Berkeley High basketball fans will get a chance to help the community when they come out to see the ’Jackets play on Saturday night, as the Friends of Berkeley Boys’ Basketball will be holding a toy drive.
Berkeley will take on highly-ranked Riordan (San Francisco), giving fans a chance to see Marquis Kately, one of the best players on the West Coast and a Cal signee. Admission will be free, and fans are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy to be distributed at local shelters under the Toys for Tots program.
“We’re trying to tie the basketball program to the community,” FBBB member Bruce Riordan said “We want to get the community more involved and coming to the games on a regular basis.”
There will be three games on Saturday, with the freshman teams tipping off at 4:30 p.m. at Donahue Gymnasium on the Berkeley High campus. The junior varsity game is scheduled for 6 p.m., with the varsity game slated for 7:30 p.m.
The ’Jackets will also be in action tonight against St. Joseph, with the same game times. The varsity game will be a rematch of a game held two weeks ago at the Spartan Classic Tournament in Concord, won by St. Joseph.
Friends of Berkeley Boys’ Basketball is a newly-formed organization, consisting mostly of parents of current and former players. Their activities include working with the players on community service (the team will serve food at local shelters throughout the holiday season), academic counseling and nutrition. The toy drive will be the first major event for the FBBB, which will also run a raffle during the game and host halftime entertainment.
“We thought this would be a good way to start,” Riordan said. “This is a big game for the kids, and the timing is perfect.”
Head coach Mike Gragnani said the FBBB has made his second year at Berkeley much easier than his first.
“We’ve got a great parents support group, and they’re building momentum around the school,” Gragnani said.
The toys will be distributed among 23 Berkeley shelters on the day before Christmas, according to Berkeley firefighter John Tarascio, who coordinates the department’s toy drives.
“We’re always looking for new places to collect toys,” Tarascio said. “When (FBBB) called us, it was an easy decision to go ahead with it.”
All three ’Jackets teams are playing well going into this weekend’s games. The freshman team is undefeated, while both the JV and varsity are coming off of tournament wins last week.
The varsity will face the toughest challenge, with Riordan featuring Kately and 6-foot-8 post man John Tofi, who has committed to play at UTEP. The Crusaders will be the biggest team Berkeley has faced this season, but Gragnani said his team won’t play scared no matter who the opponent.
“We want to play the best teams we can,” he said. “That’s what the preseason is for.”