St. John's Boys' Basketball team etched themselves on the memory of every fan and on the boys' basketball banner at Liu Court by winning the SPC championship for the first time in 32 years.
St. John’s girls championships have been common place--including 4 from last year alone-- but boys’ titles have been scarce. To find a boys’ basketball championship one would have to go back to the archives over three decades ago to 1979. Back then, current assistant coach Ricky Winslow, the father of Josh Winslow (’11) and Justise Winslow (’14), was in 8th grade and had set his sights on playing for Yates High School. Thirty two years ago, Head Maverick Boys’ Basketball Coach Harold Baber was just 4 years old. When he took the reigns of the program 5 years ago, he moved the team progressively up in the final standings each year, moving from 18th to 13th to 4th and eventually to 3rd last year, well aware that even 2nd place wouldn’t change a thing on the boys’ basketball banner. St. John’s boys’ basketball won titles in ‘53, ‘64, and ‘79. There was still plenty of space to the right for more championship patches.
“We talked about it all the time,” said Baber. “We played the toughest schedule ever and we believed if we could take care of the little things (defense, rebounding, and assists), ‘11 would go to the right of ’79 on the banner.”
Taking care of the little things, even holding their own against Yates during one memorable game, led them to face Episcopal in the SPC Finals on Liu Court. Episcopal had eleven on their minds as well, in more ways than one. In order to add ’11 to their ’95 and ’96 championships, they would have to pay close attention to St. John’s’ #11, Josh Winslow, and his younger brother #42 Justise.
With overflow seating behind the benches and both ends of the court filled up with St. John’s scarlet and black and Episcopal blue, the competition wasn’t limited to the players. The Mavericks (South 3rd seed) and Knights (South 2nd seed) had knocked off the higher seeded All Saints and Holland Hall respectively to make it an all-Houston final. The teams had met on Liu Court earlier, on January 21st when the Mavericks prevailed by 5 on Senior night. This time, St. John’s was the visiting team wearing black in their own gym. They sat on the visiting bench, and when the first quarter was almost half gone, St. John’s was playing like Episcopal had the home court advantage.
The hot hand of Ken Williams, propelled the Knights to a 10-0 lead. The 3-pointers that had gone in on Friday for St. John’s clanked off the rim, and St. John’s had only a free throw by Justise and a put back from Josh to show for themselves. Down 17-3, with Episcopal’s fans commanding the stands and their players ruling the court, Tim Otey (’11) got the Mavericks moving in the right direction with a three pointer. Josh scrapped for another rebound tip-in and St. John’s trailed 21-13 at the end of the first.
St. John’s built this season on their defense, and during the break, Baber reminded his guys to start focusing on what got them there. They needed to force Williams to look for other options. “21 points is too much,” Baber barked at his guys. “It's all about making stops.”
EHS continued to find ways to score, staying ahead 24-13, but Josh Winslow got a steal and Risher Randall (’14) converted to avoid another Knight run with 6:43 remaining in the period. Otey started to find his groove and made his second three followed by Richard Bilger’s (’11) three to pull the Mavericks within 7. Once again defense and hustle on rebounds led to Maverick points and slowed down the Knight’s attack. The half ended after Kory Haywood (’13) made two free throws followed by Justise Winslow’s buzzer beater and Episcopal’s lead and fanfare was a 1 point margin.
St. John's outscored Episcopal 26 -13 in the third, holding Williams to 2 points to take a commanding 60-48 lead going into the final 8 minutes. With the St. John’s student body backing their players, Mavericks kept up their intensity on defense, but the Knights cut it to a 6 point lead (62-56) with 3:47 remaining. During the ensuing time out, Baber reminded the team to “stay aggressive and play Maverick basketball.”
With a 1 point 65-64 lead, Baber put the towel to his head. Episcopal had a chance to go back up on the next possession but only made 1 of their free throws and the game was tied. Josh Winslow put the Mavericks up 67-65, and on the next play, Williams ran the court, was fouled, and swished both shots to tie it up.
26.9 seconds remained on the clock when the Mavericks put the ball in Justise Winslow’s hands on the in-bounds pass. #42 dribbled to the top of the key, and with 6 seconds on the clock drove the paint going up to the basket along with the entire Episcopal team. #11, down low and to the right was left wide open for the game winning lay up as time expired.
‘It happened just like the coaches drew it up. When Justise drove to the basket someone would be open on the baseline. I was there,” said Josh. “We have been working on this for 4 years.”
Before the ball hit the floor the Maverick fans swarmed Liu Court to celebrate a boys’ championship, 32 years in the making. They had finally put another year to the right of ’79. It was a banner changing shot, made by #11, a player to whom Episcopal should have paid a little more attention.
So history finally repeated itself, and the Mavericks have another boys’ basketball championship. But more than just taking home the hardware, the 2010-11 Maverick team etched themselves on the memory of every fan at Liu Court on Saturday. “It should be noted that we never played before a crowd like the one hand for Saturday’s game,” said Brock Hudson (’79), a member of the last championship team. “I am happy for SJS to be able to put a 2011 patch next to the lonely 1979 placeholder on the big basketball championship banner in the gym.”
Sam Chambers - Athletic News