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February 2, 2023

Despite graduating four starters, Christopher boys basketball develops and reloads for another potentially special season

The Christopher High boys basketball program seemingly is now at the point where even if it graduates four starters as it did off last year’s team, it has the coaching and the requisite talent to not have a dip the following season. 

So it is for the Cougars, who improved to 6-2 after a 77-30 win over Hollister High on Dec. 15. Christopher has looked impressive in its victories and even solid in defeat. Both of the Cougars’ losses have come to quality competition: to Burlingame 45-44 in the championship game of the Westmont Tournament on Dec. 2; and a three-point, double overtime loss to Los Gatos in the Lions Club Wildcat Shootout title game on Dec. 9.

Pretty impressive considering several players who didn’t receive much if any playing time last year are logging more minutes this season. That includes Tyler Green, Gurshan Nahal, Nico Ragasa, Rafael Urrabazo and Sam Guenther. 

The team’s premier player, of course, is the big man, 6-foot-5 sophomore center Braddock Kjellesvig, who leads the team in scoring by a wide margin. Scoring at around 20 points a game, Kjellesvig burst onto the scene last year as a freshman and has only improved as a sophomore. 

All of his moves were on display in the Los Gatos contest, as he scored a game-high 26 points against ultra-physical competition. Utilizing solid footwork, Kjellesvig used an assortment of up-and-unders, reverse pivots, jab and cross, baseline spins, step throughs and slide steps to gain separation from his defenders to finish 10-of-14 from the floor, a highly efficient shooting percentage. 

“Right now Braddock is scoring down low and we’re just looking for other guys to fill in the pieces,” Cougars coach Adam Sax said. 

Top returner Chigozie Okeke is a senior point guard and does a lot of things well, including hitting shots from the outside, playing tough perimeter defense and taking it to the basket off dribble penetration. Senior post Chris Naulls is also a standout returner who rebounds, plays tough defense and provides a physical presence. Braddock’s older brother, Christian, is the other top returner. However, the 6-4 senior wing has been out with a stress fracture. 

Sax hopes Christian will be able to return in late January, and if Christian resembles the form he did a year ago, watch out. A skilled player who gets it done on both ends of the floor, Christian would give the team another prime scoring option and possibly be the X factor for the team to make another Central Coast Section playoff title run. 

Last season, the Cougars earned a share of the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s Gabilan Division championship before advancing to their first CCS title game in program history, falling to a hot-shooting Lynbrook team, 70-64, in the Division II final. 

This season CHS has switched leagues and is now in the Blossom Valley Athletic League’s Mount Hamilton East Division with Sobrato, Leland, Oak Grove, Santa Teresa and Silver Creek. Sax knows what he’s going to get with Braddock Kjellesvig and Okeke.

However, the development of the supporting cast will go a long way in determining what CHS accomplishes this season. Green is a backup point guard and has come on strong in his sophomore year. At 5-9 and 128 pounds, Green is usually the smallest player on the floor when he’s in.

However, he plays much bigger than his size and gives the team a solid ball-handler. Ragasa had seven points in a win over Amador Valley on Dec. 14, returner Tim McCain had four points in just five minutes of action and Nahal has the potential to get hot from the outside. 

Even though the Cougars lost a close one to Los Gatos—a game in which they started three sophomores—Sax knows the younger players will learn from those types of white-knuckle contests. 

“We’ve got a lot of young guys getting their first varsity experience, and I think as they go through these they’ll learn,” Sax said. “When the pressure gets up, you’re going to have to step up and I think they’re learning the speed of the game right now. It’s great for these guys to go through a game like that, have a little adversity, how to handle clock situations, it’s good.”

Sax has also been satisfied with the players’ development in other facets of the game. 

“I like the intensity they’re showing,” he said. “We’re starting to learn how to play defense as a group and team, not just the individual piece. Our passing is starting to come around and we’re getting a little bit better everyday, and that’s kind of our goal.”

Chigozie Okeke has been strong with the ball and a playmaker for CHS this season. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Cougars coach Adam Sax talks with his team during their Dec. 9 game vs. Los Gatos. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Sophomore Tyler Green has been one of the top newcomers contributing to the CHS this year. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Emanuel Lee
Emanuel Lee is the sports editor of the Los Gatan, Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Free Lance and Morgan Hill Times. An American High and University of Kentucky alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Gavilan College, various youth sports in south Santa Clara/San Benito counties and pro sports on occasion. Two decades of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. With the Weeklys/NewSVMedia group since 2013. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40 (7:24 mile pace), counts himself as a devoted follower of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza. Coaches, athletic directors and parents are encouraged to report scores to [email protected]

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