South squads excel in 2016 Optimist All-Star games
Hitting the hardwood one final time in their prep careers, a dozen local athletes made their final journey to Sacramento High School Saturday afternoon to take part in the 39th annual Optimist All Star game.
Granite Bay’s Daeja Black and Oakmont’s Mackenzie Crouch were the first to take the floor for the local preps as the joined the North squad in the girls’ game. Despite their strong effort, the South emerged victorious with a 103-72 decision as Vanden High’s Kiana Moore and Lincoln’s Cassie Pisik earned Player of the Game honors.
Despite the loss, the North squad had a few shining moments.
Black got on the board early with a three in the game’s opening minutes, while local stars Jordan Purves of Rocklin, Mackenzie Crouch of Oakmont and Briana Dulgar of Oak Ridge did not catch their offensive stride until the second half, in which the North scored 40 of its 72 total points.
“Sadly it is our last time playing together,” said Black, one of several members of the North squad that has played with her teammates since her days in local AAU programs. “We go back to third grade, but we’re going our separate ways now.”
Purves – who missed her team’s final postseason run due to an injury she sustained in Rocklin’s SFL finale against Folsom – was excited for an opportunity to end her prep career in a more celebratory fashion.
“I got hurt in our senior night game and missed playoff games,” recalled the 5-foot-6 guard, who averaged 13.6 points per game for the Thunder this past season. “So it was great to be back on the floor. I loved the practices — we had a lot of fun, Sean (Chambers) was a great coach.”
The North squad also celebrated Crouch’s highlight-worthy block to start the second half. The Oakmont High senior said playing with the best student-athletes from the nearby area was a unique experience, even though she had seen several of her fellow all stars in league and playoff contests. Crouch, who averaged 11 points per game for the Vikings last year, was one of six CVC players to participate in the game.
“From Oakmont, we only won four games or so in league and we still made it to the playoffs, so that says a little something about how good our area is, because we still had a higher ranking,” Crouch pointed out.
Purves and Black concurred with Crouch’s assessment of the Sac-Joaquin Section’s athletic prowess. The two guards hail from the SFL, which garnered three participants in the girls' game.
“Every single game, anything could happen,” Purves said. “There’s not one bad team in our league.”
The SFL had another good showing in the boys contest, but despite 20 points from Woodcreek High’s Justin Asuncion and 16 from Granite Bay’s Charlie Tooley, the South earned the 137-106 victory.
In light-hearted fashion, the South’s point guard Jordan Ford of Folsom High took the jump ball over the North’s Asuncion, but the pair would remain the center of attention throughout the game.
“It was kind of planned out that the two shortest guys on the floor would go try and do the jump (ball) since we never get to do it,” said Ford, who made five of six 3-point attempts in the first half and finished with 28 points for the South and was the team’s Most Outstanding Player.
“Jordan is one in a million; like having Steph Curry – give him the ball and get out of the way,” South coach Derek Swafford said of Ford, who will play at St. Mary’s next season. “He’s a gem; a diamond in the rough. He’s carried the Folsom program for many years. He’s a gamer.”
In the first quarter, Ford traded threes on consecutive possessions with Tooley, who will be playing for University of Nevada Reno next season after averaging 14 points per game for the Grizzlies this past year.
“After we hit a couple we just started going back and forth,” Tooley recalled. “We were both just trying to have some fun, looking for our shots. We felt the need to get things going.”
But Asuncion sealed his MVP status with a five-point outburst in the second half in which he put on a dribbling exhibition followed by a finish at the rim. His ankle-breaking skills garnered extended applause from the several hundred in attendance.
“It feels great,” Asuncion admitted afterwards. “Unfortunately we didn’t win, but it feels good to play against all of my friends and get to play with the best in section.
“We were talking about getting to the rim because they’re (South) more athletic, but coach (Nick French) just told us have fun and play our game.”
Asuncion finished with 20 points, 13 of which he scored in the second half. Afterwards, the Woodcreek High senior garnered praised from Ford, Tooley, Whitney High’s forward Moe Ali and Antelope’s Tim Strijous, as each said the performance was consistent with what they had seen from him in the regular season.
“He’s so quick and so hard to guard,” Tooley confessed. “He’s a great ball-handler, he rarely turns the ball over, and he’s a great teammate, too. He deserved that MVP. A lot of hard work went into that.”
North head coach Nick French had the pleasure of coaching two members of his NorCal and CIF Section Playoff contending Whitney Wildcats in the Optimist game after the program’s historic 25-7 season.
“The kids were really awesome, really respectful … when you have an All-Star game like this, that’s all you can really ask for,” said French, who played in an All Star game to close out his own high school career in the Fresno area. “We had our own game called the ‘City-County’ game. I got to play and coach in that game, so these kids will remember this day — all of these things are really cool.”
Pithiest All-Stars Ali and fellow Whitney standout Kyle Price were leaders in French’s program for multiple seasons. The third-year coach described seeing them off as “the toughest part” of the season.
“I love them to death,” French said. “Kyle has had like six college coaches come up and talk to him tonight, so to see that, that brings me a lot of pride. He went from his junior year when he played five total minutes the entire year to making himself into a college basketball player. And Moe, he’s a great kid. He’s going to go to any school he wants to academically and do whatever he wants. I’m really proud of both of them.”