Junior achievers have Irish back

Jerry Brown has an easy explanation for many of the dunks he’s thrown down this season for the Sacred Heart Cathedral boys’ basketball team.

“Sometimes I feel like laying it in, but that’s selfish,” the 6-foot-7 forward said. “Because I know when I get a dunk, or Kevin [Greene] or anyone else gets one, the whole team feels it. And it gives energy to everyone.”

Such is life this season for the Irish. The style points and spectacular individual talent are still there, but the stat sheet has become secondary to team morale and, ultimately, wins.

Led by Brown, Greene and fellow junior Teandre Hubbard, a Sacred Heart team that went 11-14 a season ago and didn’t qualify for the postseason is one win away from reaching the CIF state Division III title game for the second time in three years.

The Irish (21-12) face Sacramento (29-3) today at noon at Arco Arena for the NorCal championship.

“We’ve come a long way,” Hubbard said. “Last year, everyone wanted to be a leader and it never really came together. Now there’s a great team concept and chemistry.”

The faces of the transformation — and in many ways the program — are Brown, Greene (a 6-foot-4, 220-pound post player) and Hubbard (a 6-foot guard).

Brown — the team’s leading scorer and rebounder — has made perhaps the biggest adjustment to his game. He admits he was sometimes too content to shoot 3-pointers in the past, and this season has spent more time doing the dirty work inside. As a result, he raised his scoring average to 18.5 points per game in West Catholic Athletic League play (a bump from 10.8 last season) and pulled down 11.1 rebounds (good for third in the conference after not finishing in the top 16 in 2006-07).

Hubbard (10.6 points per game) is the team’s top perimeter defender, its most consistent outside shooter (his game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation spurred the Irish’s 72-67 double-overtime win over top-seeded El Camino of Sacramento in the NorCal semifinals) and, as Greene said, serves as Sacred Heart’s “hype man” emotionally.

For his part, Greene, who averaged 11.5 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, controls the paint with his strength and rebounding ability and has demonstrated a solid post game and an increasingly soft mid-range jumper.

Now, the three kids who have played with and against each other since grade school are looking to add a second NorCal title to their résumés.

“It’s going to be the big gym, and I’m sure we’re going to step in and look up and realize that we’re playing at Arco,” Greene said. “But then we’ll just look down at the floor and realize it’s just another game and go out and do our job.”

melliser@examiner.com

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