Led by one of the nation’s top sophomores, Bishop O’Dowd boys hoops is a state contender — again.
By ERIK STORDAHL | SportStars
Ivan Rabb had just finished a round of post-game interviews when he saw a group of kids lining up for his autograph.
He had just put on a spectacular show at the MLK Classic at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley on Jan. 21. He’d posted 24 points and 13 rebounds as Bishop O’Dowd knocked off Sacramento 80-71.
With a smile on his face, he obliged the youngsters, and even grabbed the attention of Cal coach Mike Montgomery who also asked, albeit playfully, for his John Hancock.
Not bad for someone who’s not even old enough to drive.
Considered among the top-recruited sophomores in the nation, Rabb is unquestionably the best player on a Bishop O’Dowd team poised to make a run at another state title game. With rim-rattling dunks and blocked shots that land in the fifth row, Rabb lets his play do the talking.
“During games, I’m not the most vocal person,” Rabb said. “Usually, I’ll say little things. I try to lead by example.”
So far things are looking good for the Dragons. They owned a 16-3 record through Jan. 27, with victories over powerhouses like Deer Valley, Pacific Hills-Los Angeles, and now Sacramento.
Playing in the MLK Classic against a veteran and battle-tested Sacramento team, O’Dowd jumped out to the lead, controlled tempo, and weathered through Sacramento’s push to get back into the game. It was a signature victory. The win validated the Dragons’ position as one of the premier Bay Area teams and a force to be reckoned with come March.
“We were able to stop (Sacramento) from making 3s in the second half,” Bishop O’Dowd head coach Lou Richie said of the Sacramento game. “In the end, (we) just ended up wearing them down. I think they were more tired than we were because I played everybody in the first half.”
Being able to employ your whole bench against a team of Sacramento’s caliber instills confidence and serves as a luxury come playoff time — when fresh legs, more often than not, prevail.
Bishop O’Dowd is in the midst of a storybook run. In 2010 and 2011, the Dragons made it to the CIF Div. III state title game, and last year came up just short of making it three appearances in a row before
bowing out in the Northern Regional final against Sacred Heart Cathedral-San Francisco.
What’s impressive is how the prorgram continues to succeed despite the exodus of big-name players. Two years ago, University of Arizona standout freshman Brandon Ashley, then a junior, bolted for national powerhouse Findlay Prep-Nevada; last year was the final ride for Junior Longrus, now a freshman for Washington State.
The void left by those two players is being filled by super soph Rabb. Regarded by MaxPreps as the No. 1 sophomore in the country, Rabb stands at a lanky 6-foot, 10-inches, and possesses a Cookie Monster-like hunger for rebounds. North Carolina has courted the big man.
What makes him different from his predecessors?
“He’s better at a younger age,” Richie said. “(He’s) more skilled, bigger, stronger, more athletic, and bottom line is his length. His ability to not get in foul trouble is amazing.”
He also rarely gets rattled. Rabb knows he’s going to be double-, and sometimes, triple-teamed, but he manages to stay productive. He said he learned a lot last season from Longrus, the unquestioned vocal leader.
“I learned (from Richard) that you have to have fun with basketball,” Rabb said. “When I first got to O’Dowd, basketball wasn’t fun.”
The soft-spoken big man got the message loud and clear. He is enjoying all the accolades from the media and scouts. “I don’t feel pressure during games,” Rabb said. “The most pressure anyone puts on me is myself. I just have to stay level-headed, stay focused and improve every day in practice and games.”
He’s also quick to acknowledge the support of his coaches and teammates, two of whom he’s been playing with since sixth grade: Paris Austin and Juwan Anderson.
“We have chemistry on and off the court,” Anderson said. “I usually know where Ivan’s going to be on the court … and that’s a great pleasure to have.”
That off-court friendship is apparent to Richie.
“Juwan and Ivan have spent a lot of time bonding off the court,” Richie said. “Juwan’s a pass-first guard, so Ivan appreciates that. They really work hard together. All of our kids really get along well. And that helps because there’s not a lot of finger pointing and we don’t get down on each other.”
That team-first quality goes a long way, even when there’s a rough patch. Because O’Dowd wants to continue to push and establish themselves, they play stiff competition early in the season.
Two of their losses came against that competition in late December at the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic. There they succumbed to Windward-Los Angeles and Mundelein (Ill.)
“We lost those games because of me,” Richie said. “I mean, I could’ve played our five best and probably could’ve won those games. It’s just like tonight (against Sacramento), I played everybody in the first half. Those losses gave us experience to handle a game like tonight.”
Anderson gleaned that he and his teammates have to step up when teams negate Rabb.
“We learned that when they stop Ivan, we need to have other options. We need others to step up. We need to learn to move when Ivan’s triple-teamed.”
Despite those two losses, and a third to Mater Dei-Santa Ana — arguably the best team in the country — Bishop O’Dowd is undefeated against NorCal competition. Which means things are setting up for another run at a state crown. Or is it?
The Open Division is a new addition to the playoff landscape. It pits the best teams in the state, regardless of division, against each other. Essentially, it’s reserved for the cream of the crop. Given its clout in recent seasons, Bishop O’Dowd could likely be selected for it.
Are they OK with that?
“I’m not sure what teams would be in Open Division,” Rabb said. “It doesn’t matter to me what division we’re in. We just want to have fun either way and win games.”
Anderson agrees with Rabb. “I think it would be a great experience for us to play against better teams. To play against the Sheldon’s (Sacramento), the (Archbishop) Mitty’s (San Jose), the Mater Dei’s, and see where we fit in at the end of the season.”
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