No matter what happens on the scoreboard this season, the Christopher High boys basketball team will be known for its tough and intense play. Cougars coach Tim Von Urff loves it when he sees the players diving on the court to gain possession of the ball, floor burns and all. Even though hustling for the full 32 minutes doesn’t guarantee victories, it plays a crucial role in a team maximizing its talent while displaying something about its character.
“Our first game when we played Sacred Heart Cathedral was one I liked (even though we lost, 76-48),” said Von Urff, who is in his first season on the varsity bench after previously being the Christopher junior varsity coach. “I thought the boys showed a lot of heart and weren’t going to back down from anyone they play this season.”
Travis Romero exemplifies the Cougars’ competitive demeanor, as the senior point guard competes on every play and possesses all of the intangibles. Romero initiates the team’s offense and has a pass-first mentality, with a goal to lead the Pacific Coast League Mission Division in assists.
“Even though Travis is probably one of the smallest players on the floor, he plays like he’s the biggest player,” Von Urff said. “He plays with so much fire, is a great on-court leader and makes a lot of plays that others can’t make. He’s always in the right place and as a point guard he’s even blocking shots. Offensively, he’s really the anchor of our team.”
The Cougars have a fine shooter in Anthony Burns, a senior guard who Von Urff said is “one of the most talented and skilled players on the team.” However, Burns is no one-trick pony, as he makes plays on the defensive end as well. Burns gets in the passing lanes, is a great on the ball defender and can create his own shot, which proves immensely valuable in the waning moments of a game.
Duncan Ellis, a 6-foot-3 sophomore power forward, brings toughness, skill and is a ferocious rebounder. Ellis possesses the ability to grab a rebound and push the ball up the floor and get the team into its offense a la Warriors forward Draymond Green.
“Duncan is doing a phenomenal job on the defensive end and brings that fire,” Von Urff said. “He’s been attacking the rim really well and even got a dunk against Alisal. He’s a great overall kid with his character and leadership, and it really shows, especially in practice. If the kids are ever being lazy, he’ll call them out and get on them.”
The Cougars have some serious height in Ethan Fleener, a 6-8 junior center. Fleener, not surprisingly, blocks several shots every game and anchors the Christopher defense. Fleener had two dunks in a 63-53 win over Gilroy on Dec. 6, and the team hopes that will be a harbinger for the rest of the season.
“When he had those two dunks against Gilroy, the bench was going crazy,” Von Urff said. “He’s still growing into his body and learning how to move within his body, so he’s only going to get better. When he has a good game, we win plain and simple. The numbers don’t lie.”
Ellis and Fleener happen to carry a 4.0 GPA, with both players working hard on and off the court. Von Urff said he wants to see Fleener get a little more selfish sometimes.
“Sometimes I have to get on him because he’s too selfless and I need him to get that dang ball to the rim,” Von Urff said. “He’s one of the best on the ball defenders and is very versatile on the offensive end as well.
Nigel Vidal, a senior forward/guard who didn’t play much last year but has come in with a renewed mindset and focus, has made dramatic improvement, both physically and mentally. Vidal has been rock solid defensively, especially in the team’s game against Scotts Valley in which he bottled up a player who had lit up the Cougars in the first half.
“One of their guys hit six 3-pointers in the first half, so we put Nigel on him in the second half and he completely shut him down,” Von Urff said. “He’s very versatile on the offensive end as well. He can shoot the three and attack the rim and finish. When he’s locked in and in the zone, he’s definitely tough to guard.”
Jason Scirigione, who is more well known for his exploits in football as a prolific receiver, has made his mark in basketball. A ferocious rebounder and inside presence Scirigione plays with an edge to him that Von Urff appreciates.
“Jason is not the most skilled player, but he brings a football mentality in that he won’t back down from anyone,” Von Urff said. “And that is something every team needs. The energy he brings when he’s on the floor and when he comes off the floor is great. Out of the huddle, he’ll ramp things up and bring a lot of energy. That stuff is invaluable for us. Jason has been phenomenal.”
Owen McCarry is another player who brings a workmanlike mentality to the court. The sophomore plays excellent defense and like Vidal will get asked to guard a particular player who the team is having trouble defending.
“Owen’s overall mentality is being relentless and not backing down on defense, which is pretty cool,” said Von Urff, who noted McCarry has a 3.8 GPA. “I can put him in to shut a kid down and know it’s going to happen.”