Jorge Camacho stood out for all the wrong reasons last season.
He was the talented transfer who seemed out of shape in his first year at Riordan. He was the 6-foot-7 junior who started most games but ended many on the bench as the tallest observer in the gym.
Then he got tired of the view.
The Riordan senior spent the summer getting into the best shape of his young life, lost 25 pounds and became a different player. He raised his per game averages to 19.1 points and 12.6 rebounds this season and led a Crusaders team some thought was due for a down year to a 21-11 record and the Central Coast Section Division III title.
Camacho, who posted 21 double-doubles this season, is The Examiner’s Player of the Year. He inherits the title from former Riordan teammate and two-time winner Rob Jones, now a freshman forward at the University of San Diego.
“I talked with my teammates at the end of last year and looked around the court and it was no secret I was the tallest guy,” Camacho said. “I knew I had to get in shape to earn their confidence and show I could stay out there and put the ball in the basket.”
Camacho said he started his workouts with the goal of losing 10 pounds, but he felt so good he continued on until he dropped another 15. Suddenly, he had the quickness and explosiveness to punctuate post moves with dunks. He had the lift and confidence to step out of the post and consistently knock down the 15- to 18-footer.
Jerry Brown, a junior forward at Sacred Heart Cathedral, saw Camacho average 21.8 points and 13.5 rebounds as Riordan beat the Irish in three of four meetings this year — including 60-39 in the CCS final.
“I knew he had gotten better, but when I saw those post moves and the jumper I was like ‘Whoa, I didn’t know you had that,’” Brown said. “He was like a new player. He looked like Rob.”
Jones went through his own physical transformation at Riordan in becoming the West Catholic Athletic League’s top player. And Camacho didn’t let his struggles stop him from learning from Jones’ example.
“Rob played as hard as he could every practice and every game,” Camacho said. “We shared a lot of things, too. I learned some moves from him and I hope he learned some from me.”
“I told him to flush last season, it was gone,” Buckner said. “And he went out and created the Examiner Player of the Year.”
» Statistics: 19.1 points per game, 12.6 rebounds per game
» Dream job: “I’d love to play pro ball somewhere.”
» Season highlight: Beating Mitty 46-45 in overtime on Jan. 18.
<p>» Go-to move: “Get the ball in the mid-range and either make a move or shoot the jumper.”
THE OTHER FIRST-TEAMERS
It was pride, pure and simple, that keyed Sacred Heart Cathedral’s turnaround this season and Brown led the resurgence. The 6-foot-7 forward who is always watched closely because of his size and natural ability was not content to fire 3-pointers from the perimeter. Brown scored 18.5 points per game and bumped up his rebounding average to 11.1, good enough for third in the WCAL after not finishing in the top 16 in the conference a season ago. His willingness to do the dirty work helped an Irish team that finished 11-14 in 2006-07 go 21-13 and advance to the NorCal Division III final.
“It was all pride — we just decided we weren’t going to go down like last year,” Brown said. “It was hard work, but we turned things around.”
» Statistics: 18.5 ppg, 11.1 rpg
» Favorite athlete: Kobe Bryant
» Season highlight: Beating Colony of Ontario 103-93 on Dec. 27 in the Modesto Christian tournament
» Nickname: J.B. or “Live 1-5”
The call would come from the Mission bench as soon as the Bears got a defensive rebound.
“Go, Demaree! Go! Go! Go!”
As if Hampton had to be reminded. The 5-foot-8 junior point guard used The City’s quickest first step to get to top speed and rarely eased off the accelerator, guiding up-tempo Mission to its first San Francisco Section championship since 1993.
“We already know to run,” Hampton said. “So we just go.”
Hampton had seven games of 30 points or more, including a 38-point, 13-steal, 11-rebound, 10-assist quadruple-double in a 100-31 win over Gateway on Dec. 28. In Mission’s last game, Hampton scored 32 points as the underdog Bears nearly upset top-seeded El Camino of Sacramento in the NorCal Division III final before falling 68-64.
» Statistics: 24.5 ppg, 6.0 spg, 5.7 apg
» Favorite subject: English
» Favorite athlete: Allen Iverson
» Go-to move: In-and-out. “I just want to get to the basket however I can.”
Legarza went from sixth man to star over the course of one summer.
The 6-foot-9, 255-pound center was one of few proven commodities to return for a St. Ignatius team that graduated eight seniors. Legarza (who will play next year at Miami of Ohio) responded with verve, featuring a polished post game and impressive outside shooting touch to help the Wildcats to 18 wins. He showed he is comfortable in a college setting in SI’s annual showdown against Sacred Heart Cathedral, hitting three 3-pointers and dropping 23 points in a 55-52 win at USF.
“This year, I needed to be one of the main sources of offense and step into a leadership role,” Legarza said. “And I enjoyed it. I like having the pressure on and having to produce.”
» Statistics: 14.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg
» What people don’t know: He’s a good golfer. “A few years ago, I was a 4 handicap.”
» Go-to move: Ball on the left block “so I can go with the right hook.”
It wasn’t a big basket or clutch assist that Wells remembers most about Lick’s magical run to the NorCal final.
Instead, the Williams (Mass.)-bound senior points to his late steal in the Tigers’ 48-47 win over Marin Academy in the BCL West tournament final as the signature moment of his season.
“I remember throwing the ball in the air and hearing the crowd go crazy,” Wells said. “It was amazing.”
Wells always seemed to make the big play when Lick needed it most this season, as a Tigers team that had one section playoff win in school history entering the year got five in two weeks. The guard poured in a career-high 37 points in perhaps the biggest upset in the stretch, a 55-50 defeat of No. 2 St. Elizabeth of Oakland in the NCS semifinals.
» Statistics: 18.2 ppg
» What people don’t know: Watches a lot of Discovery Channel. “I love ‘Survivorman.’”
» Favorite athletes: Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul
» Go-to move: Attack the basket. “I don’t like settling for jumpers.”
COACH OF THE YEAR » RICH BUCKNER
They were the types of games a rookie coach in the WCAL is supposed to lose every time.
In a two-week stretch in the middle of the conference season, coach Rich Buckner and the Riordan boys’ basketball team were involved in three games decided on the final possession. The Crusaders won all three — including a
46-45 overtime win over previously unbeaten Mitty — setting up a stretch run that saw Riordan win the CCS Division III title.
Not that Buckner was taking credit for pulling out the close calls.
“I don’t think I drew up a play on any of those game-winners,” Buckner said. “The amazing thing was it wasn’t our stars like Jorge [Camacho] or [Daniel] Cannon hitting those shots. It was our role players who stepped up and allowed us to have the season we did.”
Expectations were uncertain when Buckner, a former player and JV coach at the school, took over the program last summer from mentor Rich Forslund. The team was just 7-5 early on when Buckner challenged the Crusaders to win the CCS title.
“It’s difficult to explain,” Buckner said. “But from that point, everyone was willing to do the dirty work you need to be a winning program.”
» Years coaching: One
» Career record: 21-11
» Profession: Auditor
» Family: Single
» Most memorable moment: Beating previously undefeated Mitty
46-45 in overtime on Jan. 18; also, winning the CCS Division III title.
» Biggest challenge: “I felt the pressure to win. It didn’t come from anyone in particular, but Riordan has such a strong tradition and I wanted to keep it alive.”
» Basketball philosophy: “It ebbs and flows each year. I try to adapt to the type of kids I have, play to their strengths and try not to saturate their minds with too much coaching mumbo-jumbo.”