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’Jackets dominate overmatched Titans

By Jared Green Daily Planet Staff
Saturday January 19, 2002

The Berkeley Yellowjackets dominated their first-ever meeting with Hercules High on Friday night, winning 65-55 over the brand-new school. 

Kenneth Alexander led the way for the ’Jackets with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and all 12 Berkeley players who saw any playing time scored at least 2 points. Berkeley used a big- size advantage to dominate the boards, beating the Titans 32-19 on rebounds and blocking 6 shots. 

“(Alexander) gave us a nice spark, and Jack (McSweeney) did a nice job inside too,” Berkeley head coach Mike Gragnani said. “We want to get the ball inside against every team we play.” 

Guard Dontae Hall also scored 11 points for Berkeley, with point guard Shaun Burl contributing 10 points and 2 steals. Burl also had several nice assists and is showing signs of becoming a team leader despite being just a sophomore. 

“Shaun’s a very solid player,” Gragnani said. “When he has the ball in his hands, most of the time something good is going to happen.” 

Hercules (3-11, 0-4 ACCAL) was pretty much a two-man show on offense, with guards Brad Nakana and Thomas Mays combining to score 31 of their team’s 55 points. Nakana, who scored 16 points, hit four 3-pointers in the game, with Mays hitting three outside bombs. But the dynamic duo wasn’t nearly enough for the Titans to put a scare into Gragnani’s squad, which jumped out to a quick 8-3 lead to start the game and never trailed. 

Gragnani understands how hard the Hercules coaching staff has it, starting a program at a new school. The Berkeley coach said he went through the same thing when he took his first head coach job at Redwood High in Marin County. 

“I know exactly where they’re at, and it’s not easy,” Gragnani said. “They’re starting from scratch, trying to build the program.” 

Berkeley (9-7, 3-1) caught a break when guard Lee Franklin banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the first quarter, staking his team to a 19-8 lead. Although the Titans would cut the lead to as close as six points with two minutes left in the first half, the ’Jackets pulled back out to a 32-21 lead at halftime, then rode McSweeney and Alexander to big second-half leads. 

McSweeney scored all 9 of his points in the third quarter, using every inch of his 6-foot-6 frame to toss in leaners over the smaller Titans. Then Alexander dominated the early part of the fourth, scoring on three straight possessions when Hercules got within 11 points. The capper was a thunderous dunk by sophomore forward Khion Tate off of a nice dish from Hall. 

After suspending seven players for Tuesday’s victory over Alameda for team rules violations, Gragnani kept three on the bench for Friday’s game, including the team’s leading scorer, center Damien Burns. 

“We have some team policy issues right now that we need to get under control,” Gragnani said. “The players have to understand that we say what we mean and we mean what we say. Hopefully the message has gotten through.” 

Despite a rough start to the season, the ’Jackets have shown improvement in ACCAL play, with their only loss coming to league favorite Pinole Valley. Gragnani still considers his team in contention for the league title, an honor the ’Jackets took last season with an undefeated run through the league. 

“We need to get some more energy, but we feel we can defend anyone,” he said. “If we do that, anything can happen.”