Through the first half-plus of round-robin play in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division season, the Los Gatos High boys basketball team has stamped itself as the favorite to win the title.
Despite suffering their first league loss to Mountain View on Tuesday, 55-48, the Wildcats still are 15-4 overall and 6-1 in league, one game ahead of second-place Palo Alto. Barring a rash of unforeseen circumstances, Los Gatos appears headed to winning a third consecutive league title.
The Wildcats shared the title with Fremont High two years ago, went 11-1 to win the championship outright last season and have an opportunity to go undefeated in league this season. The hallmarks of the team since coach Nick Ward returned for his second go-around with the program three years ago is mental toughness and consistency.
The Wildcats seemingly squeeze every ounce of talent out of their roster and have a nice track record against teams that are similar in ability. Nowhere was that more apparent than in a 56-55 win over Milpitas High on Jan. 16. Los Gatos showed why it’s been the premier team in the SCVAL.
Milpitas scored the opening bucket of the game, but the Wildcats answered with four straight points and took the lead for good midway through the first quarter. Senior post Nolan Koch had 24 points and Scotty Brennan 15 as Los Gatos held off a late Milpitas charge for the victory.
Koch said while the team definitely gets amped up for games with first place on the line at the time—Milpitas entered the contest with an identical 3-0 league record—it maintains an even keel.
“I’d definitely say it’s a game you get up for, but our big thing is just take one game at a time,” he said. “And coach always says the next game is always your most important. I feel like we play very level headed, we’re ready to play every game and that’s something not every team has. So having that [mindset] has been very good for us”
After a tremendous junior season, the 6-foot-5, 205-pound Koch has taken his game up another notch this year. He scores the majority of his points from 12 feet in, using his body and deft footwork to gain separation from his defender and position himself for high-percentage leaners from in-close.
Koch spent the off-season honing those parts of his game, often at Bay Club Courtside.
“I usually just worked on my game on my own,” he said. “Did a lot of finishing stuff, a lot of shooting stuff, and obviously lifting weights. I’d just go to the gym and experiment with stuff to see what works.”
Things have been working just fine for Koch and his teammates this season. Los Gatos has once again displayed strong chemistry and has playmakers like Koch and Brennan, who scored 25 points in a 66-49 win over Gunn High and didn’t miss a beat after missing the first month of the season due to the football team advancing all the way to a CIF Regional State Bowl Championship Game.
Brennan has the complete game, able to knock down shots from 3-point range and the mid-range—which is a dying art in today’s game—while also possessing the ability to drive to the basket. He creates a lot of steals with his instincts and length, finishes well and is an adept passer.
“Having Scotty is good,” Koch said. “We lost a few ones early in the year that we feel like we could’ve had, but it’s great to have him back.”
All three of Los Gatos’ losses have been to quality, top-tier teams: Menlo-Atherton (13-4), Branham (16-1) and St. Mary’s of Stockton (16-5). Those defeats were by six, three and three points, respectively, meaning the Wildcats were in each game and in the Branham contest, an opportunity to win.
Anthony Martin had 10 points vs. Milpitas on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting, continuing his breakout season. The junior guard can flat-out shoot it and his production has been remarkably consistent all year. Ronan Chinmulgund provides a steadying presence as a senior guard, and has picked his spots offensively this season as the team has superior firepower from last year.
Zach Otoupal, Max Brin and Joey Rabitz have excelled in their roles and junior shooting guard Osha Moloney—who is currently injured—is expected to return and provide his usual impact. Moloney is having another fine season and can hit a flurry of 3-point shots on a moment’s notice.
Los Gatos has a solid team dynamic, with Koch being a leader by example. He’s one of the most consistent players in the section, and had 21 points vs. Gunn. After last season ended, Koch knew as a returning senior starter teammates would look to him.
“Definitely a lot of thought went into taking more of a leadership role because I’m more of a quiet guy,” he said. “But trying to always set a good example was something I tried to think about, and not showing too much emotion, not going up and down too much. Trying to stay level and set a good example for the younger players.”