Things worked out just the way tournament organizers Derek Swafford and Dennis Magro had hoped for at the St. Hope Elite Classic on Thursday at Sacramento High School.
Three of Southern California’s best would go head-to-head with three of Sacramento’s best in the second round of the 12-team event.
Swafford, the Sac coach, got an extra bonus, too.
His No. 3 Dragons will get a rematch with top-ranked Capital Christian in tonight’s 8:30 Gold Division semifinals.
Capital Christian defeated Eisenhower of Rialto, 86-44, and sophomore-dominated Sacramento downed West Ranch of Valencia, 74-61, sandwiched between Centennial of Corona’s 88-66 win over No. 8 Pleasant Grove.
It’s a matchup that Capital Christian coach Devon Jones expected even before the tournament began.
“It’s going to be tough to beat Sac High again,” Jones said. “It’s their home court and their tournament. But with our seniors, we’re going to be tough to beat.”
Capital Christian defeated Sacramento, 73-60, in an exhibition Foundation game Dec. 2 at Capital Christian, then topped the Dragons, 78-75, in Saturday’s 60th Annual Gridley Invitational championship game.
After a string of challenging games in Modesto, Gridley and against No. 15 Kennedy, 64-52, in Tuesday’s opening round of the St. Hope tournament, the Cougars (9-0) had a chance to coast against Eisenhower (3-3) while showing their potential for dominance.
Active and high-leaping D.J. Wilson led the charge with 17 points, a slew of rebounds and a handful of blocks, showing why Michigan is willing to invest a scholarship in the still-developing 6-foot-9 senior forward.
Guards Marcelas Perry (13 points), Tyler Jennings (11) and UC Iroegbu (10), and center Nifae Lealao (10), all seniors, also were in double figures for Capital Christian.
“Definitely a flash of what we can be,” Jones said.
St. Hope is the rare area tournament that attracts high-level Southern California teams.
Centennial, which will play West Ranch in tonight’s other semifinal, is ranked No. 5 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports.
“Southern California teams play tougher,” Jones said. “(Eisenhower) played physical until the score got out of hand.
“It’s good for fans and teams up here to see that. How many NorCal teams are ranked in the state’s top 15 right now? It’s just Bishop O’Dowd (of Oakland, at No. 3), us (No. 13) and Serra (of San Mateo, at No. 15).”
But Wilson says there is little mystique playing against Southern California players because he and his teammates compete against them during the spring and summer AAU circuit.
For Wilson and his teammates, the biggest motivation is justifying their lofty area and state rankings.
“We want to prove it to the doubters,” Wilson said.