May 30, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Santiago Canyon’s hopes for first state title dashed when coronavirus crisis canceled tourney

Santiago Canyon College was the top-seeded squad from Southern California for the state title. (Photo courtesy Santiago Canyon College)

Santiago Canyon College’s men’s basketball team, coached by Todd Dixon, had its sights sets on bringing home a state title in just the third year of the program. The team was top-seeded from Southern California going into the eight-team tournament.

Spirits were high last Wednesday night when the players and coaches drove up to the Fresno area for the state championship. The next morning, they found out the tournament was cancelled because of the coronavirus crisis.

“We left at about 7 p.m. and drove about four hours, went to bed and then we had a practice scheduled for noon Thursday,” Dixon said. “We were practicing at a local gym and we were driving there and then about five minutes away I got a phone call (from an Orange Empire Conference representative) and then followed it up with a text message that said tournament canceled.

“We got out of the vans and I talked to the team briefly, we still went into the gym at the high school and tried to figure out what we wanted to do. I didn’t want to go back 20 minutes to the hotel, pack up and leave and have this non-experience of what we were hoping to experience. So I thought about it and I thought we’re going to make the most of it. We’re going to have a great last team scrimmage.”

A draft was held and a best of three mini-tournament to 25 points a game was held.

“They were all fired up and it was very competitive, it went three games,” Dixon said. “It went down to the wire.”

So the players and coaches went to West Hills College in Lemoore where the tournament was to be held to take pictures.

“It was also a bummer because we were all thinking, ‘gosh, this is where we would all be playing,'” Dixon said.

And then the players were to a local restaurant to have a celebration dinner which included tri-tip and then headed home.

“We had like a 23-hour turn-around from Fresno and back,” Dixon said. “They were very disappointed. They wanted to play out the season. Being a number one seed from the South, we were hoping to obviously win the state championship and we prepared and all ready to go. But they handled as well as they possibly could. They enjoyed that last pick-up game and they enioyed dinner. They were in decent spirits knowing that their season was canceled. But we made the most of it.”

Santiago Canyon has made big strides in just three years and had earned the top seed from Southern California in the state tournament this season. In 2017-2018, the squad was 22-9 and a Southern California Regional finalist. In 2018-19, the Hawks went 20-9 and advanced to the semifinal round of the Southern California regionals.

This year, Santiago Canyon was 28-2 overall and won the Orange Empire Conference title with a 14-2 record. The team was ranked No. 1 in Southern California

“We’ve had a lot of success early which has been nice,” said Dixon, who coached for 21 years at El Toro. “We’ve been lucky enough to have some really solid players come in, guys who kind of buy in to our philosophy on offense and defense. At the JC level, you have to have guys who want to share the basketball and play team basketball and even do the things we did at El Toro.”

Top players this year for the Hawks were sophomore Antoine Jenkins (View Park High, Los Angeles) who averaged 25 points and five assists a game. He was second in the state in scoring and the MVP and best offensive player of the Orange Empire Conference.

“Antoine is a special player, he can create his own shot and create shots for others, he can really go,” Dixon said. “I think he’s the best player in the state and a lot of coaches have said that.”

A.J. Garrity from Edison High also stood out, averaging 13.1 points and earning first team all-conference honors. David Agba, who averaged 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds and earned first team all-conference, also had a big season.

Other top players included Paul Vilela, who averaged 10.7 points and 4.4 assists and Paulo Araujo (Foothill High) who averaged 10.6 points. Vilela and Araujo were both second team all-conference.

Lucas Holden, a second team all-conference player who averaged 8.8 points and Tyler Goodlow, who averaged 8.9 points, also contributed.

Agba was the only freshman, so the coach said he is out recruiting for next season.

“We have a lot to replace,” Dixon said. “We got to go out and watch kids and try to find kids and look for bounce backs. In the recruiting world, it’s 24-seven. You’re looking for players who can come in and make an immediate impact.”

-Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com