The photo shoot Monday included stop-and-start moments.
For one thing, the core players for the Pleasant Grove High School boys basketball team couldn't keep a straight face. They tried to look menacing and fierce with clenched fists and hard stares, but they came up woefully short.
Like dominoes, when one laughed, they all did.
And from somewhere in the group came this explanation: "We've got some angry in us, but we're having too much fun to look tough."
Fun has suddenly become what the Eagles are all about this season.
The disappointment of three agonizingly tough losses to rival Sheldon - twice in Delta River League action and then in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game - motivated Pleasant Grove.
The Eagles vowed to end the season with a championship, and it happened with a 73-60 victory over top-seeded Deer Valley of Antioch in the CIF Northern California Division I championship at Sleep Train Arena on Saturday. The victory was capped by players flooding the court and bear-hugging relieved coach John DePonte.
The season of second-place finishes now includes a first-place trophy.
"With 30 seconds left, that's when it sunk in for me, when I exhaled and thought, 'Wow, we finally broke through,' " DePonte said. "For these boys ... I can't imagine a group that has done it the right way, the chemistry, the dedication, all the work and close calls and to not be able to have anything to put up on the wall for it ... it's a great culmination."
The Eagles still want one more celebration, one more photo opportunity.
Pleasant Grove (27-6) plays Santa Monica (29-6) on Friday at 8 p.m. at Sleep Train for the Division I state championship. Pleasant Grove - the only remaining team, boys or girls, in the 197-member section - is attempting to become the first boys team in section history to win a large-school state championship.
Jesuit, coached by current Pleasant Grove principal Hank Meyer, won NorCal Division I titles in 1993 and 1994 but lost to national power Crenshaw of Los Angeles both years in the state final. Last season, Sheldon lost to Mater Dei of Santa Ana, ranked No. 5 in the nation, in the state Division I final. And last Saturday, Sheldon lost to Archbishop Mitty of San Jose in the new Open Division NorCal championship.
"I think all the teams from this area are rooting for us," Pleasant Grove guard Matt Hayes said. "It's cool that we're still in it. We know how hard this is."
Pleasant Grove is led by Hayes, guard Malik Thames and forward Cole Nordquist, three-year starters and seniors. All three can handle the ball and shoot and all three average more than 14 points, making Pleasant Grove difficult to defend.
Matt Smrekar, a 6-foot-3 forward, revels in the dirty work of rebounding and drawing charges. Senior guard James Watson is a stopper off the bench, often checking the opponent's top guard. Marquese Chriss, a 6-6 sophomore center with a baby face who expects to grow to 6-9, is unyielding in the paint.
Thames, Nordquist and Smrekar were starters on an eighth-grade team coached by Smrekar's father, Jim, the athletic director for the Elk Grove Unified School District.
"You could see then that these kids could compete and play," Jim Smrekar said. "It's neat to see their success."
One interesting twist about Friday's game: The point guard for that eighth-grade group was Trevis Jackson, who now is a guard for Santa Monica. Nordquist and Thames have kept in contact with their old friend.
"I even sent him a text to talk smack this week," Nordquist said.
The Eagles may have fun after a hard practice, but make no mistake - this is a gritty, no-nonsense team. They share the ball on offense and defend using fundamentals and the occasional hard foul.
None of the players has signed Division I scholarships, though Chriss could emerge with one in the coming seasons. Nordquist has received some interest from recruiters, and Thames has heard from Boise State, Fresno State and USF but hasn't received formal scholarship offers.
So sometimes they do play angry.
"We have to play tough, be tough, because teams will take advantage of you if you don't," Thames said. "It'd be like blood in the water with sharks."