Over the last decade, the University High School boys’ basketball team has been the most consistent program in San Francisco, notching 10 consecutive 20-win seasons under coach Randy Bessolo.
It’s been a run of unprecedented success — particularly for a school with 400 students — but this year’s Red Devils team might be the finest Bessolo has coached.
After early-season victories against top regional squads like Oakland High School and Archbishop Riordan, plus a triumph in the Blue and Gold Tournament hosted by Jefferson High School, University is 8-0, the school’s best start since Bessolo took over.
Like all of Bessolo’s squads, this Red Devils’ edition is deep, hounds teams relentlessly with full-court defense, and features a bounty of versatile players who can handle the ball and create shot opportunities for their teammates. The one wrinkle to this year’s team is size: The eight players in Bessolo’s regular rotation range between 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-4.
“We always like to think of our guys as position-less players,” said Bessolo. “This year, we feel like all five guys on the floor will be equally comfortable in the post as they are on the perimeter. And that extra size means we can really compete down low defensively.”
The Red Devils are led by two three-year starters in senior captains Jake Tulchinksy, a 6-foot-4 forward, and Gunnar Black, a 6-foot-2 guard. Those veterans are aided by junior center Spencer Spivy, the MVP of the Blue and Gold Tournament, and Julian Manyika, a junior guard who nailed nine 3-pointers in the team’s 85-46 victory over Ygnacio Valley on Dec. 10.
Those players are all very familiar with the Red Devils’ recent achievements, which includes an appearance in the Division V State Championship Game in 2015.
“The old cliché is that tradition doesn’t graduate,” said Bessolo, who has won 271 games in his 11-plus years at the school. “This team knows all about the guys before them who worked so hard to establish that groundwork for success. They want to continue that going forward.”
As usual, Bessolo has lined up an arduous nonconference slate for the Red Devils, who still have to face Encinal (on Saturday) and Mission (one of three city teams still currently unbeaten), before entering Bay Counties League-West play.
Formerly a conference comprised of academically-elite, yet athletically-unproven schools, the BCL West has morphed into one of the best basketball leagues in Northern California, with Stuart Hall, Urban and Lick-Wilmerding (also undefeated at 9-0) all touting talented squads in recent years.
For years, the three San Francisco teams of the West Catholic Athletic Conference — Sacred Heart Cathedral, St. Ignatius, and Archbishop Riordan — dominated the city basketball scene, but the emergence of the BCL schools, along with the continued excellence of Mission, has shifted the power center of local hoops.
“I’ve been preaching for a while that we’ve got great players in this league,” said Bessolo. “We’re consistently sending our players on to good college programs. It really is a dogfight every night. And we feel like we can play with anyone.”