Only the season ended at Cal on Saturday afternoon, the team leader stressed, not the journey through the real maze that looms.
That perspective has made Justice Shelton-Mosley such a mature leader among his peers, the object of admiration by his teachers and counselors, and the driving force for a Capital Christian High School athletic program that continues to reach new heights.
It was no surprise that Shelton-Mosley was handed the ball in the closing seconds with a championship at stake, and it was no surprise how he handled the moment that didn’t turn out how the Cougars wanted.
The senior guard raced the length of the Haas Pavilion floor, down by two points to Crespi of Encino in the CIF State Division IV final, and attacked the rim the way he attacks every day. His shot was blocked on a perfectly timed play by De’Anthony Melton, who added a free throw after a rebound.
Capital Christian’s final attempt was short as time ran out, and Crespi held on to win 47-44 in a matchup of teams competing for state honors for the first time.
“I was telling (teammate) Edward Ware before that if we have a last chance, it’d be on my back,” said Shelton-Mosley, composed and in typical good spirits. “(Melton) made a great play on the ball. He’s a great player. I love these guys on my team. If anyone is mad at anyone, be mad at me.”
That’ll never happen. Shelton-Mosley is the most beloved scholar-athlete on campus, with freshmen following him around and coaches leaning on him for pregame motivational speeches and sobering videos on the dangers on drunken driving. He turned down Pacific-12 Conference football scholarships, including one to Cal, to attend Harvard because an Ivy League education “will impact my grandchildren someday.”
Shelton-Mosley’s approach and calm epitomized the Cougars, a non-egotistical team with a minority of year-round hoopers.
“Heart, and we came together,” Shelton-Mosley said of what made the team unique. “We had a lot of people on this team whose lives have changed for the better. We’ve seen guys become better men. That’s more important than any game.”
Still, the Cougars (27-9) badly wanted to end with a championship. The football team, with Shelton-Mosley and Ware leading the way, went 13-1 last season and lost in the Northern California Regional title game, the best showing since the school opened in 1977.
Once the football players joined the basketball program, the Cougars hit their stride and won the NorCal championship, the first for a program that years ago was so foreign to big-time basketball that it played on a carpeted floor.
“This loss doesn’t define who we are,” Capital Christian coach Devon Jones said. “We defied odds to get here. We had an amazing run.”
The Cougars had an amazing run to get back into this game. They trailed by 11 at halftime and used a 15-3 run to lead 35-34 entering the fourth quarter. Shelton-Mosley’s three-pointer to beat the third-quarter buzzer inspired the bench, the Capital Christian fans and the spirited band that thundered in the cozy confines at Cal.
Marcus Fowler’s inside basket gave the Cougars a 44-40 lead with 3:13 to go, but they went cold down the stretch as the Celts (29-7) pulled it out with defense and free-throw shooting.
Shelton-Mosley had 11 points, Dante Henley 10 and Fowler and Zachary Chappell seven each for Capital Christian. The Cougars shot 32 percent and were outrebounded by 10, but the effort was never in doubt.
Melton, a 6-foot-4 junior, had 13 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots for Crespi. On his key block, he said he knew he had to keep pace with the streaking Shelton-Mosley, careful not to foul.
“I knew he was fast, great speed, and he was a step ahead of me the whole way, but I was able to block it,” Melton said.
Said Crespi coach Russell White of Melton, “We call him our closer for a reason. He was Charles Barkley on that play ... you get caught up watching guys on plays like that, and sometimes we over-coach games, but it comes down to players making plays.”
As the Cougars departed Cal, they thanked scores of friends and family and each other for the season. The best, Shelton-Mosley reminded, is yet to come.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.