Zach Chappell doesn't view playing ball as especially difficult.
By any measure, this is a kid's game, all fun and games.
Dribbling, shooting, defending, winning? That's joy, the Capital Christian High School senior guard explained Friday night with an assuring smile.
The homeless people with bare feet and looks of fatigue and concern he talks to and assists on food drives? That's real life. Finding a dry place to sleep and wondering where your next meal will come from? Real pressure.
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"I have discussions with them, and it's hard what they're going through," Chappell said. "I love being in the community, helping people, talking to them."
It's that sort of big-picture perspective that adds to the intrigue of Chappell, most commonly known on campus for his good standing as a 3.1 student and for his point-guard prowess.
He is a fourth-year starter and the all-time leading scorer in program history with more than 1,500 points, which is saying something considering the talent that has marched through the school located off Highway 50. The alumni includes DJ Wilson, who went to Michigan on scholarship and was a first-round pick of the Milwaukee Bucks last spring.
Chappell competes with a stoic expression. He lets his game speak, and it screams of ability and production. At a lean 6-foot-3, Chappell can muscle inside for buckets, and he's adept at firing 3-point shots, driving the lane, finishing above the rim or firing assists. And he enjoys playing defense.
Chappell is the diesel engine that propels the high-octane Cougars, including Friday night when he scored 19 points in a 60-59 thriller of a victory over Franklin in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I contest in Rosemont.
Chappell is averaging 20.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.7 steals for the No. 3-seeded Cougars, who are 23-7 and will visit second-seeded and 18-time section champion Modesto Christian in a semifinal on Wednesday.
Basketball is Chappell's happy place.
"We love doing this - basketball is our joy," Chappell said. "There's peace in this."
Chappell expects to play Division I college ball next season on scholarship. It would be a dream come true, but he doesn't fret, doesn't lose sleep over not committing to a program. He understands perspective. Chappell had a recent campus visit at Oregon State and will visit San Jose State on Saturday. San Jose State coaches watched him against Franklin.
Chappell can take over games but he isn't the only option for first-year coach McCall Wollman, who stresses team ball and defense.Backcourt mate Rick Barros is averaging 15.1 points and 7.3 rebounds. He scored 19 against Franklin. Kareem Clark is scoring 10.7 a game, and he had 13 on Friday. Trey Jones is scoring 9.6 but sat Friday to heal a sore shoulder. Micah Filer averages 8.9 points, hitting for nine against Franklin.
Filer, he of the high hair and unlimited range, is one of the region's top 3-point shooters. His nine points Friday were off 3-pointers. Filer is also a star cross country runner, the son of assistant coach Matt Filer.
Brendon Sim, the floor-leader star for Franklin, had 16 points.
Chappell said he embraces his role as team leader, adding with a grin that, "everyone on this team believes in me. They love me!"Wollman loves him, too, insisting this is as good a player as there is in the section.
Wollman is a pretty good judge of talent, having coached the previous three years under famed coach Bobby Hurley Sr. at St. Anthony High in New Jersey.
"Zach's the best player in the city, bar none," Wollman said. "Everything he does is big. He's our leader, our top scorer, our facilitator. He's so valuable. He's experienced and poised, and he has the fundamentals down, and he has those intangibles. He can't be replaced."
Chappell burns for another big-game moment. A year ago in a CIF Northern California Open Division contest at top-seeded Woodcreek, Chappell missed at the buzzer, and Woodcreek went on to win the North.
"I had the ball late twice and didn't get it done," he said. "I was so down that I didn't want to leave my room. I knew I had to get back to work and get better. This is my revenge."
Capital Christian athletic director and girls basketball coach Suzanne Baker said she has noticed a difference in Chappell.
"Zach has grown and matured this year, and he is now playing with a lightness and confidence that he didn't have before," Baker said. "He truly has placed his future in God's hands and it has given him a freedom to play loose, play as a leader vs trying to prove something, and the team has learned to play for each other instead of just with each other, led by Zach."