SoCalHoops High School News
CIF Boys State Finals Preview:
Bishop Montgomery v. Pleasanton Foothill--(March 16, 2000)
What: CIF State Finals--Division III Boys
When: Saturday, March 18, 2000
Time: 2:45 p.m.
Where: Arco Arena, Sacramento, CA
Who: TORRANCE BISHOP MONTGOMERY (27-5) vs. PLEASANTON FOOTHILL (29-4)
Bishop Montgomery's Knights are in the state final for the first time, and they, along with St. Bernard have the interesting distinction of being the first schools in the Southern Section to send both their boys and girls teams to the finals in the same season. But this is supposed to be about BM. . . . and frankly, we're having trouble thinking about what to write, because we've written so much this year about Bishop Montgomery, that we just don't know where to start. . . How about this: No. 1 team in the Southern Section in Division III-AA, Section champs, beat Compton Centennial for the title, beat the Apaches again in the State Regional tournament, and then knocked off Morningside in the semifinals of the State Southern Regional. A loaded team, featuring two of the top guards in the country, Errick and Derrick Craven, both 6'-2" wizards with the ball, two of the quickest, most athletic players you'll ever see at the high school level. Heck, they're worth the price of admission to Arco alone. Really. Bishop Montgomery has other weapons, like Brian Pruitt inside, Kenny D'Oyen at the one, with his high arcing rainbow three pointers, like DeVaughn Peace running the wing or freshman Fred Washington banging the boards. . . a tough, quick, tenacious team who know how to score: Errick Craven is averaging 20 ppg while brother Derrick is getting 17 ppg. A big time team that like to run, run, and then run some more, always uptempo, swarming defense.
What do we know about Pleasanton Foothill? Not a lot. We've actually never seen Foothill this season, but we've hunted around for some good info from some trusted sources, and we do know that they're led by three-point specialists Jay Chess and A.J. Costello. We've seen their roster (below), and we've seen their schedule and their results this season, as they went 21-3 overall through the regular season and 11-1 in the East Bay Athletic League, losing only to San Ramon Valley in their second league game on January 7. We also know that the Falcons have gotten by, like the Knights, pretty much with only six players seeing any real playing time. Matt Burkholder, a junior forward has turned into their most consistent player during the playoffs. and in the Northern Regional final he scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 29 minutes. He's the guy that the Knights will have to stop if they want to win their first title. Burkholder will likely matchup with one of the Cravens, but he's turned into their go-to guy.
Here's a look at the two rosters:
|Bishop Montgomery Knights
Coach: Doug Mitchell
|Pleasanton Foothill Falcons
Coach: Randy Issacs
We also found another interesting background piece about Foothill in today's Alameda Star-Times. Unfortunately, while the writer is speaks in the first person, the internet version of the Times-Star didn't carry any by-line, so we don't know who wrote this piece. Still, it's a good look at the Foothill team.
Isaac's coaching guides Foothill
A group of reporters were sitting around talking about the Foothill High basketball season the other day when someone brought up the movie "Hoosiers." The point was made that visually the Falcons inspire about as much fear in the opposition as the actors in the movie Hoosiers did in the teams they played. Also, the Falcons are all clean cut, all-American kids, right down to Evan Patak's crew cut. Not exactly the image one conjures up when thinking about a CIF/State basketball finalist.
And it's true. I can honestly say count me among the many people wondering how good this Foothill team could be after getting my first look at them. Not after watching them play, mind you, just from seeing them warming up. I can remember the first time I saw anyone from the team is when I went to Foothill to take a picture of guard E.J. Costello for an Athlete of the Week feature. I remember E.J. from last year and my first thought was he had grown some. My thought was, hey, he'll be tougher to stop this year. But as for the rest of the team, I had no idea. I've known Foothill coach Randy Isaacs since our college days at Chico State and have always had fairly candid, off-the-record type conversations about the teams he's coached at Foothill.
