in Washington-bound point guard Elijah Hardy (Washington) and Utah signee Naseem Gaskin.
Richie noted that five of the top seven teams in Northern California are from the Sac-Joaquin Section, according to NorCalPreps.com.
“Supposedly, it’s a down year in the Bay Area,” Richie said. “That could work out well for us.”
The Metro Area girls scene couldn’t be healthier as the top eight teams should vie for the CIF Open Division tournament. Mitty, ranked fifth nationally by MaxPreps, appears clearly above everyone else.
No. 2 Pinewood-Los Altos Hills returns just about everyone, and combined with a strong freshman class, could win its seventh state title.
Haley Jones returns for The Chronicle’s No. 1 girls team, Archbishop Mitty, ranked fifth nationally by MaxPreps.