The day before his 15th birthday, on an outdoor court in Florida, Josh O’Garro threw down his first dunk. His audience: his grandfather.
“He told me it didn’t count because the rim was low,” O’Garro said. “I still counted it as my first dunk.”
Now 17 years old and in his first year as a guard for Santa Clarita Christian School, the sophomore is dunking on a regular basis, along with most of his teammates.
While it’s not uncommon to spot a Cardinals basketball player gripping the rim with two hands, the action doesn’t necessarily embody what SCCS basketball is all about. Although the team can be flashy, its principles are sensible.
“That balance, we talk about it a lot. It’s that fine line of humbly respecting your opponent and also being confident and enjoying the moment. That’s what we try to do every day in practice,” said coach James Mosley.
“You respect the day of practice, you don’t waste it. You show up ready to go, you understand that you want to get better, you’ve got to humble yourself and be coached. But at the same time enjoy it, have fun, show the gifts that God has given you and enjoy that.”
That attitude has helped the Cardinals through adversity this season, too. Although SCCS became very good very quickly, the transformation of the program hasn’t been without its share of difficulties. Particularly in this season.
Kaleb Lowery, who joined the team last season, struggles with chronic lower back pain and also fractured his ankle on Jan. 14 against Lancaster Baptist. He had the cast removed a week ago and is fully participating in practice.
While he was sidelined, Lowery found a new purpose on the team as a faithful supporter of his teammates.
“I’m going to be with them 24/7, you know, even through the ups and downs with injuries and everything,” Lowery said. “We’ll stick together as a team and fight through everything that’s been going on and we’ll stay together because we’re all brothers and we all love each other.”
In late January, SCCS found out they’d be down another player. After an internal investigation, the school discovered that an ineligible player had been used throughout the season. As a result, the team had to forfeit every game that the player had participated in.
It dropped the Cards’ record to 3-21 overall and 1-3 in Heritage League play.
However, after reaching an agreement with the Heritage League, SCCS was able to maintain its No. 1 seeding for playoffs. The league has been generous to the Cardinals this season, also allowing the team to play each Heritage League opponent only once in the league season as opposed to twice due to the gap in level of competition.
“Record doesn’t matter to me,” Lowery said. “As long as we make the playoffs, I don’t care about our seeding. I know we’re going to come out every game and play hard, play for each other. That’s all that matters.”
The third difficulty SCCS faced this season was losing point guard Noah Veluzat, who transferred to Valencia and was cleared to play for the Vikings on Feb. 5.
On the outside, the Cardinals seemed unaffected and continued to win games. On the inside, the departure of a teammate only brought them closer.
“I think now as a whole as a team, we’re all unselfish,” said forward Caden Starr. “We all care about each other that much more because of all the things we’ve been through and we stuck with it and want to represent the school well in every way. As a whole, we’ve become so much closer as a group.”
SCCS basketball’s next challenge will be a positive one: a CIF-Southern Section semifinal game against Highland. Tip-off is scheduled for tonight at 7 p.m. at Highland.
The team will take on the challenge as a unit and stay connected through not only their shared love of dunks, but also of a higher purpose.
“Even though there’s adversity and things going on, how can we honor the Lord, respect those who have supported us,” Mosley said. “And then really, our goal whenever we step on the floor is we want to make God look good. We believe he’s the one that gives us everything.”