For the first time in Gilroy/Morgan Hill National Junior Basketball (NJB) program history, two of its teams placed first in the All-Net National Tournament in Los Angeles on March 9-10. The Gilroy/Morgan Hill eighth-grade boys and sixth-grade boys teams—both coached by chapter director Joe Lampkin—combined to go 10-0 in the national tournament, which featured squads throughout California.
“We’ve won this in the past, but we’ve never won two championships in the same tournament,” Lampkin said. “We had all kinds of heroics happen, so give credit to the kids for playing well and rallying at the right time.”
The All-Net division is the higher level in NJB’s hierarchy, and the teams travel locally to compete every weekend. The two Gilroy/Morgan Hill teams both were runner-ups in their respective Sectional Tournaments, with the eighth graders dropping a 66-61 decision to Redwood City-Sequoia, while the sixth graders lost a 66-64 heartbreaker to Willow Glen on the same day.
Lampkin said it was a devastating day for the program; however, not all was lost as the two teams by virtue of making it to the Sectional title game, advanced to the national tournament. Once in Los Angeles, neither team could be stopped. And that was bad news for the teams that defeated Gilroy/Morgan Hill in the Sectional Tournament. Gilroy/Morgan Hill faced them again, and this time the results would be different.
The eighth graders pulled away from Sequoia 69-56, and the sixth graders did likewise against Willow Glen, 48-41. The eighth grade roster includes James Allred, Kal Chak, Dominic Pereira, Kenny Harper, Christian Kjellesvig, Charlie Kosta, Ethan Marmie, Tim McCain, Chigozie Okeke, and Adam Saenz.
The sixth grade roster includes Matt Anderson, Tyler Green, Sam Guenther, Jacob Huerta, Braddock Kjellesvig, Ebuka Okeke, Jaxen Robinson, Rico Maturino, Reece McKeever, and Nishikawa Bennett. Lampkin said the eighth graders found their groove once they switched from their traditional set plays to a different style that focused on defense and fast breaks. Marmie and Kjellesvig, who played off the bench for parts of the season, found themselves starting in the semifinals and finals.
“Ethan was a defense monster and hit key shots, while Christian’s rejuvenated basketball awareness kept him finding the ball as he repeatedly shot for points or dropped dime after dime to teammates,” Lampkin said in an email to the Dispatch. “Ken Harper pulled rebounds out of the clouds—wow, can that kid jump—and newcomer Dominic Pereira hit three 3s in a row to (help the team) pull away in the championship game.”
Saenz and Kosta provided tough play, while McCane and Allred provided a powerful frontcourt presence. Okeke was simply outstanding and the premier player in perhaps the entire tournament. The sixth graders were equally impressive in their title rematch with Willow Glen. Gilroy/Morgan Hill had lost to Willow Glen two weeks earlier in the Sectional Tournament final, 62-46. The result would be different in the rematch. Led by Anderson, Robinson and Kjellesvig—the trio converted a number of putbacks and connected on the free throws at the end to pad the margin of the final score—the sixth graders would not be denied.
The team’s point guard, Huerta, spearheaded the team with precision and playmaking ability that proved to be too tough for anyone guarding him. Lampkin rejoiced in the national tournament run, as the program had to overcome a different type of adversity than in years past. He made particular note of seeing the reactions of the sixth graders as they cheered each play and stayed into the game from beginning to end.
“I care for all 20 players,” Lampkin said. “I coach them like they are my nephews, as most of them have been with me since they were in the fifth grade.”
Chigozie Okeke, whom Lampkin said was “my Kobe, my Jordan, my LeBron,” averaged 15 to 20 points per game and has been playing in the program for four years. Okeke has a strong all-around skill set.
“I like to say I can do a little bit of everything,” he said. “Assist, rebound, steals, points, blocks. And I’m kind of like the team leader.”
Okeke said besides winning the title, another highlight was the team’s third game in which the team scored 90 points in a 34-point blowout victory over Whittier. After losing to Sequoia in the Sectional Finals, Gilroy/Morgan Hill got payback.
“We came out with a vengeance,” Okeke said. “We wanted to beat them for what they did to us. The difference was a lot more energy around the team and it showed in the way we played on the court.”
Okeke, whose first name means God Bless in Nigerian, credited Lampkin for being a coach who could motivate and teach him basketball skills.
“Playing for coach Joe has been really good,” Okeke said. “He’s been teaching me new skills and new concepts that I’ve never been taught before or known before. Hopefully, everything he’s taught me will help me in high school.”
Lampkin said several other individuals deserved credit for helping Gilroy/Morgan Hill’s NJB chapter win a pair of national tournaments. In particular, Lampkin pointed to Cheryl Galloway, who is the Energy Education/Safety/Facilities Use of the Gilroy Unified School District, and Jay Aguilar, who is the facilities manager for Rebekah’s Child Services, as being instrumental to the team’s success.
The Gilroy/Morgan Hill chapter has a total of 28 teams, but if it wasn’t for the help of Galloway and Aguilar, the program might not have had a regular place to practice. Lampkin also credited Krista Dutra, Jeremy Dirks, Vanessa Arteaga, Liz Adams, and K.C. Lovell Adams for their pivotal roles in impacting the program.
“For the first time in 15 years, I was blessed to have a season with zero parent intervention, no emails, no complaints, not even one negative text,” Lampkin said. “I mean nothing. How rare it is to be totally entrusted to just coach, so I just kept on task of coaching from tipoff to the last buzzer.”