An unlikely alliance
SACRAMENTO – Game after game, the two players stared each other down with nothing but school pride and competition coursing through their veins. Not a word was exchanged between the two except for the obligatory post-game handshakes.
Friendship was not an option when Forest Lake Christian’s Taylor Kilgore and Sacramento Waldorf’s Jake Kelly shared the same court. Each player is fueled by the desire to win, with a healthy rivalry between their two teams having to consistently bang heads in the Central Valley Christian League and playoffs, adding more tension to the already boiling pot.
But a funny thing happened as both standout players ended their high school careers this past weekend – they realized they actually enjoyed one another.
Kilgore and Kelly, along with Nevada Union’s Olympia Jacobs, were among the 30 players chosen to play in the 29th Annual Optimist All-Star Basketball game at Natomas High School. And not only were the three chosen to play on the same North squad, but they also became part of the same five-man rotation.
North coach Richard Drawbert used three teams of five to make up his rotation with Kilgore, Jacobs, Kelly, Kala Baker of Lincoln and Chinelle Watson of Highlands members of the third team to enter the game.
By the time their rotation, “the shooting squad,” stepped foot on the floor, with 9 minute, 45 seconds remaining in the first half, the North squad was down 21-4.
“Being down that much and going into a game that way is much harder than starting out 0-0,” said Kilgore who admitted to having a hard time sitting on the bench for the first 10 minutes or so of the game while her team took a pounding.
The shooting squad wasted no time in exploding on an 11-1 run to pull within 22-15 after just two minutes. Their play was so stellar in fact that South coach John Langston quickly put his starters back in.
“It really was a pivotal point,” Drawbert said. “Jake hit a couple of threes and their play was an important. It was a good comeback.”
The North girls were still down 40-27 at halftime, but pulled with within one at 43-42 by the time the shooting squad entered the game with 15:18 remaining in the second half. From that point on, the North’s quick pace and frustrating defense took over, giving the North a come-from-behind 84-79 win.
Kilgore ended up with three points, three steals and two assists in 14 minutes. Jacobs, who because of the North’s lack of size was forced to play the post role on the shooting squad, finished with four rebounds, three points, two assists and two steals in 10 minutes.
Kelly, who scored a game-high 16 points, was named the North’s Most Valuable Player, while Sheldon’s Meagan Williams earned the honor for the South team. Valley’s Jasmine Scott, Burbank’s Zalisha Oliver and Laguna Creek’s Tiffany Sells and Williams all had 11 points for the South.
When all was said and done, however, not only did the North team pull off a win not many predicted, two heated rivals walked off the court together with a new level of respect having been established.
“There was some animosity between us, but it was good to see one another not only as opposition, but people,” Kelly said of Kilgore. “She’s a cool girl.”
The boys game
While the girls game was a fight to the finish, the boys game was more so of a fight to see who could pull off better dunks and high-flying plays. This was evident by the impromptu dunk contest that broke out during warmups.
The South squad had five players on its roster listed at 6-foot-7 or taller, with the majority of its players having signed Division I or II scholarships. This forced the North team, coached by Nevada Union’s Jeff Dellis, into an uphill battle before the ball was even tipped.
Forest Lake Christian’s Nate Holt, standing at 6-foot-8, was one of the few North players with similar size to that of the South.
While the South squad was responsible for the majority of the crowd-pleasing dunks, credit Nevada Union’s twosome of Tyler Smith and Kevin Nelson for connecting perhaps the North’s play of the game.
With 10:40 remaining in the game, Nelson threw up a perfectly timed alley-oop pass in the middle of the lane to Smith, who cut in from the left side of the court for the two-handed slam.
Of the 30 players in the game, Smith had played on competitive Amateur Athletic Union teams with seven of them in the past two years – all of whom were playing for the South squad. Five already have accepted full-ride scholarships to Division I schools.
Two summers ago, Smith teamed up with Kennedy’s Zach Graves, Capital Christian’s Royal Edwards, Sacramento High’s Kevin Galloway and Franklin’s C.J. Morgan on the Classics. Last summer, Smith played with Oak Ridge’s Andrew Browning and Ryan Anderson and Cordova’s Mark Rutledge on the NorCal Pharoahs.
Asked if he wished he could have played with his buddies, Smith said, “It would have been fun to play with those guys, but they didn’t need any help.”
Smith was accurate in his assessment as the scoring-at-will South squad won 119-77.
Rocklin’s Ryan Yust scored a game-high 17 points to take home the North’s Most Valuable Player Award, with USC recruit Galloway winning the South’s top honor. Galloway finished with 14 points as Morgan and Anderson ended up with 14 points each.
Smith scored six points in 16 minutes, Nelson added two rebounds and two assists in 14 minutes and Holt had three rebounds and two blocks in nine minutes.
To contact sportswriter Stacy Hicklin, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4244.
29th Annual Optimist All-Star Basketball Games
North 84, South 79
South 119, North 77
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Hank Sowell’s introduction to the game of golf came early as a set of clubs was among the gifts he received on his very first birthday.