Mater Dei isn't your ordinary high school, not by any measure.
It's an athletic powerhouse nestled in Santa Ana, seemingly owning all of Orange County and the state, for that matter, when it comes to boys basketball.
With defense, depth, outside shooting and the backdrop of unparalleled tradition, Mater Dei beat Archbishop Mitty of San Jose 50-45 in the first CIF State Open Division boys basketball championship Saturday at Sleep Train Arena.
Mater Dei (34-2) won its ongoing record 10th CIF championship under coach Gary McKnight, in his 14th title-game appearance. Mater Dei, of the Southern Section, also became the first team in state history to win three consecutive large-school championships, including last season in Division I over Sheldon. Mitty (29-5) of the Central Coast Section came in having won the last two Division II state titles.
The Open division was designed specifically for this, to put all the heavyweight programs in an elite field, and in this case, it presented a final pitting programs of national renown heavy on scholarship talent of outlandish ability.
Mitty was led by senior Aaron Gordon, the 6-foot-8 forward with guard skills who crushed Sheldon in the Northern California Regional Open finals last Saturday at Sleep Train (29 points, 22 rebounds). He scored 22 points against Mater Dei in front of an announced crowd of 7,386. He also had 20 rebounds.
McKnight said Gordon "is as talented a player as I've seen at this level. He's going to be in the NBA. He's that good."
But Gordon was outnumbered here. Mater Dei features perhaps a future NBA talent of its own in the powerfully built yet nimble 6-7 Stanley Johnson, who had 26 points and 12 rebounds. The junior powered inside for buckets and hit four three-pointers.
Mater Dei also has two guards with famous dads. When Mike Brown accepted the Lakers' coaching job two years ago, his son Elijah immediately went to Mater Dei. When Brown was fired by the team earlier this season, he made it a habit to attend every practice. Elijah, a 6-4 standout, scored 11 points.
Jordan Strawberry, son of former eight-time All-Star outfielder Darryl Strawberry, played superb defense for Mater Dei and scored five points.
M.J. Cage, a 6-9 freshman and the son of retired NBA rebounding great Michael Cage, put the game away with a breakaway dunk in the final moments.
Gordon was the Cal-Hi State Player of the Year last season and could repeat. Or it could go to Johnson, who has a chance at some unique history. He could become the first boys player in state history to win four consecutive state titles.
McKnight said he wasn't sure what to expect with his team this season. Mater Dei graduated two stars in Katin Reinhardt (now at UNLV) and Xavier Johnson (Colorado).
Gordon said he will announce his college destination at next month's McDonald's All-American game. He could be deciding among Oregon, Washington, Kentucky, Arizona and Cal. He and his older brother Drew were never able to topple Mater Dei, going a combined 0-3 in title games.