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March 09, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, March 09, 2005

For Eastside Prep, season is already a big success For Eastside Prep, season is already a big success (March 09, 2005)

by Keith Peters

Every step the Eastside Prep boys' basketball team takes this week in the Northern California Tournament is a positive one.

No matter what happens, this season has been a huge success - off the court as much as on.

The host Panthers took a 27-6 record and No. 3 into Tuesday's NorCal Division V opener against No. 6 International of San Francisco (29-3). A victory means a road trip for Eastside Prep on Thursday, likely to College of Marin to face No. 2 Branson (27-5). The NorCal finals are set for Saturday at Delta College at 3 p.m.

Eastside Prep reached this point by winning its fourth straight Central Coast Section title last Saturday with a 59-46 win over top-seeded Sacred Heart Prep. The Panthers extended their winning streak to 16 while ending the Gators' streak of 16 straight.

The Panthers accomplished this after losing one player to another school, having two others sit out nearly the first half of the season, overcoming both a lack of size and experience.

Somehow after this rocky start, all the problems and shortcomings have been put aside and the team is stronger now than at any point in the season. A team that began with one senior now has three. A squad that opened the season with only six viable players, now has nine contributing.

A team that began the year with very little chance of even winning CCS, now is taking a shot at the NorCal crown.

Senior Clarence Webster, for one, is just happy to be a part of it. He played in the first six games of the season, during which Eastside Prep went 3-3. At that point, he became a disruptive force on the team and was dismissed for disciplinary reasons.

"This team has been a team all season long," said Eastside Prep coach and school principal Chris Bischof. "And no one person is going to be above the team."

With Webster gone early on, the Panthers were missing three seniors from the 2004 squad that finished 28-2. Gio Connor transferred to Fremont High (Sunnyvale) and Derrick Haynie was sitting out the first semester to get his grades and college transcripts in order. Tim Johnson, the team's tallest player at 5-foot-11, was the lone remaining senior.

Said Webster: "It hurt to watch them play without me. I wanted to come back bad, because I love to play basketball."

During Webster's absence, the Panthers went 15-3. Webster met with Bischof around Christmas break in hopes of returning, but Bischof believed Webster was insincere. On Jan. 20, a second meeting with Bischof opened the door. Every member of the team, however, had to vote Webster back on the team.

"It wasn't fair to the team to bring him back until he was ready," Bischof said.

"It was a lesson learned," Webster said. "It made me a better player and person. Chris is a great coach. I started with him in the third grade. He teaches us how to play as a team. That's what I learned. It's all about the team and the coach. If you can't do that, you might as well not be out there."

Bischof said Webster was a changed young man upon his return.

"He's been nothing but great since he has come back," Bischof said. "I'm really proud of him, in so many ways. He's so humble out there."

Despite losing his starting job at guard, Webster has been instrumental in the team's push to the postseason - as have Haynie and Johnson. Those three combined for 34 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and shot 12 for 22 from the floor in the CCS final.

"Our senior leadership really showed," Bischof said. "The guys played as a team."

"When I came back, people were used to playing hard," Webster said. "They kept playing hard."

SHP (22-6), which traveled for a first-round NorCal game at Pierce of Arbuckle (North Section), battled back from a 46-29 deficit in the fourth quarter behind 15 points from junior Pat Coffey. He finished with 22 while junior Eric Cowell was solid with 16 points and eight rebounds.

The Gators got to within 51-42 with 1:21 left to play on two free throws by Coffey. Eastside Prep, however, countered every score to wrap up the title.

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