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Best Friends and elite talents, Ivan Rabb and Paris Austin lead NorCal’s best team toward state glory.   By CHACE BRYSON | Editor  ...

Best Friends and elite talents, Ivan Rabb and Paris Austin lead NorCal’s best team toward state glory.

  By CHACE BRYSON | Editor

  It’s no more than 20 minutes following just the third organized practice of the season for the Bishop O’Dowd High boys basketball team. 

  The main gymnasium has been cleared out in order to set up for a North Coast Section girls volleyball playoff match. Ivan Rabb is sitting two flights of stairs below the gym floor, in a dimly lit locker room, and accommodating the first of potentially five or six dozen interview requests he’ll receive over the course of his senior season.

  Rabb, a 6-foot-10 power forward who can stretch the floor, is already a polished interview subject — something that comes with the territory when one has been ranked among the top recruits in the country since his sophomore year. Rabb is patient, gracious and humble. He makes eye contact and answers in full sentences. He occasionally slips into a cliche, but most answers are thought out and genuine.

  Only one of the 10 or so questions he answers this evening elicits a different demeanor from him. It’s about the first time he remembers seeing Paris Austin play basketball, and Rabb flashes a noticeable grin. 

  “I remember him being a quick guard who was really skilled at a young age,” Rabb said of his teammate, who was sitting right next to him as he answered. “He had an older person’s game already. He had good footwork and a good shot. He was really quick. He was killin’. He looked like he was older than he really was. He didn’t look like he belonged in the fourth grade.”

  Close to eight years later, Rabb and Austin share an unshakable friendship that clearly transcends the game they will both be playing for at least four more years after this one. Austin has signed a letter to play at Boise State while Rabb has narrowed his abundance of suitors to five: Arizona, Cal, Kansas, Kentucky and UCLA.

  “It’s more than just being friends,” says Austin, a 5-11 point guard with a blistering competitive fire and a smooth jump shot. “We’re family.”

  The bond these two share will provide the backbone for a team with a legitimate chance at winning Bishop O’Dowd’s first boys basketball championship since 1981 — while possibly adding a mythical national title in the process. One year after winning 28 games and taking a runner-up finish in the CIF Open Division state final, the Dragons open the season atop the state rankings, and are No. 7 in one national rankings list and No. 12 in another.

  Paris Austin has signed a letter to play at Boise StateAs seniors, this season naturally feels different for the talented tandem. They will either consciously or subconsciously shoulder a large portion of the burden and pressure created by the program’s lofty expectations. They’ll do that while also taking it upon themselves, as the unquestioned leaders of this team, to help this team ripen fast enough to avoid the fate of eight other Bishop O’Dowd teams which have come before them — teams which have reached state finals, but came home empty.

  “I think (Ivan) and Paris are both thinking about their legacy here, short term and long term,” Bishop O’Dowd coach Lou Richie said. “They brought back a sense of excitement to our program and the Bay Area. The competitor in both of them, they want to win. Even as sophomores they wanted to win.”

  As sophomores, Rabb and Austin were on a Dragons team which bowed out of the inaugural CIF Open Division tournament after a 57-42 opening-round loss to Modesto Christian. Last season, they won the Northern Regional bracket of the Open Division field before losing 71-61 to Mater Dei-Santa Ana in the state final. For Mater Dei, the victory secured an undefeated season and a mythical national title.

  Austin scored 23 points in the state final, and Rabb — facing double-teams which often included National Player of the Year, Stanley Johnson, or 6-foot-10 All-State sophomore M.J. Cage — pulled down 16 rebounds but was held to just 10 points (17 below his season average). And now the two best friends, for the last time as teammates, set a course for redemption. 

  “I’ve always felt a sense of urgency (to win),” Rabb said. “I felt it last year. I’m feeling it again this year. We expect to win. We’ve been winning our whole life.”

  There’s little question they can win again, especially with the talented roster surrounding them this season. The Dragons return 10 players from last year’s roster, including eight seniors. However, some chemistry will have to be rebuilt after the graduation of seven players. 

  “We’re just kind of finding ourselves and trying to find out where everybody fits in and what they do best,” Austin said. “We haven’t developed the great team chemistry we want just yet, but if everyone decides to play as a team and embrace their roles, we can do really great things.”

  Richie believes this team is deeper and more talented then the 2013-14 team. But he was quick to mention the importance of role players.

  “We had some hard-hat kids last year, who knew what their role was and were really good about what they did.”Isaiah Thomas, left, will be counted on to help Rabb in the paint.

  Among the players who can fill some of those roles are senior post players Isaiah Thomas (6-foot-9) and Arinze Chidom (6-foot-8), the latter of whom is the younger brother of Oderah Chidom, a 2013 McDonald’s All-American for the Bishop O’Dowd girls program now playing at Duke. Jeevin Sandhu will be counted on as a senior swingman, and 7-foot junior Mike Hauser should have an impact as well. 

  Richie has a good feeling about freshman point guard Elijah Hardy, too.

  “He’s one of the most amazing passers I’ve ever seen,” the coach said. “But he’s also freshman.”  

  Everything will come back to Austin and Rabb, though. As they go, so will the Dragons. And they know it.

  “I think our biggest thing this year will be just staying on everybody,” Rabb said.  “Whether that’s being vocal and holding everybody accountable, or leading by example, we have to do something so that we all come together and win.”

  There will be no time to dawdle as a schedule fit for a national power commences at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic on Nov. 29 at Newark Memorial High. That night they’ll face off against Bishop Gorman-Las Vegas in a showdown of two Top 10 national teams. And it only ramps up from there. Bishop O’Dowd will play tournaments in Hawaii and Missouri in addition to playing national powers Montverde Academy-Montverde (FL.), Wheeler-Marietta (GA.) and Oak Hill Academy-Mouth of Wilson (VA.) in various one-game showcases. 

  “It should be easy for us to have a focus this year,” Richie said. “Especially with our schedule. We want motivation all year, and if we’re going to be nationally-ranked we need to have a schedule that gets us ready to win that last game.”

  Rabb has locked up about every possible honor available to a player of his elite status. He was the State Junior Player of the Year a year ago and is a virtual lock to be a McDonald’s All-American in April. He will certainly go down as one of Northern California’s most dominant players of all time. 

  But will he be missing a state championship?

  “If it happens (we don’t win it all) then it’s part of God’s plan. You just take it and work harder,” Rabb said. “I don’t plan on losing at all this year, but we know there may be a couple losses that we’re going to think about for the rest of our lifetime. We just want to take it a day at a time, continue to praise God for putting us in this position, and do what we do best. 

  “That’s go out there and play hard and play together.”

Rabb and Austin take a breather together during practice

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