Doug Emerson likes to kid Foothill's Drew Hibbs that he's getting soft as he's aged.
Emerson was a member of Foothill's first CIF state boys basketball championship team in 1994, when Hibbs was an ambitious and energetic 27-year-old coach. Foothill beat highly favored Pacifica of Garden Grove in the DivisionIII championship game at the Oakland Coliseum Arena.
But throughout that memorable season, Hibbs squelched any on-court celebrating.
"Even when we beat (then-top-ranked) Jesuit for the first time in anything in four years, I wouldn't let them celebrate," Hibbs said. "I'd tell them to act like they've been there before."
So Emerson, a scrappy guard back in the day and now a teacher in the same Twin Rivers Unified School District as Hibbs, was the first to give his former coach a good-natured earful Thursday when Foothill beat visiting Center 81-67 to secure the Pioneer Valley League title. It also was Foothill's 18th consecutive win, and the players enjoyed the moment with their jubilant fans by cutting down the nets.
"He was telling me, 'What's with all this celebrating?' " Hibbs said. " 'You'd never let us do that.' "
Though still demanding at age 45, Hibbs admits he's mellowed.
Hibbs allowed his players to cut the nets because he felt they had earned it after having finished second to Center the previous two seasons (once in the Capital Valley Conference). He also wanted to reward their hard work. The Mustangs own wins over Southern California powers Compton and Dorsey of Los Angeles.
Two years without a league title is considered a drought for a Hibbs-coached team. Before Center's back-to-back run, Foothill won eight consecutive league banners and a second state championship in 2003.
Hibbs is the only area boys coach to win two state titles.
A third state title run isn't out of the question, though Hibbs insists such talk is premature. Foothill is the top seed in a wide-open division that is without three-time defending D-III section champion Sacramento, now in D-II.
Two-time defending D-III NorCal champion Bishop O'Dowd of Oakland lost 6-foot-8 Arizona scholarship signee Brandon Ashley to Nevada's Findlay Prep before the season. That has opened the door wide for any team peaking at the right time.
While UC Santa Barbara scholarship signee Michael Bryson is Foothill's star and leading scorer at 20 points a game, senior Kelly Bender and junior Anthony Williams also have been consistent double-figure scorers without sacrificing any defensive intensity for which Hibbs' teams are known.
David Sanders, Doug James and DeShun Clay are Foothill's other key contributors.
"These guys are having success because they're willing to do the dirty work dive all over the floor for loose balls, draw charges and sacrifice their bodies," Hibbs said. "They've totally bought in."
Special Broncos Ninth-ranked Bella Vista has the potential to be as good, if not better, than its 2008-09 team that went 25-5 and lost to Fairfield 57-55 in a D-II Sac-Joaquin Section semifinal.
"We have all the pieces," said Bella Vista coach Dave Gonzalez.
While junior point guard Ahmad Smith and senior forward K.J. Logue are among the area's top players, the team's biggest upside is its depth.
"Our bench is our strength," Gonzalez said. "We're able to play 10 or 11 guys. With that pressure, we can wear people down."
Folsom's high flier While senior guard Justin Woody (47 points in last Wednesday's 69-65 win over Ponderosa) is often his team's go-to scorer, the Bulldogs' most intriguing player may be Edwin Olympio.
The junior from Marseille, France, is a 6-4 high flier teammates call him "Air France" who, despite his limited organized basketball experience, has provided some thrills for an up-and-down Bulldogs team.
In a 67-44 loss to No. 2 Jesuit on Jan. 27, Olympio scored a season-high 21 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and had two blocked shots.
THE BEE'S TOP 20
PR previous ranking; records through Sunday
|5. Pleasant Grove||21-4||5|
|9. Bella Vista||21-4||9|
|11. Del Campo||20-5||10|
|12. Oak Ridge||14-11||11|
|14. Capital Christian||21-4||15|
|15. Del Oro||17-8||13|
|16. Granite Bay||13-12||17|
|17. Cosumnes Oaks||18-7||19|
|18. Yuba City||15-9|||
|20. River Valley||18-5||16|