Dwayne Smith is a basketball purist, a fan to the core who played the sport years ago until his body told him no more.
And he’s no fool.
When the job of boys coach opened at Pleasant Grove High School this academic year, Smith jumped at it. Who wouldn’t want to coach a tradition-rich team that features Marquese Chriss and a fleet of quick guards?
In piecing together a six-game winning streak, the Eagles are rounding into form, pleasing their first-year boss. The latest effort was Saturday afternoon at Jesuit as Bee-ranked No. 9 Pleasant Grove held on 59-56 against longtime Bay Area power Berkeley (9-4) in the 13th Father Kelly Tribute, a showcase of some of Northern California’s top talents.
It’s hard to top Chriss in terms of player appeal. The 6-foot-8 center headed to Washington on scholarship put his skill set on display against an athletic team. He scored 36 points on a mixture of baseline moves, soft jumpers, bank shots and thunderous dunks. Chriss ran the floor, had 14 rebounds and blocked six shots.
“Oh, man, his potential is through the ceiling, and I could never play like that,” Smith said with a laugh, recalling his championship days with Christian Brothers in the late 1970s. “Marquese is an outstanding person who really wants to do the best in everything he does.”
Senior guard Johann Tatescored 10 points for Pleasant Grove (10-4), and teammates such as James Fox supplied good ball handling and defense.
“We’re going to need all of them to help,” Smith said.
Said Chriss: “We play hard and we have good chemistry. How I perform affects the team, even attitude. You can win games in a lot of ways.”
No. 4 Kennedy 57, Newark Memorial 51 – Sophomore forward Austin Alexander scored 18 points and had 11 rebounds, and nine other players scored as the Cougars of Greenhaven beat the Cougars (4-9) of the North Coast Section.
Kennedy coach Robert Fong raves about the impact and potential of Alexander, all arms, legs and hops at 6-4. And longtime Kennedy coach-turned scorekeeper Spider Thomas hinted that Alexander is one of the best sophomores in Kennedy’s history. Alexander is flanked by guards Colin Uda, Khari Hutt and Darian Carr. Kennedy (10-3) has two losses to No. 2 Sacramento, one in Metropolitan Conference play.
No. 13 Cosumnes Oaks 70, Foothill 62 – As they have all season with fundamentals and flair, seniors Jaaron Stallworth and Eric Toles led the Wolfpack past the Mustangs (6-9).
Stallworth, a smooth guard, scored 29 points, and Toles, a long, lean wing, 24 as Cosumnes Oaks (9-3) won for the seventh time in eight games. And as Stallworth and Toles go, so does this group.
“I love what we’re doing as a team, how good we can be,” Cosumnes Oaks coach Patrick Roth said, “… but what (Toles and Stallworth) have done to really make us good is they’ve become great leaders. They’re feeling it, and it’s beautiful to watch.”
Foothill sophomore Vernon Robertson scored 21 points, seniors Michael Potts 14 and D’Angelo Miles 13.
No. 12 Jesuit 82, Freedom 78 (OT) – Isaiah Bailey made two free throws to give his team the lead for good with 39 seconds left in overtime.
The senior guard had 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds as the Marauders (8-6) avenged a Northern California Division I playoff loss last March to the Falcons (5-8) of Oakley.
Armoni Rivers had a season-best 31 points for Jesuit and Malik Duffy nine points and 15 rebounds. Jesuit’s 6-5 freshman forward Chris Simpson had eight points, including two three-pointers.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.