A year ago, the Oakwood High boys basketball team saw its season end in a four-point loss to Robert Louis Stevenson in the Central Coast Section Division V playoff semifinals.
It was a rather painful ending as the Hawks had high hopes to reach their first-ever section final. Plus, a win would’ve earned them an automatic berth in the CIF NorCal playoffs. Fast forward to Jan. 31, when Oakwood beat Stevenson 65-48 to take both regular-season matchups and essentially lock up the Pacific Coast Athletic League Mission Division championship.
Barring a rash of unforeseen circumstances, the Hawks, who followed that result with a 72-63 victory over Seaside Feb. 2, improved to 17-4 overall and 8-0 in league play, will clinch the title and should go undefeated in the process.
Up until the Seaside game, Oakwood had won every league game by 17 points or more. A tough Stevenson side has proven to be the second best team in the Mission Division this season, but it couldn’t hang with the Hawks in their two games this season.
Oakwood won their first contest—also rather handily—69-51 on Jan. 21. That was at RLS in Pebble Beach and their latest matchup was at Oakwood’s gym in Morgan Hill in front of a standing room only crowd.
“Last year they beat us and tonight we came out with energy and wanted it really bad,” Oakwood point guard Langston Watson said, “We got them two times this year so it was good.”
The Hawks are talented but not deep, as all 65 points came from their starting five. Luka Kokochasvili led the way with 19 points, Marko Milentijevic had 16, Lazar Cankovic 12, Watson 11 and Marton Safranka seven in a game that had a playoff-type atmosphere.
“It was exciting and got us energized,” Watson said. “It got us playing well, playing harder. Hopefully, it [big home crowds] will be like this for more games.”
The score was 10-10 after one quarter of play before Oakwood took the lead for good with a 18-8 second-quarter blitz. Watson was key in the surge, scoring all 11 of his points in the first half, hitting a variety of fallaway jumpers from the baseline and in the paint.
The sophomore along with the rest of his teammates had no trouble finding the 6-foot-8 Kokochasvili, who positioned himself well near the basket to routinely score on shots from close range. Kokochasvili shot an ultra-efficient 9-of-12 from the floor. Oakwood outscored RLS 21-12 in the third quarter, building the lead to a high of 22 points.
Milentijevic is lethal from 3-point range, Cankovic is a spark plug and gets up and down the floor as well as anyone in the CCS, and the 6-7 Safranka can go inside-outside and along with Kokochasvili provide stiff resistance in the paint with their ability to alter shots and rebound the basketball.
Combine all that with Watson’s ability to create his own shot and Oakwood is poised to make history with the postseason on the horizon.
“We want to win league, CCS, NorCal, State,” Watson said. “A game like this prepares us and gets us ready for the playoffs.”
The Hawks know they’ll have to take care of the basketball if they want to achieve those goals. They had 15 turnovers against RLS, most of them on errant decisions and passes. However, Watson said the team is more experienced and simply better than last year’s group which should prove to be the X-factor in their quest for a historic section championship.
“We’ve got good chemistry and good coaching,” he said. “The coaches always keep us together and give us plays to run. We play together as a team, get open shots and it works. We’re strong on defense, too. We’ve got more discipline, better skill, better shooting, better dribbling, better passing. That’s the difference with this year’s team compared to last year.”
Oakwood has gone out of its way to play tough competition this season, playing in tournaments at perennial NorCal powers Bishop O’Dowd in Oakland and St. Francis in Mountain View. It is excelling off the court as well.
Kokochasvili has received an offer to play for the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and Safranka has five academic scholarships and will play in college, Hawks coach Kort Jensen said. Two standout players and graduates off last year’s team, Roman Moskalenko and Sandro Kokochasvili, are on academic scholarships at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and Louisiana Tech University, respectively.
Kokochasvili is redshirting this season in hopes of playing for the Division I program next year, Jensen said. The longtime Oakwood coach also said the San Jose State coaches were in attendance at the RLS game to watch and visit with Watson.