You never forget your first win as a coach, and Vintage High head coach Rob Johnson was clearly savoring the moment after watching his Crushers run away from the Pioneer Patriots, 62-37 in Wine Valley Tournament consolation bracket action.
“It feels good, especially because I get to see the excitement on my guys’ faces after the game,” said a smiling Johnson. “It brought back a lot of good feelings that I had as a player, because my philosophy is I don’t love winning, I hate losing. That’s how I see things.”
Johnson noted a big difference from the day before, when the Crushers (1-2) fell by 25 points to Antelope.
“I hated losing and seeing our guys in the locker room with their heads down and sad faces,” he said. “Tonight, I came in after the win and there was a lot of excitement and a lot of talking. That’s when I knew I had done my job.”
The former college star at University of Oregon, international professional player and assistant coach at Washington State knows success doesn’t happen instantly, but winning can definitely breed more winning.
“It’s a process. We’re taking it step by step,” he said. “We’re a new staff. We’re trying to build our culture the way we want it to be and that can take some time. But we know where we want to go, and in doing that, we have to do some things that makes our guys uncomfortable, like work every single second of every single minute out there.”
Johnson spread the credit around for the Crushers’ initial victory.
“Coach (Mike) Quinn is amazing at helping me out, being able to see things that I don’t see because I’m focused on a different aspect of the game,” said Johnson. “It really was a team win today. And I’m happy about that.”
Vintage looked confident right from the opening tip and scored the first four points of the game on a layup by Max Phipps and a reverse layup by Imani Lopez, who led all scorers with 14 points.
“The confidence is something that I see every day in practice, but we have to learn how to convert it over to the game,” Johnson said.
The Crushers opened with a very energetic 2-1-2 zone defense and challenged the Patriots all over the floor, causing several turnovers early. A long 3-point shot by Abrahan Cortes extended the Vintage lead to 9-4. But Pioneer pulled to within a point at the end of the opening quarter, 11-10, largely on inside shots by big man Akash Vasisht.
Early in the second quarter, Pioneer took its only lead of the game on two Vasisht free throws. That seemed to light a fire under the Crushers. After a David Fernandez 3-pointer, Vintage began to show its speed with a barrage of fast-break baskets, capped off by a left-handed slam by Lopez that brought the crowd to its feet with 1:16 left in the half. Lopez’s 10 points led Vintage as they left the court with a
29-19 halftime lead.
“Imani is a great player and has a lot of talent and a lot of gifts,” Johnson said, “We’re working day by day to make him even better.”
In the third quarter, Vintage found early success with its running game as Lopez converted on a nice feed by Damian Alfaro. Then it was Lopez’s turn to assist as he set up Cortes for another fast-break basket. Fernandez was the next to lay home a bucket on another great feed, this time from Phipps, to make it 39-23 Vintage. The teams took turns scoring before leaving the court as the end of three with the Crushers in control 43-26.
“We are a very smart team,” Johnson said. “I feel like we can run a lot because we can handle it. Playing intelligently, making good decisions about who to pass to, and finishing were strong points for us today.”
Pioneer looked gassed in the fourth quarter as Vintage continued to speed up and down the court. The Patriots did not score until after the 5:00 mark, and the Vintage reserves looked sharp as they pressed the advantage. Fernandez hit a long 3-pointer followed by another trifecta from Davis Chandler. Chandler soared for an impressive tip-in on the next trip down the court to make lead 61-37. The final horn finally bailed out Pioneer, with Vintage and Coach Johnson notching their first win.
Johnson attributed the fact that every player on his team scored to unselfishness.
“These guys like each other and get along very well,” he said, “and it’s a great atmosphere in the locker room every day. I trust every player on this team.”
Jared Rendon had nine points for Vintage, Phipps and Fernandez had eight apiece, Cortes and Chandler chipped in seven each, Hunter Gutierrez had six, Blake Murray scored five, Alfaro had two, and Jakob Bittner chipped in a free throw.
Vintage will face Vallejo – a 76-18 winner Friday over Delta – in the tournament’s fifth-place game. Tipoff is scheduled for 12 p.m. at Napa High.