Each year, with the Mother Lode League all-league basketball selections comes debate and questions. Both Bret Harte and Calaveras high school teams had more wins than the year before, but only Calaveras got players on the all-league list.
Calaveras junior AJ Cardon and senior Tim Van Damme made the first team, while senior Kaven Orlandi made the second team. Bret Harte did not have a player voted to the all-league team.
Even though the Bullfrogs don’t have a player on the team, head coach Brian Barnett knows that his team played well and even improved when it came to collecting wins versus the year before. Bret Harte finished the season 11-17, while going 2-8 in league play.
“I thought the season ended on a good note, as far as we have a group of guys coming back who are willing to play hard, willing to dive on the floor and willing to work in practice with a competitive spirit,” Barnett said. “I’ve been joking with them that this isn’t P.E. basketball, and they should be mad if they lose. I’m hoping that they can translate that into their games when they play each other when there isn’t a supervised coach, and that will lead us and get the younger kids to follow suit.”
Barnett realizes that it would be nice to have a player on the all-league team, but he knows that his team didn’t have that one player who was the obvious standout, which makes not having a player on the all-league team a little more palatable.
“It goes to show what helped us all year is that we had a team and not one or two individuals,” Barnett said. “It showed that everybody contributed to this year and it wasn’t just one person. But if getting all-league is something you want, you have to work for it and it starts now.”
Calaveras went above and beyond expectations. Calaveras finished the season 22-7 while going 7-3 in the Mother Lode League and were one game away from reaching the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship game. And for the second time in three years, Calaveras reached the CIF state playoffs.
“I’m really, really happy, but at the same time, you look back and think that maybe we could have even had a couple of more wins,” Calaveras head coach Kraig Clifton said. “I definitely think you could consider us very accomplished with the roster that we had.”
Cardon, finished the year with 6.7 points per game, with 2.2 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals. He scored a season-high 18 points in a 60-53 home victory over Amador and had 10 or more points in four straight games.
“He started playing better towards the end of preseason and then about halfway through league, he really turned it up a notch and owned that point guard position for us,” Clifton said. “He became our most disruptive and best defensive player.”
Van Damme, a Belgium foreign exchange student, had a slow start to his Calaveras career, but by the end of the regular season, was one of Calaveras’ key weapons. Van Damme could pull down the rebounds, score in the paint and block shots.
“When he got here early and we played in the preseason, you could see that ‘Deer in the headlights’ look,” Clifton said. “But what really helps him is that he’s smart and he catches on really quickly. He’s also got very good hands for a big guy. He can pass and catch and doesn’t fumble the ball too much, which is a rarity for a big guy.”
Orlandi finishes his Calaveras career on the second team. Orlandi had 7.5 points per game, 5.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals. He finished the league season with four games scoring 10 or more points and recorded a double-double in a win over Argonaut.
“He’s very talented and has the athletic ability to get rebounds and has a good post move,” Clifton said. “Ultimately, he’s truly a team player. He’s always looking for open teammates and getting guys shots, which is not always easy to get kids to do at that age and he was more than willing to do it. Actually, I wish he would have shot a little more. But he was a big part of our team chemistry and was a big part of our cohesiveness towards the end of the year.”
Bret Harte’s character award winner went to senior Jaden Bitner. When asked why Bitner was the most deserving Bullfrog for the award, Barnett said, “He is one of the happiest kids. He’s got that fight where he gets mad and he wants to win, but he’s just one of the happiest kids around and he’s been a pleasure to have on the team for two years. He led us in everything that he could do, and he played hard all year.”
Calaveras’ character award winner was freshman Jay Clifton. In his first year of high school basketball, the guard averaged 13.7 points per game with 2.7 assists, 3.3 blocks and 1.8 steals. An injury midway through league landed Jay Clifton on the bench, but that didn’t stop him from being as involved with the team as much as possible.
“We have a lot of guys on our team with good character, but I think he was really challenged because he’s a young guy stepping up and playing with a lot of older people, which is not an easy situation to be in,” Clifton said. “He also has his dad as the coach, which isn’t easy. He never backed down or shied away and continued to bust his tail. He got injured at the worst time, but the way he handled it by going to every practice and cheering on his teammates, while not losing one ounce of enthusiasm for the team and that shows a lot for his character.”
Bret Harte’s Tanner Gerhart, Karol Okulski and Jackson Oliver, along with Calaveras’ Cardon and Clifton made the all-academic team.