Even with an outstanding 13-1 start, the Oakwood High boys basketball team said it hasn’t come close to reaching its potential yet.
“There is a way to go to hit that ceiling,” longtime Hawks coach Kort Jensen said. “That’s why we’re trying to think outside the box in how we can get the best out of our players.”
Simply put, Oakwood has size, length, athleticism and the ability to score in bunches. That was plenty apparent when they nearly hit the century mark in a 83-47 win over Gilroy High on Jan. 7 in a Pacific Coast League Cypress Division opener for both teams.
Junior 6-foot-7 center Martin Safranka—one of six players on the Oakwood roster 6-4 or taller—had a game-high 18 points to lead five Hawks’ players in double figures. Sandro Kokochasvili, a 6-6 post, had 12 points as did 6-5 wing Roman Moskalenko.
With freshman point guard sensation Langston Watson (10 points) serving as the catalyst, the Hawks are indeed flying high and have a chance to do something truly special this season.
“We have four goals this year outside of academic goals,” Jensen said. “We want to win league, we want to win CCS, win NorCals and we want to win state. I think if we can get the kids to maximize their abilities, we can put a collective scare into those things.”
Vlad Ziatsau, a 6-4 wing who is coming off a strong cross country season—his second best sport—had 11 points and Lazar Cancovic, a 6-5 forward, finished with nine. At 6-8, junior center Luka Kokochasvili (five points) is the team’s tallest player.
Not only is Oakwood one of the tallest teams in the Central Coast Section, its big men can flat-out play and are coordinated, which is never a given at the prep level. They have solid post moves and impose their will when it comes to rebounding the basketball.
The team has plenty of depth as well with a rotation that goes at least nine deep. The 6-3 Watson can get to the basket off dribble penetration, hit the mid-range jumper and most importantly, make pinpoint passes to set up his teammates for prime scoring opportunities.
“Langston has a chance to be really special,” Jensen said. “He sees the floor really well and sees plays early, and that is a hard thing to master, to see it early. He sees like a coach out there. This kid has a gift and we’re lucky to have him.”
Jensen said during team drills he’ll typically have two to three guys rush a ball handler to induce pressure. Watson always stays calm and either takes a step back, sideways or dribbles out of the pressure.
“Not sure if we’ve ever had a kid like this,” Jensen said. “He doesn’t turn the ball over and not many guys can protect the basketball the way he does.”
Moskalenko is a true difference-maker but only returned recently after being injured for the beginning of the season. The senior is nearly impossible to guard 1-on-1 and seeks to return to the form of the previous two seasons.
“Roman had a tendon injury in his right knee, is just now coming back and we haven’t seen the best of him,” Jensen said. “He’s been the best player for us the last two years. He’s back but not back if that makes sense.”
Backup point guard Ogi Kacanski, who would be a starter on most teams, can get to the basket and score, but his forte is defense.
“Ogi is just a wrecking ball on defense,” Jensen said. “We’ve never had a kid play defense like him. He picks up his man full court, gets in his face and has got tremendous speed to stay with anybody.”
In two tournaments in December, Oakwood won its final game. In the James Lick Tournament, the Hawks lost their opener to Independence—despite having a couple of starters out due to injury—before winning consecutive games to capture the consolation bracket.
In the upper black division of the Watsonville Tournament, Oakwood toppled previously undefeated Alisal en route to the championship title. Jensen said the team needs to continue to improve for it to reach its goals, and it has developed nicely when it comes to keeping the competition down.
“We had a 20-point lead against Live Oak earlier in the season and just about threw it away,” he said. “We did that against somebody else. But since then when we get a big lead, we don’t give it away now. So our team has really grown and that is the thing I’m most proud of. They get a lead now and they keep their foot down.”
The future looks bright as well, as Watson leads the best freshmen class in Jensen’s tenure.
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.