Bulldogs senior Drew Hooks will play a key role in the team's success this season. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The coaches in the Blossom Valley League thought highly enough of the Sobrato High boys basketball team to bump the Bulldogs up to the Mount Hamilton Division this season. Now it’s up to Sobrato to show why it earned that distinction despite finishing in third place in the Santa Teresa Division last season. 

“We have the talent to be in this division,” Bulldogs coach Sean Tate said. “The players have to get used to the idea they have to bring it every night. If you don’t show up ready in the A league, you can be down by 15 (points in an instant). I think we can handle the move up, and I’m really optimistic about this upcoming season.”

Tate takes an all for one, one for all approach, noting everyone has to be in sync for the team to produce its best performance. Case in point: when a top player goes down, there are players who come in and do admiral jobs in their absence. Such was the case when the team’s best player, center Ignacio “Iggy” Bettinelli, missed the Aptos game due to injury. Tate plugged in senior Justin Aboud in the lineup, and Aboud ended up having a productive game. 

“I can play Justin anywhere from the one to four (spots) because he’s smart and can play anywhere,” Tate said. 

Bettinelli is a top talent who pretty much can do it all. He has a variety of skills and if the Bulldogs need a basket at a crucial time, he can deliver. 

“Iggy is bigger and stronger than last year, when he was the Junior of the Year in the B division (Santa Teresa),” Tate said. “Because of Iggy and the seniors who returned this year, we got bumped up into the A division.”

Travis Turnipseed, a senior wing who is averaging around 13 points per game, marveled at Bettinelli’s skill set and impact. 

“Iggy is doing everything and is our rock,” Turnipseed said. “He can pretty much go out there and play every position. We can throw it down to him in the post, or he can score from mid-range. He’s really a switchblade in that he can do anything for you. Defensively, he can give you a couple of blocks per game and also get 10 rebounds per game. And he can put up 20 points on any given night. Just a reliable player.”

The 6-2 Turnipseed has also been steady and consistent. He can score from the inside, outside and off dribble penetration, a big reason why he earned all-tournament honors at the Alvarez and Gilroy tournaments. In a season-opening win over Watsonville on Nov. 30, Turnipseed scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds while also playing strong defense. He attributes the team’s strong 6-2 start to solid ball movement, superior chemistry and cohesiveness. 

“We’re really experienced, and this senior group has played a lot of games together,” Turnipseed said. “Our chemistry is real good. That game versus Christopher was probably our best so far. We went on a run in the fourth quarter, and it was good to finish and finish strong. We had a lead and kept that lead.”

Drew Hooks, an athletic 6-2 guard/forward, runs the floor like a gazelle and can score off the fastbreak with the best of them. Sobrato has a nice blend of senior veterans and two up-and-coming sophomore starters in Marc DiFrancesco and Andrew Zorio. Tate has been impressed with the play of the sophomores. 

“Marc is 6-2 and can handle the basketball, shoot the 3 and post up,” Tate said. “He has a  great all-around game. He’ll be a beast next year. Andrew is one of the smallest guys (among the main rotation of players), but he’s still 5-10, runs the point and makes great decisions.”

DiFrancesco has shown a maturity in his demeanor and game belying his youth, and others have noticed. 

“Marc is playing with supreme confidence,” Turnipseed said. “He’s coming up shooting shots that I would’ve never dared to take when I was a sophomore. He’s really long, so he can guard players with good defense. It’s fun to see a young guy come up and see him succeed this early.”

Tate said DiFrancesco hasn’t missed a single game dating all the way back to the summer session, a remarkable note considering a lot of players take vacation with their families during that time and inevitably miss at least a week or two from competition. The versatility on the team showed in the summer, when Aboud filled in at point guard from his normal small forward position. 

“Justin’s arms are about 7-foot something,” Turnipseed said. “It’s fun to have him on defense because he gets a bunch of steals. He can also hit the outside shot every now and then, has good vision and is fun to play with.” 

A pair of senior guards—Dylan Tran and Michael Barone—grew up playing together, just like Turnipseed and Hooks did. The cohesiveness of the team remains a strength and will be key as Sobrato plays against league opponents who also have tremendous chemistry. 

“Dylan and Michael are two guards who have solid vision and are solid competitors,” Turnipseed said. “They’re quick to the basket and good at finishing, and you can tell they’ve been playing together for a while. They’re kind of a dynamic duo.”

Over the summer, Turnipseed kept busy playing with West Coast Xtreme Elite Basketball, traveling to showcase tournaments in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. He started to play club basketball near the end of his freshman year, at which point “the sport kind of took over my life.” Turnipseed grew up playing football, but once he got a taste of basketball in his freshman year, he left the gridiron for the hardwood. 

“I didn’t start playing until the eighth grade, and basketball was always something I  did, but never thought it was something I could do with an organized team,” he said. “I always thought everyone was better than me and I couldn’t compete, but it turns out I just needed the practice and experience.” 

In addition to being able to score, Turnipseed is adept at rebounding and pushing the pace, but the biggest factor in his game has been a mental one, not physical. Like a lot of high school players, Turnipseed used to go into games worried about factors beyond his control. However, he has matured both physically and mentally, and it shows on the court.

“My overall improvement is due to my confidence,” he said. “I’m able to go out there, be a leader and help my teammates out. When I go out there, I’m not worried about missing shots; I’m just thinking about trying my best every time. I think experience has really led to the improvement in my confidence. Mentally, I’ve matured and I’m not getting too hard on myself if I miss a shot here or there. The game has also slowed down a lot for me, so I’m able to make plays I would’ve never been able to make a few years ago.”

Hooks and Turnipseed are lifelong friends, and the two spent many hours over the summer working on their game. Turnipseed credits his improved shooting accuracy from the thousands of shots he hoisted up in the summer. Turnipseed actually spent his freshman year at Live Oak before transferring to Sobrato as a sophomore. His older brother had played football at Live Oak, and Travis wanted to follow in his sibling’s footsteps. 

But once it was apparent Turnipseed was going to focus on basketball, he transferred to Sobrato, with the added bonus that he was going to be able to have one year with his older sister, who was a senior when he was a sophomore. Being that Morgan Hill is a relatively small town, Turnipseed knows a lot of the players at Live Oak.

The two teams play on Friday, a game that has the potential to feature riveting action and a great atmosphere. Live Oak has already equaled last year’s win total and is on the upswing. 

“I’m good friends with a lot of players on that team, so this is more of the El Toro Bowl of basketball,” he said. “We’re excited to see who comes out on top this year—obviously I’m hoping it’s us.”

Tate has thoroughly enjoyed coaching the team the last couple of seasons. This year’s team has a chance to accomplish some special things, most notably contend for a league championship. Turnipseed credited Tate for being a critical factor in Sobrato establishing itself as a solid program. 

“It’s been nice to have the same coach and a stable organization around us the last three years,” Turnipseed said. “Coach is a good motivator, he’s encouraging and he’s the one to lead us. The whole Sobrato basketball organization has been solid and steady the last few years, and it’s great to be a part of something like this. We work together, have fun and get after it.”

Tate has his tallest team since he took over the Sobrato coaching job, with several players at 6-2 or taller. Most of the players are also long, so they get in the passing lanes and cover more of the court. After the team’s rivalry game with Live Oak, the Bulldogs play San Jose High before starting Mount Hamilton Division action against Evergreen Valley on Jan. 8. 

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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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