A year ago, D.J. Wilson sat glum-faced, battling mixed emotions and myriad hurts as his basketball buddies chased down a championship without him.
The 6-foot-8 forward with a stride that seemingly takes him from one baseline to the other in four steps was sidelined last postseason with a back injury. This time, a fit and frisky Wilson was in the middle of the action as the top talent on the floor, surrounded by a supporting cast as good as any in Northern California.
Wilson put his full array of skills on display, as did his Capital Christian High School teammates, in racing past Central Catholic of Modesto 62-41 on Friday night at Sleep Train Arena to three-peat as Sac-Joaquin Section Division V champions.
The Michigan-bound Wilson had 19 points on a variety of drives, fade-away jumpers and dunks, and he yanked down 19 rebounds to go with five blocked shots. Frontcourt partner Nifae Lealao, the football star headed to Vanderbilt, muscled inside for 10 points and 13 rebounds, and seven other Cougars scored in extending their winning streak to 12. Capital Christian (27-3) led 18-0 early and was never threatened.
“It feels great to be able to play this time,” Wilson said. “Now we want to keep going.”
The Cougars, ranked No. 1 by The Bee since the preseason, now high-step into the NorCal Open Division, a tournament specifically designed last season to lump the best teams, regardless of enrollment size, into one division. And make no mistake, Capital Christian is a small school with big-time talents and ambitions. The section-title romp is just a warmup act to the primary goal of returning to Sleep Train for the NorCal Open title game on March 22.
“We want to play for the Open state championship,” Capital coach Devon Jones said in anticipating the NorCal seedings committee on Sunday to formally announce the Cougars as an Open team. “I think we deserve to be in the Open with the team we have and the schedule we’ve played. And the players want to be in the Open. We feel strongly we can compete with anyone.”
Capital needs the Open to find competition as it went unbeaten in section play and suffered just one NorCal loss, to NorCal-ranked No. 1 Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland. Capital Christian overwhelms opponents with size, and its guards try to turn games into track meets. And the Cougars don’t lose in the sprints. The guards are Uchenna Iroegbu (five points, five rebounds), Marcelas Perry (nine points, three steals), Tyler Jennings (five points) and Justice Shelton-Mosely (eight points, three steals).
None seemed bothered by the moment or the NBA venue, which often bugs teams for a half as they acclimate to the new surroundings.
“The bigger the court, the better because we like to run,” coach Jones said.
The Cougars made a believer out of Central Catholic (25-6) coach Mike Wilson, who was asked if Capital can make a NorCal title run.
“Yes,” he said. “You look at a team ranked No. 1 in our section over all the schools, and that’s something.”
Brookside Christian 47, Capital Christian 37 – The Cougars trailed 9-1 and 18-7 before making a game of it, but they were ultimately undone by 24 turnovers, nine missed free throws and 20 percent shooting as Brookside three-peated in D-IV.
Ra’Kyra Gabriel had 13 points and 15 rebounds for the Knights, of Stockton. Nicole Colbert had 18 points and eight rebounds for Capital (24-5), which lost to Brookside (27-4) earlier this season by a point. Haleigh Filer had 12 points and Monique Colbert had 16 rebounds for Capital.
Cougars coach Suzanne Baker said her program continues to make strides. In her 14th season as head coach, Baker recalled how she inherited a team that had gone 0-19.
“The first expectation was, ‘Hey, let’s get a win,’ ” Baker said. “Then let’s make the playoffs, then let’s get to the semifinals, then to the finals and now we expect to get to the finals and win it. We’re getting there.
“We’ve come a long way. We’ll keep at it. We have an excellent thing going on campus with the basketball teams, and we both support each other.”