Eliot Smith remembers the date, the opponent and many of the grisly details.
It was Nov. 23, 1987, when the Lick-Wilmerding boys’ basketball coach made his debut with the Tigers against visiting Branson of Ross. His mother and the school’s principal were in the crowd and Smith told his bench players to remain standing and applauding until Lick scored.
Twelve minutes of game clock and 24 consecutive Bulls points later, they were still standing.
“Finally I told them ‘Sit down, I’m changing the rule,’” Smith said with a laugh, recalling a 68-20 Branson win.
Smith will get his next chance against the Bulls today at 3 p.m. at Folsom High School, when Lick (26-8) plays top-seeded and two-time defending state champion Branson (30-3) for the NorCal Division V title. It will be the second meeting between the two schools in the past eight days — the Bulls beat the Tigers 45-33 for the North Coast Section crown on March 1 — but Lick players are starting to see some signs of destiny in this year’s playoff run.
Entering this season, the Tigers had won once section game in school history. Now, they have reeled off five victories (four as the lower seed on the road) coming into today’s final. The winner plays for the state title next Saturday at Arco Arena.
“With every game, there’s more and more euphoria,” senior forward Andrew Ahn said. “And we’re grateful for everything that’s been given to us.”
Lick, a school of 420 students across from City College of San Francisco in The City’s Ingleside district, is known as an academic rather than an athletic power, but the student body has whole-heartedly embraced this team. Smith said about 100 supporters made the 4½-hour trip to Redding to see the Tigers’ 46-34 semifinal win over Liberty Christian Thursday night with the rest packing the school basement for a live Web feed of the game.
The program itself is also unique. Players greet each other with a pound each day, hug after practice and wear old-school black Lick-Wilmerding sweaters on game days. All players also wear the same shoes with a green dot written in marker, a reminder to remain composed and in the “green zone.”
“I’m not a real superstitious guy — I wear No. 13,” senior forward Ben Cohn said. “But I find myself reaching down and touching that green dot for luck.”
Cohn, star guard Marcus Wells and many other players on the team have joked about the season taking on the characteristics of a movie, with no end in sight.
“We’re writing it as we speak,” Cohn said. “And I don’t think anyone envisions it ending tomorrow.”