The Britton Middle School eighth-grade boys basketball team had plenty of reason to smile this season, which included a 13-1 record and East Side Athletic League playoff title victory. Contributed photo.

A year ago, the Britton Middle School seventh-grade boys basketball team was denied a storybook ending, suffering its first and only loss of the season in the East Side Athletic League playoff championship game. 

With many of those same players grading a year up and returning combined with a couple of key newcomers, Britton’s eighth-grade squad looked to finish the deal this time. And that’s exactly what the Bobcats did, rolling to a 48-31 win over Brownell on Feb. 1 at Morrill Middle School in San Jose.

Dave Clink has been coaching for over 30 years, and he said this was one of the crown jewels in his career roaming the sideline. 

“Definitely one of the most exciting moments in my coaching career, and definitely very rewarding,” he said. “Coming up two points short last year in the championship game from a perfect season and then being able to see it all the way through and getting the boys the championship they deserved was a great feeling. And it says a lot about them that they didn’t give up. They came up short last year and came back and did whatever it took to win the championship and earned it.”

Britton finished the season 13-1, its lone loss coming in the season-opening Willow Glen Tournament. After that, the Bobcats ran the table, winning the ESAL South Division before capturing three playoff games, including a riveting semifinal that was essentially the de facto title contest. 

On Jan. 31, Britton edged crosstown rival Martin Murphy, 52-49, rallying from a 14-point deficit with four minutes remaining. Napoleon Tran drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to seal the outcome, capping an incredible comeback that Clink said by the numbers was the greatest deficit one of his teams had overcome. 

What added to the subplot was the fact that Tran played at Martin Murphy last season before transferring to Britton. 

“It was spectacular,” Clink said. “It was an incredible moment for him and the team to pull out the semifinal win in such a dramatic way. Once we got through that game, we felt really confident that was kind of our championship game, and knew we were in pretty good shape heading into the finals.” 

The semifinal game was sandwiched between two dominant Britton victories, 51-22 over Rancho in the opening round and the 17-point margin over Brownell in the championship contest. 

The Britton roster includes Jacob Rose, Elijah Torres, Raj Saini, Lorenzo Castellanos, James Hannagan, Liam Betencourt, Ashton Nguyen, Joseph Maggi, Lochlan Ezzel, Caleb Elliott, Shaan Gill, Michael Mendoza, Tran, Osvaldo Garcia and Sebastian Bazar. 

Michael Elliott and Eric Francis served as assistant coaches under Clink. Maggi, Ezzel and Gill were some of the top returners that played on the seventh-grade team last year. It was Ezzel who drove and made the pass to a wide open Tran to set up the game-winning shot. 

“Lochlan is just a tremendous kid and competitor,” Clink said. 

Ezzel played the small forward/wing position, Rose manned point guard duties, Maggi was the shooting guard, Bazar the power forward and the 6-foot-3 Gill played center. Gill averaged 12 rebounds and four blocks a game, averaging a double-double for the season. 

“Shaan was really effective for us,” Clink said. “Even when he didn’t block a shot, he altered a lot of shots and forced misses.”

Maggi and Gill led the team throughout the season, and Clink referred to Maggi as the “dominant player in the league.” Rose was a proven leader at the point, playing for Clink all three years in middle school. 

“He was definitely an impact player for us,” Clink said. “He loves winning, just a great competitor.”

Bazar was a two-year starter, making an impact on both ends of the floor.

“He was a great player for us,” Clink said. “Very consistent, scored some big baskets over the season and through the playoffs to really help us pull out victories.”

Then there’s Tran, who was basically the team’s sixth man and averaged just shy of eight points per game. Solid both offensively and defensively, Clink wasn’t surprised Tran came up clutch. 

“It was all kind of meant to be to beat his old team with that shot,” Clink said. 

The Bobcats defeated Murphy by seven points in the regular-season, so they expected a tough, back-and-forth battle. However, Murphy took it to Britton early and was seemingly on its way to a resounding victory. 

The key to Britton’s comeback was focusing on each possession and not thinking about the large deficit. 

“We really just wanted to focus on getting defensive stops every time they had the ball,” Clink said. “And at the same time, capitalizing on our end offensively.” 

The Bobcats’ furious rally resulted in them tying the game with 30 seconds left. Then they got a stop to set up Tran’s heroics. 

“I never felt throughout the game we were going to give up or stop competing,” Clink said. “This group of boys continued to work hard and compete literally until the final buzzer. They never gave up or lost confidence. I told them during a timeout in the final minutes that we were going to win this game, but we had to play our best the rest of the way. Fortunately, we pulled it out. Huge win for us.” 

Clink kept a 15-player roster, large by middle school standards.

“I like to give as many kids an opportunity to play because you never know how many will play at the high school level,” he said. “I wanted every kid to experience what turned out to be a magical season.”

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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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