Isaacs was steadfast from day one about his Falcons being a pretty good team who would be fun to watch and get after it. My translation: Okay, they'll shoot a lot, run-and-gun and, if nothing else, E.J. will be fun to watch again this year. Being totally honest, there is no way I thought Foothill could accomplish what it has this year. It's not a knock on the players, but let's be honest, what's made Foothill so good this year are intangibles which weren't visible last season. There was no way to predict what's happened. "I thought we could be pretty good," Isaacs said. "Our big question marks were, could we play defense and rebound. We knew were going to be able score a bunch of points; the question was, could we stop anybody."
Defense. One of the big turning points for the Falcons has been their defense. The first sign came in the East Bay Athletic League opener when Foothill posted a 68-43 pounding on a Livermore team which finished the non-league season 10-2. The Cowboys came into the game led by the strong play of D.J. Burton. But Matt Burkholder drew the assignment and in the time the 6-foot-3 Burkholder was on Burton, he scored but two points. It was time to go see the Falcons when the third game of the season rolled around. I had to see this sleek and dominating defensive player who was capable of shutting down Burton. I was surprised at first. I checked my roster to see if No.30 was actually this kid Matt Burkholder. I remember asking football coach Matt Sweeney, who works the clock during basketball season, if that indeed was Burkholder. He nodded and said, "Watch. You'll see."
Any questions I had were quickly erased. Burkholder was all over the place, shutting down any player from Cal he was assigned to guard. And it's continued all year. His second-half performance against Brandon Worthy of Mitty in the NorCal semifinals was a good a defensive game as I've seen this year. Worthy scored 19 points in the first half against other Foothill defenders and was bigger, quicker than Burkholder and could jump through the roof. But Burkholder did the job, shutting down Worthy in the second half and keying the Foothill win. Burkholder blocked two of Worthy's jumpers. The rest of the team seemed to feed off Burkholder's play. In the run to the North Coast Section title, Foothill went two straight games without allowing a field goal in the fourth quarter. In fact, in the semifinals against Analy, the Falcons gave up one point, and it came with 35 seconds left.
With the defense in place, the offense was clicking. Costello has been lighting it up all postseason, and Jay Chess is flawlessly running the show from the point. But there is one other point or angle of the Foothill success which is being vastly overlooked this year -- the job Isaacs is doing. If there has been a better job of coaching in the East Bay in the last 20 years, someone please point it out to me. There sure isn't anyone else this year. Isaacs has done a magnificent job of restructuring Foothill from a year ago. He saw what he had to work with it and changed his system to accommodate the players. Too many coaches try and make the players fit their system rather than work around the players. Disaster always awaits.
But Isaacs saw what he had and has made it work. Foothill has been called three farm boys and two midgets. But someone's got to be pulling the strings on a nightly basis, and it's Big Red, as Isaacs is known around Foothill. In the eight to 10 Foothill games I've seen this year, including six of the last seven, Isaacs has always been one step ahead of the other team. He's been able to keep the players focused, be it with a big lead late or trailing by 11 in the fourth quarter, as was the case against Del Norte in the NCS final.
There are people in the area who point to Newark coach Craig Ashmore and his Cougars' 32-0 mark as the most impressive coaching performance of the year. But Ashmore has two potential Division I players on his team, while Isaacs has his midgets and farm boys. Ashmore has done a great job, there's no doubt about it, but the job of the year has been the one turned in by Isaacs, hands down, at least in one person's mind. Foothill may not win the state title, but then again, how could you doubt the Falcons? What an incredible season it's been. And Isaacs was right -- it's been a lot of fun to watch them as well.
Hoosiers, schmoozers. We still think this is the year for the Knights, and they're likely to make it back again next year with all underclassmen except for Pruitt. Hey, we don't mean to sound provincial, but these are our guys, SoCal guys, and when it comes down to it, we're going to go out on a limb. . . Bishop Montgomery will win this one. We're not sure by how much, but they'll win.
See you there.
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