Dougherty Valley boys basketball is enjoying shocking everyone but itself
Story by CHACE BRYSON | Photos by PHILLIP WALTON
Jesse Grabow doesn’t want your glass slipper.
Neither does the rest of the Dougherty Valley High boys basketball team.
When referring to the Wildcats of the 9-year-old school in San Ramon, they’d prefer a restraint from phrases such as, “out of nowhere” or “shocking the world.”
That’s not who they are. Nobody inside the program is shocked at the team’s 19-2 start as of Feb. 1.
“It’s not a shock to me,” said Mike Hansen, the program’s one and only coach to date. “I almost get insulted when people say we’re shocking the world. No we’re not. We may be, but the world at Dougherty Valley and our program — our 14 kids on varsity, 15 kids on JV, 15 kids on freshman and the 7th- and 8th-graders at Windemere and our feeder schools — they’re not shocked.
“They know what we’re about. They know what we’re doing. We don’t need big kids; we don’t need great athletes. We need guys who play hard and defend, and that’s what we’ve got.”
And as of Feb. 1, they’ve also got more wins than any other North Coast Section Division I team this season. The Wildcats also had a one-game lead in the Diablo Foothill Athletic League with five games to play as they chased their program’s first league title.
So the coach and players aren’t just spouting bravado.
But as long as the narrative exists, Dougherty Valley will use it as fuel.
“There’s always been that,” said Grabow, the team’s four-year starting point guard. “That perception that we aren’t as good as the big (East Bay Athletic League) teams and other Division I schools. We know we can play with those schools.”
They’ve proved that too. The Wildcats’ nonleague victims this season include Pittsburg, Castro Valley, James Logan-Union City and California-San Ramon. Each of those teams project to be part of the 16-team NCS Div. I playoff bracket when the postseason begins in late February.
Dublin, Dougherty Valley’s DFAL rival, is the only Division I team from California to defeat the Wildcats this season. The Gaels defeated Dougherty Valley 55-51 in Dublin on Jan. 30 to snap the Wildcats’ 12-game win streak and saddle them with just their second loss of the season. Dougherty Valley’s other loss was a 62-50 defeat to Carson-Carson City (Nev.) at the Rail City Classic in Sparks, Nev., on Dec. 11.
“I love watching Dougherty Valley play,” Dublin coach Tom Costello said after the win, which avenged a 71-63 loss at Dougherty Valley in early January. “I like watching them play because they play basketball the way it’s supposed to be played. And I’m not saying we don’t. When you watch another team (like Dougherty), you can see they share it. They buy into a system. There’s no superstar. You don’t know who’s going to beat you on any given night. They defend, and they just buy in, and they’re really well-coached.”
The backbone to the Wildcats’ roster is its seniors. Hansen has four of them, three of whom start. Grabow, is a 5-foot-4 spark plug with a strong outside shot who — as would be expected from a four-year varsity starter — acts as a coach on the floor. Then there’s 6-foot-4 swingman Trey Hoskins, a a strong, lanky rebounding presence and a long, athletic defender. Finally, 6-foot-3 power forward Jushan Samra is the team’s biggest scoring threat inside the paint, but who also has a great touch from mid-range as well.
This senior class has always been successful. As freshmen, they went 27-1 with Samra leading the way.
“(Jushan) talked about that forever,” Hansen said with a grin. “And I used to tell him that freshmen records don’t matter. But he’d tell me, ‘Coach, you learn how to win that way.’ And it’s true. And I took Grabow from that team a week into their freshmen year because (the varsity) needed a point guard. And they still went 27-1. So Jushan has kind of been their leader, their guy who’s kept them going.”
As for Grabow, Hansen’s affection for him is no surprise after having coached him for the better part of four seasons.
“He’s a stud,” Hansen said of his point guard. “You talk about a coach on the court. … I tell the guys all the time, ‘If you get confused, look to him don’t look to me. He knows what we’re
Grabow shares the backcourt with 6-foot-1 junior shooting guard Gabe Manansala and 5-11 junior combo guard Gokul Srini. Senior forward Nick White and sophomore guard Elijah Laird both make contributions off the bench as well.
After four years of Dougherty Valley basketball, Grabow can recognize this season as feeling different too.
“This year, I feel like everything has just clicked,” the point guard said. “The biggest key for us is just staying together. We know we have the potential for big things. We just need to trust in Coach Hansen and trust in each other.”
The Wildcats cohesiveness hasn’t come without a little adversity. Monte Vista-Danville, the two-time NCS Division I champions, features combo guard Austin Fadal. Fadal just happened to be Dougherty Valley’s leading scorer while averaging 18 points as a sophomore before transferring.
There’s been a few other bumps too, but Hansen is convinced it’s better prepared his team for this run.
“Externally there has been a lot of stuff that’s happened to this team and program over the last year,” Hansen said. “Guys who weren’t fully committed have left. And the guys who have stayed will be champions. … That’s what this group is.
“Hopefully we hang a banner. But life, and just sticking out and persevering through adult stupid stuff — these kids are tough. They’re champions. And I believe they’re going to hang a banner, but we’ve got a long way to go before we make that happen.”