Best Team Ever? – You Decide – March 6, 1999

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Sentinel March 6, 1999. Best Team Ever? You Decide. By Josh Nagel

It might not be fair nor possible to declare one basketball team the greatest in Santa Cruz County history. This much can be said; the 32-1 season by the SC boys put together has stirred lively debate on the topic and rallied a community hungry for a winner. Former players, coaches, long time fans and the student body have filled Fehliman gym as the Cardinals built the longest winning streak on record. As the stories are told, years inadvertently are reversed, scores embellished, attendance exaggerated, names jumbled.

Comparing teams from different eras doesn’t do either justice. But measuring their impact and greatness on a chronological scale is a way of keep an equitable perspective. “The 1999 SC team set a standard by winning its first 32,” Newell said. “Until somebody comes along and does that one better…”

The 1985-86 Aptos team has been given the unanimous nod for securing its legacy because the Mariners played for the state championship, feat unmatched before or since. Five teams inevitably surface when the best of the best argument tips off. Judge for yourself. In no particular rank or order, here’s a briefing on the county’s greatest teams. (since the sixties.)

Watsonville: 1962-63

Santa Cruz: 1968-69. This team, Harbor coach Mike Gruber said, “is always left out” of the circle in local talk of all time candidates. But Gruber noted, this Cardinal team shouldn’t be ignored. Santa Cruz went 28-2 and lost to Willow Glen in the CCS title game under coach Bill Dodge. The Cardinals were led by point guard Gary Ghidinelli, revered as the best at his position in county history. They had a great front line that included Tom Foster 6-5, Kris Sorensen 6-6 and Dave Paul 6-5. Rod Fleming and Kirk Waller made solid contributions. Dodge said East Bay power Bishop O’Dowd agreed to play Santa Cruz only on condition that the Cardinals make a road trip. Eight members of that team played college basketball, football or baseball. Dodge, a loyal fan of this years team, stopped short of picking a favorite. “Every era is a separate entity,” he said. “Each team was the best in its particular time frame.”

Aptos: 31-1.

Harbor: 1992-93.

Santa Cruz: 1998-99. The Cardinals won their first 32 games by an average of 18 points and didn’t allow any league team to score more than 41 points in the latter part of the round robin schedule. Santa Cruz’s mix of unforgiving man-to-man defense and potent transition offense made misery for the opposition. The Cardinals had a capable bench, often getting clutch plays from non-starters. Their size inside allowed them to release players on the break and convert a high percentage of their shots. Josh Rhodes, a 6-6 freshman forward was named the leagues most valuable player by the coaches. Marcel Jackson a 6-9 senior, led the league in rebounding. Versatile 6-5 junior swingman Derek McDougall made several clutch shots and junior guard Tyler Williams made teams pay for collapsing inside. Elli Wilson’s perimeter defense keyed the team’s half court pressure. Reserve forward Murphy-Stewart and Colvin Marshall played valuable roles. Santa Cruz will return three starters and their dynasty could extend beyond this season. Perhaps its identity among the greatest is yet to be determined. “This SC team may have more good players than any of the teams” Dave Mercer, said. “This team has a lot of weapons.” Dodge agreed. “This year’s team was great. They were confident in themselves. With their inside presence, it was hard to double anybody. They were very versatile.”

“Of course, the common denominator among these teams is the pride with which the community embraces them. Each enjoyed significant support as the majority of the local sports fan base took notice.

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