Two former San Ramon Valley High basketball stars who play for the love of the game met as rivals in the West Coast Conference on Jan. 12.
Saint Mary's College guard Jordan Giusti and USF center Mark Tollefsen -- both redshirt freshmen -- gave credible efforts from off the bench in the Gaels' 78-72 win over the Dons .
Longtime San Ramon Valley coach John Raynor is thrilled, but not surprised, by his two former stars' polished play at the next level. He's seen it before.
"These two kids stood out because they absolutely love to play," Raynor said. "There were countless times where they would play on their own with no one around. We have an expression here we use: 'You are who you are when no one's watching.' Well, these two guys epitomized that."
Clearly, there were a lot of people around Jan. 12. An announced crowd of 3,500 at McKeon Pavilion in Moraga watched the Gaels surge in the second half to avoid an upset.
The versatile Tollefsen, who is 6-foot-9, made his first two field-goal attempts, including a 3-pointer, and finished with five points, two blocked shots and a rebound in 22 minutes of action.
Despite being held scoreless, Giusti had a steal in 10 typically hearty minutes. His tenacious defense was lauded again by Gaels coach Randy Bennett.
Giusti said during a recent interview published on the Saint Mary's website that his role has changed in college.
"In high school, the ball would be in my hands every possession," Giusti said. "I would be more like the playmaker. Now, my role is to pressure as much as I can on defense -- kind of that hype guy.
"In high school I wouldn't always be that guy. I would be a spark whenever I could be, but I didn't have as much energy since I was playing the entire time. ... Any role I can get on this team is great. Obviously, it is a big step up from where I have been. I wasn't expecting to be 'the guy.'
At San Ramon Valley, Tollefsen and Giusti experienced a couple of tough outcomes at McKeon Pavilion. In their junior and senior seasons, the Wolves fell to rival De La Salle in the North Coast Section Division I semifinals, both at Saint Mary's.
The impressive 2010-11 Wolves squad finished with a 26-3 record, including a 53-47 win over the Spartans in Concord during the regular season, when Giusti had 26 points.
In high school Giusti and Tollefsen always seemed to have a basketball in their hands, whether it be in open gym, organized practices, AAU play, or pickup games, Raynor recalls.
"They never went without a day playing basketball," said Raynor, whose teams were a combined 54-7 in Giusti and Tollefsen's final two seasons. "I really believe that mindset, that love of the game and the love of competition, along with some gifted athleticism and height and dexterity and ball skills enabled them to flourish."
In Raynor's 26 years as head coach, the Wolves have showcased a long list of college-bound players. Omar Samhan set the tone for Giusti at Saint Mary's as a dominant center in the Gaels' two NCAA tournament wins in 2010, including scoring 32 against Villanova.
Samhan played in 2010-2011 with BC Zalgiris-Lithuania in the Euroleague and in 2012 in the Philippine Basketball Association in 2012.
Pat Fields, who played for Raynor's first Wolves team in 1986, played for Gonzaga; and Kevin Dunne was a member of the No. 15-seeded Santa Clara team, that stunned No. 2 Arizona 64-61 in the 1993 NCAA Tournament.
Other ex-Wolves were Mark Madsen, a former Stanford star and NBA champion with the Lakers, and Randy Winn, who played 13 seasons in Major League Baseball after he teamed with Steve Nash in basketball at Santa Clara. The Wolves were 1991 and 1992 NorCal champions and finished second in the state.
MATS ALL THAT SO FAR: In East Bay Athletic League boys basketball, Granada was the big story heading into the week. The Matadors were alone in first place after a 79-63 win over California on Jan. 11, the same Grizzlies who upended Monte Vista in Danville to open the league season.
Granada is amid a tough week that could prove telling. The Matadors hosted red-hot Monte Vista on Jan. 15 after this newspaper went to press. The Mustangs swept De La Salle and Amador Valley impressively last week and entered this week tied with the Spartans for second place with 3-1 EBAL marks.
TV TIME: Tri-Valley TV30 will broadcast three Tri-Valley high school basketball games: Granada at Livermore, Jan. 22; Las Lomas at Dublin, Feb. 1; and Amador Valley at Foothill, Feb. 14. Games will not air live. For information, visit http://www.tri-valleytv.org/