In this environment, it’s OK to laugh, to cry and to cheer.
And there have been a lot of these emotions this remarkable breakthrough season for the West Campus Warriors, suddenly and emphatically a fast-rising powerhouse player on the high school girls basketball circuit.
Known for its academic prowess in the Sacramento City Unified School District, the Warriors have shown in recent years that they can play hoops, too, and Saturday was a glimpse of it at on a big stage. West Campus rode the prolific efforts of Kiara Jefferson (24 points) and Gabriella Rones (16 points), depth, late-game free throws and the steadying presence of beloved coach John Langston to beat Los Osos of Rancho Cucamonga 63-55 to win the CIF State Division IV championship at Golden 1 Center.
“We’re not in the paper much, but we can’t hide any more,” said Langston, in his eighth season with the program after leading Sacramento to the girls 2006 Northern California Division III title. “We don’t want to hide. We want everyone to know who we are. This is a hidden jewel team. This school is a hidden jewel.”
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The jewel is at the forefront now. West Campus (30-4) became just the second SCUSD school – boys or girls – to win a CIF State basketball crown, joining the McClatchy girls in D-I in 2015. The Warriors were hardened by a taxing early schedule, including close losses to powerhouse teams McClatchy and St. Mary’s of Stockton, and they came together after a successful tournament showing in Florida.
The jewel is at the forefront now. West Campus (30-4) became just the second
And everyone shares the ball on this sparkling gem of a team, and everyone plays defense. If not, they run the risk of bearing the wrath of Langston, on the bench, in his shadow. The bear of a man towers as a commanding figure big on love, trust and cohesion.
And, really, there’s nothing menacing about this guy. Langston’s players joke that he is more teddy bear than grouchy grizzly, though he is prone to raise his voice when preaching fundamentals during a time out, including in the middle of the fourth quarter to stress this game was still in doubt.
Twelve Warriors played and eight scored. Namiko Adams and sisters Nadia and Nia Johnson have also been key contributors this season.
It’s not a big team with no one taller than 5-foot-10, but, said Langston, “we have a whole lot of heart. And we’re not afraid of the big moments. I believe in them.”
And he’s not afraid to cry in front of them. Langston coaches his players hard and he encourages and appreciates them just as much. He teared up while hugging players after the game. This school is so united that players and coaches high-fived West Campus administrators at mid court while accepting the hardware.
“The big guy got emotional,” he said with a laugh. “I was emotional before we got on the floor. You show them that you care and they can be who they are. They mean to so much to me because I pushed them so hard, they cried. And they pushed so hard to the point I cried. We’re a family.”
“It’s really emotional, and we shed tears because we’ve been through it all,” said Rones, one of a host of players who will return next season. Other returners for next season include Jefferson, a skilled forward who made 10 of 13 shots and had eight rebounds and four steals, and Nia Johnson, a steady forward who had eight rebounds and five points.
“I’m so excited for next season,” he said.
Langston said he’s even more impressed with what sort of students he coaches. The accumulative team grade-point average is 3.5. Players would stagger into practice, sleepy and weary, and he would coach them up.
“Their grades, this makes them more special than people know,” Langston said. “They’re not just basketball players. They’re leaders.”