Wildcats junior Scotty Brennan goes in for a one-hand slam dunk during their 71-41 win over Gunn High on Feb. 8. Los Gatos plays Palo Alto Tuesday night for the SCVAL De Anza Division championship. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

Every time Los Gatos High boys basketball coach Nick Ward drives home after a game—especially the tough, gut-wrenching losses—he pulls down the sunvisor in his car to read a three-word note. 

“Turn it off,” Ward said moments after the Wildcats’ 71-41 win over Gunn High on Feb. 8. “Just turn it off. Just a reminder. Coaching is coaching, but when you get home, coaching is not coaching anymore. It’s dad. Could be a great day, could be a bad day, but I come home as the same person. I don’t bring work home [to my family].”

Ward needed that reminder more so during a recent stretch in which the Wildcats lost three of four league contests. Despite the mini skid, Los Gatos finds itself in a familiar position: competing for the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division championship. 

The Wildcats play Palo Alto High—both teams have identical records of 17-6 overall and 8-3 in league—for the title on Feb. 13 (this edition went to press before the completion of the game). Los Gatos is the defending champion and is gunning for a third consecutive league title, having won the SCVAL El Camino Division in the 2021-2022 season.

“If you told me six weeks ago that we’d be going to Palo Alto with the chance to win a league title, I would sign up for that every time because it means you’re doing a lot of things right,” Ward said. “Winning your league is the hardest thing to do, and everyone is seeing it.”

Indeed, the SCVAL De Anza is arguably the second best league in the Central Coast Section behind the powerful West Catholic Athletic League. Every game is a grind and the cliche that anybody can beat anybody rings true this season. By any measure—whether it’s in the MaxPreps computer numbers or the eyeball test—the teams in the De Anza Division are formidable and potent. 

The Wildcats’ 7-0 league start came against premier competition, and halfway through the round-robin league season it looked like they were going to run away with the title. However, Los Gatos found things exceedingly more difficult in the second half of league play, suffering losses to Mountain View, Los Altos and Milpitas. 

Los Gatos rebounded in emphatic fashion by beating Gunn in a game in which it never trailed. A season-high 11 different players scored for the Wildcats, who received 16 points from Nolan Koch, 11 from Joey Rabitz, 10 from Max Brin and eight points from Scotty Brennan. 

Ward said he liked how the team moved the ball, played unselfishly and maintained its focus and intensity from start to finish. 

“We tell the guys whether you’re up by five or whether you’re up 10, 20—whatever it is—you just keep playing and you play the right way,” Ward said. “You defend, you play hard and you share the ball, and I think we have gotten away from that mostly in the second half in the last few games. You kind of get a little tight and the ball doesn’t move as much, but obviously it was really really good tonight [vs. Gunn].”

Ward’s message to the players at halftime was simple: come out with the same aggression as they did at tip-off. Two days prior to the Gunn game, Los Gatos fell to Milpitas, 49-46. 

“The last couple of weeks, we got off to great starts and in the second half the other team is just a little more motivated playing down, especially that game,” Ward said. “They had just a little more energy.”

Los Gatos honored six of its players on Senior Night vs. Gunn, including Andre Scott-Waikar, who played a huge role in the team’s hot start. Scott-Waikar scored the first points of the game off a floater in the lane, then had the assist on a Brin 3-pointer on the team’s next possession. 

Moments later, Scott-Waikar induced a Gunn player control foul, resulting in a turnover. The Wildcats took advantage as Koch scored on a lay-in to make it 7-0 just 1 ½ minutes into the contest, forcing Gunn to call a timeout.  

That did little to change the direction of the game, as Los Gatos concluded the first quarter with a commanding 17-5 lead. Koch continues to play like a league MVP, producing double-doubles and drawing the focus of each opposing team’s defense. 

Los Gatos defeated Palo Alto 50-45 in the teams’ first matchup on Jan. 20. Now, the Wildcats will have to do it again to win a third consecutive league championship.

“Winning your league is very, very hard, and we take a lot of pride in that,” Ward said. “It’s the hardest thing to do. Winning CCS is great—we’re not looking ahead at all—but it’s a lot harder winning your league than it is to win a tournament of three or four rounds.”

The De Anza Division champion almost assuredly gets slotted in the vaunted Open Division with the elite squads in the section. 

“There’s a lot of implications with the Palo Alto game,” Ward said. “The way seeding goes and we know that. We’re going to tell the guys what we’ve been telling them, and that’s it’s one game and we’re not going to make it bigger than any other game. It’s 32 minutes, you play one possession at a time, nothing changes.”

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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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