Trio of SF teams have high hopes in NCS Division V playoffs 

click to enlarge Armani Collins
  • ERic sun/S.F. Examiner file photo
  • Armani Collins and Stuart Hall are the third seed in the NCS Division V playoffs and play Chinese Christian tonight.
It makes sense that the North Coast Section Division V prep boys’ basketball playoffs will kick off with a tripleheader at Kezar Pavilion featuring Stuart Hall, University and Urban today.

The three San Francisco teams have been memorably battling each other all season, so it seems fitting for the teams to begin their respective playoff quests in the same building.

Competing in the Bay Counties League West — a collection of small, private schools — the triumvirate split each of their regular-season games against each other, and other than Stuart Hall’s 79-48 shellacking of Urban on Jan. 8, all of the contests were decided by single digits.

Stuart Hall and University topped the BCL West with 8-2 marks in the regular season, with Urban coming in third at 7-3. In the inaugural edition of the league playoffs, Stuart Hall topped University 72-66 to take the postseason crown.

With league play over, the three squads have their sights set on the bigger stakes of the NCS tournament. The top two teams automatically advance to the Northern California Division V playoffs.

“Our league is represented very well here,” University coach Randy Bessolo said. “I think we have a chance, along with Urban and Stuart Hall, to really make some noise.”

University, the No. 4 seed in the 14-team tournament, will kick off the evening at Kezar at 5 p.m. with a first-round game against Bay School, another San Francisco team that is seeded 13th. At 6:30 p.m., seventh-seeded Urban will face Redwood Christian and at 8 p.m., Stuart Hall, the No. 3 seed, will play Chinese Christian.

Stuart Hall is the top-seeded Division V team playing today, with traditional powers Branson of Ross and St. Joseph’s of Alameda receiving first-round byes.

“I think right now, St. Joseph’s is the clear favorite,” Stuart Hall coach Charles Johnson said. “But this is Division V basketball — really anything can happen. We have a supertalented team here with a lot of nice parts, so we’re going to go out and compete. Our motto all season has been toughness and togetherness, and if we stick with that in the playoffs, the sky is the limit for this group.”

Stuart Hall, which features a Division I talent in 6-foot-4 junior swingman Armani Collins, has squared off against Branson and St. Joseph’s this season, losing both games. Johnson missed Stuart Hall’s 53-36 loss to St. Joseph’s on New Year’s Eve, the first time in 14 years of coaching he was absent from the bench.

University hasn’t faced either of the top two seeds this season, but the Red Knights defeated Branson in last year’s NCS Division V semifinals before falling to St. Joseph’s in the finals. Senior sharpshooter Jack Gale is the catalyst for the Red Devils, who have advanced to NorCals in each of the past four seasons.

“Although we’re a young team, we have guys like Jack who have been here before,” Bessolo said. “They know the urgency that comes with the situation. At this point, it’s win, or the season is over.”

Urban, features a strong inside game led by 6-6 sophomore big man Andre Campbell Jr. Coached by former St. Ignatius and Boise State star Joe Skiffer, the Blues have lost just three games since their Jan. 8 loss to Stuart Hall — two contests to University and a defeat at the buzzer to Lick-Wilmerding.

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Will Reisman

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