When the Live Oak High boys basketball team fell short in its quest to win a league championship last season, standout J.T. Carvalho thought it had wasted its best opportunity to make some history.
“I remember last year how bad it hurt to lose at the end of the season,” he said. “I genuinely didn’t think we would have a chance to win league again.”
So when the final buzzer went off in Wednesday’s game against Andrew Hill—a convincing 65-51 Live Oak victory—Carvalho soaked in the moment. At long last, the team’s title drought of 33 years was over.
“It felt surreal,” he said. “I thought last year was our best chance to win league because we were in the C league (Blossom Valley League’s West Valley Division). Going up to the B league (Santa Teresa East Division) this season, I knew there would be more competitive teams and I didn’t know how strong our team would be, so I was not super confident at the start of the season that we could do it.”
Senior guard Thaddeus Dickens erupted for 19 points, with 15 of those coming on 3-pointers. Dickens hit his first four attempts from beyond the arc in a clutch performance that stunned even his teammates. Known more for his tough defense and ability to create scoring high-percentage chances for his teammates off dribble penetration, Dickens couldn’t have picked a better time to go off.
“Thaddeus scoring like that came out of nowhere,” Carvalho said. “None of us expected that. But after he banked in his first 3-pointer, we’re like, ‘OK, we’ve got this.’ He hit his next three 3s after that and we’re like, ‘What the hell is going on? This is not Thaddeus whatsoever.’ Thaddeus will hit 3s in practice, but not that many in a row. He pulled through when we needed him, and the great thing about this team is we trust each other.”
Thomas Edwards finished with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting, Gus Giba had 11 and Carvalho 10 for the Acorns, who improved to 8-1 overall and 6-0 in league play. They have two league contests left before the start of the Central Coast Section playoffs. Carvalho is proud of the way the team has grown since the start of the season.
“At the beginning of the season we’d rely on one or two players and played a lot of 1 on 1 basketball,” Carvalho said. “But now we’re moving the ball around a lot and playing off each other rather than trying to play hero basketball.”
Carvalho and Edwards combined for 27 points, six below their season average. However, Dickens, who came into the contest averaging 6 points per game, ignited the team to victory. Carvalho said guard Steven Rosenberger also played a key role in the victory.
“Thomas and I didn’t have our highest scoring games, but that just tells us we’re well-rounded as a team that we still won going away,” Carvalho said.
Giba had a team-high nine rebounds, Edwards finished with four assists and Dickens had three steals. Ever since last season ended, all the team talked about was completing unfinished business. In fact, before the Andrew Hill game, the talk was so widespread that Carvalho simply had to tune things out and focus on the game itself. Hours later, when the team was able to celebrate, one of the first things the notoriously competitive Carvalho did was call both of his older brothers who played on previous Live Oak teams but never won a league title.
“I told both of my brothers this team is a lot better than their teams ever were,” he said. “I had to rub it in.”