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EYEING HISTORY | Salesian Basketball Set New Bar For Excellence EYEING HISTORY | Salesian Basketball Set New Bar For Excellence
On the court and in the classroom, a talented, unselfish, hard-working Salesian boys basketball ensemble achieved one of the greatest seasons in the history... EYEING HISTORY | Salesian Basketball Set New Bar For Excellence

On the court and in the classroom, a talented, unselfish, hard-working Salesian boys basketball ensemble achieved one of the greatest seasons in the history of its storied program

Story by M. Scott | Photos by David Gershon

Bill Mellis doesn’t always look at the score or the time or even opposing defenses. 

The 26-year Salesian-Richmond boys basketball coach looks for the eyes — in the eye — of his players. He looks for contact. Connection. Composure. Togetherness. 

Fifteen minutes after the completion of perhaps the finest season in Salesian history, following a brutally battled 50-45 loss to defending champion Harvard-Westlake-Studio City in California’s pinnacle game — the CIF Open Division title game at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento — the Pride’s eyes were clear. No bloodshot red pupils for pain or despair. 

Like they had done for a nearly flawless 33-game, four-month campaign, these Pride players had left all their guts and grit on the court. For only the second time all season, they garnered no glory. 

That went to the defending champion Wolverines, who watched their star player, 6-foot-4 USC-bound point guard Trent Perry, score the game’s final six points over the last one minute, 15 seconds to ruin Salesian’s dream season and spoil the Pride’s bid for a first Open Division state title. 

Perry made two terrific buckets over heavily-contested arms along with two free throws at the same time the Pride (31-2) made two uncharacteristic turnovers and missed a couple other makeable opportunities. Despite making up an 11-point first-quarter deficit and getting 14 points from sophomore Elias Obenyah and 10 by De’Undrae Perteete, Salesian lost for the first time since Dec. 29, a span of 19 games. 


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There was no shame in that. No regret. They’d played to their fullest potential, while knocking off 10 of 12 teams ranked among the state’s Top 25. The two losses were by seven points total (the other defeat was 68-66 in overtime to Division 1 state champion, St. John Bosco at the Damien Classic.

In a press conference in front of 30-40 media, Mellis and the players, drenched in sweat and somewhat slumped in disappointment, faced the questions much like they took on challenging foes all season: Head on. 


Salesian boys basketball player Alvin Loving drives to the basket during the CIF Open Division State Championship.
Junior guard Alvin Loving drives to the basket during the state final.

“My thing really is more about this group and how special the group has been,” Mellis said. “We’ve had so much fun coaching this group because not only did they buy into everything that we were teaching, they bought into sharing the ball, they bought into playing defense. Great group, great kids, high GPAs, kind of the whole package.” 

Mellis knew that going to be a special season over the late spring and summer, when they beat both Harvard-Westlake and Roosevelt-Eastvale — the teams to finish 1-2 in the state — at LA Live and Section 7 events. 

Preseason tournament titles at Gridley and Meridian (Idaho), along with wins over more Southern California powers Centennial-Corona (twice), Windward-Los Angeles and Damien-La Verne confirmed this was not only one of Mellis’ greatest teams over 26 seasons, but qualified it as one of the Bay Area’s best historically. 

That’s a resume that top division state-title teams such as St. Joseph-Alameda, led by Jason Kidd in 1991 and 1992, the 32-0 McClymonds team of 2007-08, or the 2014-15 Bishop O’Dowd team, the only NorCal team to ever win the Open Division, would have a tough time matching. 

But Mellis, even with his 641 wins and two state titles, isn’t much into numbers, hyperbole or comparisons. 

He can see greatness and perhaps his greatest evidence of such this season came during a low point, when down 28-20 at halftime to Riordan-San Francisco in the NorCal Open title game at Contra Costa College in San Pablo. 


Salesian boys basketball player De'Undrae Perteete awaits a rebound during the CIF State Championship game.
De’Undrae Perteete boxes out a member of Harvard-Westlake and awaits a rebound attempt.

“We had to lay into the guys,” Mellis said. “One of the first times all year. We weren’t matching (Riordan’s) intensity. We weren’t executing what we’d gone over.” 

The Pride didn’t just take the heat, they absorbed it, Mellis said. “They were right there with every word. They weren’t taken aback, but instead they were nodding their heads, locking eyes with each other. They knew exactly what they had to do. And they did it. Together.” 

Five minutes into the second half, they had the lead. Riordan, a strong-willed, athletically superior squad, fought right back to take the lead by the end of the third. But the fourth quarter was Salesian’s, with a 15-6 run they won going away, 49-44, to take the program’s first NorCal Open title. A couple weeks earlier they’d won their first North Coast Section Open title, but 11th section title overall. 

“Every medal, trophy, championship, piece of credit they receive, they’ve earned,” Mellis said. “It’s a special, special group.” 

The Bay Area News Group thought the season was so special, it scrapped its longstanding annual Player of the Year award and just gave it the Pride as a team, based on its unselfishness, balance and all-team outlook. 

If their resume of quality wins and titles was special, the fact that not a single player averaged in double-figure scoring defies belief. “Nobody cared who scored,” said 6-foot-5, 190-pound senior forward Perteete. “As long as we got the win, everyone was winning.” 


Salesian boys basketball coach Bill Mellis

That buy-in was across the board and explained by an extremely mature, academic and senior-dominated squad. Whereas the scoring averages didn’t raise much attention, their grade point averages did, a program best 3.56 that included seven with 4.0s or higher, topped off by senior Zander Jimenez at 4.8. 

On top of all their other titles, the Pride won the NCS’ scholastic award for highest team GPA, a first. 

“Whenever we’d come into the study hall, I never had to say ‘let’s get to work,’ “ Mellis said. “Never. They just got to work. On the court and in the classroom.” 

Don’t picture a bunch of nerds, Mellis warned. “No, these guys were fun. A lot of fun. But they just knew when to take care of business. It’s a low maintenance group. They’d check themselves. They obviously all have good parents. That’s where it starts.”


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