Mission Rec provided Irish good foundation 

As Oscar Jimenez watched the tape of Sacred Heart Cathedral’s dramatic 67-66 comeback win over Sacramento for the NorCal Division III girls’ basketball title, he was hardly surprised.

After all, Jimenez is the director of the girls’ basketball program at Mission Rec, the Harrison Street gym that gave many of The City’s top players their foundation for success. So while the screen showed Lauren Bell, Jazmine Jackson, Ki-Ki Moore and Tierra Rogers coming up with big plays down the stretch for the Irish, Jimenez just sat back and enjoyed a show he had seen firsthand from the bench plenty of times before.

"I remember in the sixth grade, they were down at halftime by 18 points three different times and won all three — including one in the regional semifinals," Jimenez said. "They’re just a real special group that doesn’t know how to quit. I’m never surprised with what they accomplish."

Monique Calvello and Kamilah Jackson are other key Sacred Heart players who got their start as fourth-graders at Mission Rec. Jimenez started the girls’ AAU program in 1996 with one team and 12 players and Mission Rec has since expanded to 10 teams and 120 girls, with more than 200 trying out each year to join the Rebels.

"At the time we started, there weren’t a lot of options for girls who wanted to play competitive basketball," Jimenez said. "And we work them hard. We don’t treat them like girls — we treat them like athletes."

The Mission Rec philosophy (much like Sacred Heart’s) is based on full-court defensive intensity and a willingness to share the ball on offense. And with so much talent on the court, the competition can be fierce.

"It’s very intense over there — there are some great players and you know you have to work hard," Rogers said. "And I learned so much from coach Jimenez. He doesn’t teach the flashy stuff, we work on fundamentals and defense."

This background in basketball basics, along with a long-established comfort and familiarity with both the up-tempo style and one another’s personalities, has provided the chemistry for the Irish players to accomplish special things as preps.

Sacred Heart (31-2) made history with its unbeaten run through the West Catholic Athletic League this season and will play Bishop Amat of La Puente for its second straight state title in the Division III final Saturday at 1 p.m. at Sacramento’s Arco Arena.

"We know each other and our games so well at this point, everything just comes naturally," Jazmine Jackson said. "We’ve been playing this way, with each other, since fourth grade."

Toni Russell and Tessa Moon were the first players from Mission Rec to play for Sacred Heart in the late 1990s and Irish coach Brian Harrigan has always admired the way Jimenez runs the program. Three more talented players — Tamisha Miller, Gina Giovannetti and Danica Lugtu plan to enroll at Sacred Heart this fall.

"Oscar does a great job over there," Harrigan said. "When he started, there weren’t a lot of places like that for girls to play and the fact the girls have been playing together for years and have that solid background obviously helps a lot."

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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