The Hawks' Justin Bautista provided the team with leadership and steady play throughout the season. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Even though the Oakwood High boys basketball team’s season just ended, the Hawks are already looking forward to next season. One can say optimism is extremely high around the basketball program, and with good reason. Oakwood, which finished the season with a 20-6 record—including a 9-1 mark to win the Pacific Coast League’s Santa Lucia Division championship—is projected to return three of the starting sophomores off this year’s team, a couple of key reserves and an influx of newcomers from the junior high squad. Yes, things are looking pretty rosy for the Hawks, who have a sparkling new athletic facility that is the envy of schools in the Central Coast Section. 

Oakwood High recently hosted a pair of NJB tournaments, will host a strong middle school tournament in March and is scheduled to host a high school tourney next season. The players practice in the mornings at 7, and they have a brand new shooting machine, a weight room and cardio room to use. In the afternoon, the Hawks will have a basketball specific practice. 

“(Using the new facility) has paid big dividends,” Jensen said. “I think we’ll be that much better next year. We’re a very disciplined team, everyone shares the ball, moves the ball, plays great defense. We’ve got other kids coming up next year, and we’ve got a real big kid coming out of the junior high who we’re excited about.”

The Hawks, who received the No. 10 seed in the CCS Division V playoffs, won their first game last Friday before falling to No. 7 Summit Shasta, 49-35, a day later. Senior Andrej Velijkovic, a league MVP last year, had another spectacular season. The 6-foot-1 guard possesses a knockdown jump shot, the ability to get to the basket off dribble penetration and had multiple games in which he scored 30 or more points. 

“He’s just a tremendous high school basketball player,” Jensen said. “He’s really, really good.”

Jensen calls Roman Moskalenko an “animal.” The 6-4, 215-pound sophomore has the ability to drain shots from 3-point range, play above the rim and get physical near the basket. 

“Everybody looks at him and goes, ‘Holy smokes,'” Jensen said. “Even my sons (community college coaches) look at him and go, ‘Wow.’ He is a true gym rat. Even on our drive home (after the loss to Summit Shasta), he asked if we could get in the gym and have practice the next day. He said he read Kobe Bryant’s book and that Kobe was always in the gym.”

Bricen Buciak, a 6-4 sophomore, possesses tremendous athleticism and in a game against Greenfield High this season had 27 points and 21 rebounds. He also had 17 rebounds against Summit Shasta. 

“Those numbers give you an idea of what he’s going to become,” Jensen said. “Both Roman and Bricen handle the ball well, shoot it well and can really jump.”

Another sophomore, Kiefer Nguyen, was on the junior varsity team early in the season until he lit up Gilroy’s JV team for 48 points, which will earn any player a promotion to the varsity squad. 

“Kiefer has tremendous shooting range,” Jensen said. “He’s a special shooter. To say I’m in love with this sophomore class would be an understatement. They’re big, talented, athletic, and they can all shoot.”

The rest of the sophomore class includes 6-5 Ethan Casey and 6-1 Jashil Patel. Justin Bautista, a 6-foot senior captain, provided the team with all the intangibles. He was the team’s best on the ball defender along with being a leader with his words and actions. 

“He’s not a huge stat guy by any means, but any time we faced a tough guard, we put Justin on him,” Jensen said. “He guards the toughest guy every night and does it without fanfare. As a coach you walk away from every game saying, ‘Man, that guy played a great game.'” 

Aaron Firpo, a 6-2 junior, proved to be a potent 3-point shooter, and his presence next season will be vital so teams can’t pack the lane to try to contain the Hawks’ big men from wreaking havoc. Juniors Wiktor Zmijewska and Manraj Pabla are both 6-foot and taller, highlighting the team’s height. Outside of the loss to Summit Shasta, Oakwood’s five other losses came by four points or less, meaning it was that close to being undefeated entering the playoffs. 

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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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