Bishop O'Dowd High boys basketball coach Lou Richie said there's one major difference between his team this season and the one that captured the North Coast Section Division III championship in 2013.

The Dragons this season can still win big games even if 6-foot-10 power forward Ivan Rabb, one of the most heralded recruits in the nation for the class of 2015, isn't at his best.

That was the case Dec. 26 against traditional Seattle power O'Dea at the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic. Rabb looked sluggish at times as he fought a cold. But point guard Paris Austin took things over and finished with 21 points to lead the Dragons to a 68-52 win.

Richie could count on one hand -- OK, two fingers -- the amount of times last season that Rabb wasn't his usual dominant self. One came against Mater Dei-Santa Ana at the Tarkanian Classic in December, the other was in March against Modesto Christian in the first round of the state playoffs.

Both were losses, with the latter ending the Dragons' season at 26-4.

Last year, "if Ivan didn't play well, we weren't going to win. And he gave us a Herculean effort every night except for two games," Richie said. "But we're evolving into a more balanced team now."


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It's a scary proposition for any team that has to come across O'Dowd for the rest of this season. Richie said his team's first goal is to win the West Alameda County Conference-Foothill Division. But with the Dragons' experience and confluence of talent, it's clear they are capable of a deep playoff run, possibly culminating with an appearance in the state Open Division title game.

"Winning league is our first goal. Then after winning league, we want to get to NCS and make a run in the state playoffs," Richie said. "But we really just want to get better every day, try to be the aggressor. We want to be the hunter, not the hunted."

Despite the increased depth and the emergence of Austin as one of the best point guards in the Bay Area, the focal point is still Rabb, who has the potential to be one the best big men to come out of the East Bay in a generation.

Richie said Rabb's confidence has grown, that emotionally he is more mature, and that his court intelligence is well ahead of where it was last season at this time.

Rabb was one of the best players for the United States at the 2013 FIBA Americas U16 Championships in Maldonado, Uruguay. He averaged 12.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per game as the Americans went 5-0 and captured the gold medal.

At this year's Tarkanian Classic, Rabb had the signature performance of his still blossoming career. In the championship game, he had 24 points and 21 rebounds in a 63-59 loss to national power Mater Dei. In the game prior, he had 24 points and 11 rebounds against Bishop Gorman-Las Vegas, and for the tournament, Rabb finished with 105 points in four games against top notch competition.

"He loves to compete and play against the best," Richie said. "He's become a leader and has done everything we asked him to do in the spring and summer. He's a tremendous teammate and an even better kid."

Helping Rabb in his development the past several weeks has been Isaiah Thomas, a 6-9 forward who transferred from Kipp King Academy to O'Dowd. Thomas has not been able to play as he awaits clearance from the NCS, but he has given Rabb someone to match up against at practice.

The Dragons are also hoping fellow transfer Sebastian Flores, a guard who was part of College Park's run last season to the Division II state championship game, can become eligible.

If both Thomas and Flores are granted clearance to play, the Dragons would arguably be the deepest team in Northern California.