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Berkeley teams face bigger foes

By Jared GreenDaily Planet Staff
Saturday March 17, 2001

For the first time ever, two Berkeley high school basketball teams could bring home state championships in the same season. But if the Berkeley Lady ’Jackets and the St. Mary’s Panthers are to win their respective titles, they will both have to overcome bigger, stronger opponents. 

For Berkeley, this is no new situation, as the ’Jackets have won two state titles in the last decade. They face an opponent as familiar as any other in Narbonne, which defeated Gene Nakamura’s squad in 1998 and last year in the Division I Final, although the Lady Gauchos were forced to vacate the title in 1998 due to recruiting violations. 

The Panthers, on the other hand, have never been this far, with their loss in the Northern Section semifinals last year their best effort until now. The ultra-quick Panthers will take on Southern Section Division IV champ Crossroads, which features 6-foot-10 center Isaiah Fox and 6-foot-6 forward Jordan Rush. 

The Lady ’Jackets are led by senior forward Robin Roberson, who has signed to play at Arizona next year. Roberson has added 3-point range to her game this season to go with her tough inside game, but she will be facing a Narbonne squad that has one of the nation’s biggest and best frontcourts. Forwards Amber Pruitt, Wilnett Crockett and Jamie Funn are all taller than the 6-foot Roberson, so the Berkeley star will likely look for her points outside the paint. 

While Narbonne’s most explosive player is Tennessee-bound guard Loree Moore, Nakamura is concerned with the Lady Gauchos’ front line and their ability to dominate the offensive glass. His team gave up 19 offensive rebounds to Oakland in the Northern Section Final. 

“Narbonne is such a multi-talented team, and they’re a big team,” Nakamura said. “They go 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 across the front line, and if we don’t block out, they’ll beat us on putbacks alone. If they control the boards on us, we’ll be in deep trouble.” 

The task of containing the taller Gauchos will fall to center Sabrina Keys and forwards Roberson and Gelater Fullwood. Keys has had a disappointing year on the offensive end, but she uses her 6-foot-1 frame well to grab rebounds. Fullwood will be at a size disadvantage, but she is very active and plays with more energy than her bigger teammates. 

Berkeley’s offense will hinge on whoever Nakamura decides on at the point. Senior Danielle Milburn and sophomore Michi Yamamoto have both performed well at times this season, but neither has been able to hold down the starting job for more than a few games. Late in the season, Nakamura has depended on junior Angelita Hutton to bring the ball up the court, but she isn’t a true point guard and has struggled in the playoffs. If Milburn or Yamamoto can run the offense against Narbonne, it should allow Hutton to concentrate on her scoring, which would in turn take the heat off of Roberson. 

On the boys’ side, St. Mary’s will use their quickness to offset the size of Crossroads in a David vs. Goliath matchup. Fox, who will play at Arizona next year, has had a monster impact in the playoffs, culminating in a 33-point, 22-rebound effort against Bakersfield in the section final. St. Mary’s coach Jose Caraballo will defend him with 6-foot-8 sophomore Simon Knight and hope for the best. Knight has the size to match up with Fox, but his lack of experience could mean trouble for the Panthers. 

Fox is the latest in a line of standout players for the Roadrunners, who won a state title in 1997. Crossroads has produced current NBA players Baron Davis and Austin Croshere. 

Senior guard Joe Abraham will run the offense for Crossroads, and how he handles the St. Mary’s press will be a key to the game. If the Roadrunners can consistently set up their half-court offense, they can pound the ball inside to Fox and Rush. But if the Panthers can make the game a chaotic, run-and-gun affair, the odds will favor the Berkeley squad. 

Caraballo will answer the Roadrunners’ size with his quicksilver backcourt, point guard DaShawn Freeman and John Sharper. Freeman, one of the top junior guards in the state, has played well-rounded games in the playoffs and should create havoc for the Crossroads guards. Sharper has been on fire lately, averaging 25 points per game in the playoffs. The guards team with forwards Chase Moore and Jeremiah Fielder to pressure the other team into turnovers, and Fielder has proven time and time again that he can shut down a big scorer. 

The game should come down to tempo. Whichever team controls the pace should win the championship.