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  • Brian Baer /

    Capitol Christian High School Cougar's Edward Ware (22) and Nifae Lealao (34) sit on the bench just moments before their 70-60 loos to Bishop O'Dowd, in the Farmers Insurance boys Open Division NorCal Championship game at Sleep Train Arena, Saturday, March 22, 2014. Brian Baer/ Special to the Bee

  • Brian Baer / Special to The Bee

    Capital Christian senior D.J. Wilson (5) goes out with a bang, slam-dunking over Bishop O’Dowd on his way to 29 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots in the Cougars’ loss to the Dragons in the CIF NorCal Open Division final at Sleep Train Arena.

Capital Christian done in by O’Dowd

Published: Saturday, Mar. 22, 2014 - 11:39 pm
Last Modified: Monday, Mar. 24, 2014 - 10:04 pm

The Bay Area bruisers boast a significant advantage on the basketball learning curve. Try a decades-long head start, though the newcomer is growing fast.

To better understand, consider that Bishop O’Dowd High School was winning CIF Northern California championships in the 1980s while Capital Christian was competing on a carpeted floor, toiling in obscurity as a school in general. The programs met Saturday night at Sleep Train Arena for the NorCal Open Division championship in a showdown no one dared project as recently as four years ago.

In the season’s showcase game, Capital Christian vowed to give the Dragons of Oakland a game, and it did. But Bishop O’Dowd proved to be a step quicker and a bit better shooting, prevailing 70-60 in front of 5,815 fans in an entertaining show of skill, speed and teamwork.

Ranked second in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, O’Dowd remained unbeaten against NorCal competition, including a 26-point win over Capital Christian in a Martin Luther King showcase at Cal in January. The Dragons (28-4) extended their winning streak to 23 and now face national No. 1 Mater Dei of Santa Ana, the defending Open state champion, next Saturday at Sleep Train. Mater Dei beat Westchester 59-54 in the SoCal Open final.

The Cougars (28-4) had their finest season end after a defining 13-game winning streak that was punctuated by a sudden state profile. They last tasted defeat in that Cal event and rolled teams since by an average score of 78-46. But O’Dowd is no ordinary program with a pedigree that dates to the 1960s and includes eight NorCal titles since 1982 and five in the last 10 years.

“I’m proud of our guys, and we competed against a really, really good team,” Capital coach Devon Jones said. “We’ll go into the locker room and cry our eyeballs out because we’ll all really miss each other with so many seniors. It’s a very special group. But we’ll be back. This is just the beginning.”

It was the end for D.J. Wilson, Capital Christian’s finest player and, like so many of his teammates, a young man of class and character. He insisted he would have a better showing than his first showing against O’Dowd and backed it up. The 6-foot-8 forward headed to Michigan had 29 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots in displaying his versatile game – running the floor, hitting jumpers, dunking and defending.

Wilson’s talented counterpart was 6-10 Ivan Rabb, the nation’s top junior recruit. Rabb had 26 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots, and his three alley-oop finishes keyed a run that doomed Capital Christian down the stretch. In the first meeting, Wilson had eight points. O’Dowd shot 50 percent and outrebounded Capital 40-28.

“I put in a lot of work to get better – we all did,” Wilson said. “It’s not the way we wanted to go out, but we played hard. But you’ve got to hand it to them.”

Added Jones, “D.J. really stepped up and had the game of his career. He’s going out the right way.”

Other Capital Christian seniors include UC Iroegbu (nine points), Nifae Lealao (seven), Tyler Jennings (seven) and Marcelas Perry (four assists, two steals). They were parts of three consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section D-V title teams.

“Capital Christian made us dig deep,” O’Dowd coach Lou Richie said. “They’re well coached, they have great kids, and they play super hard. We struggled at times tonight, but that had everything to do with Capital Christian. (Wilson) definitely showed what his potential is. Our game plan was to let him beat us with perimeter shooting. Well, he showed he could do that. And about everything else. He was amazing.”

Cougars seniors said in defeat they could gain a measure of triumph. Gone are the days of carpeted obscurity.

“A lot of people didn’t think we could do anything like this as a small D-V school, but we showed what we could do,” said Wilson, whose team eliminated defending NorCal Open champion Mitty of San Jose in a semifinal Tuesday.

“We grew up together, a lot of us, since elementary school,” Wilson said. “We found a brotherhood, and we love each other.”

Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.

Read more articles by Joe Davidson

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