By Marcus Henderson
In the season opener, the San Quentin Kings senior basketball team mounted a spectacular comeback to defeat the visiting Bitterman in overtime, 76-73.
The Kings overcame a 16-point deficit with the solid play of Kings’ new recruits Damon Cooke, center, and Julio Saca, guard. Cooke hit clutch free-throws in the final minutes of overtime to ice the game. Saca put up 21 points by going hard to the basket, creating his own shots and getting fouled in the process.
The March 18 game highlighted both teams’ new talents and their will to win.
“I expect to win,” Cooke said, “and bring a sense of camaraderie to the team through fellowship, friendship and fun.”
Saca added, “I’ve seemed to fit in right where they needed somebody. We need to keep our turnovers down, but it makes you feel great to play teams from the outside.”
The Bitterman dominated from the opening tip and rained down a whopping 13 three-pointers to end the first half.
In the first quarter, Bitterman newcomers set the stage with forward Sunny Margate making three three-pointers. Guard Greg Tang knocked down two threes and made two mid-range jump shots. Margate closed the quarter with a buzzer-beater three for the 21-16 lead.
“I played pro (professional) in the Philippines,” Margate said. “This is a great opportunity. It’s a different feeling; I went to sleep late, but I woke up for this.”
Margate scored 17 points, including a four-point play late in the third. He was fouled by the Kings’ Saca, falling to the ground and nailing the three. Tang had 15 points for the game.
“These guys are in good shape,” Tang said. “It was a little intimidating driving up here. But getting on the court and making my first shot, I got comfortable. It’s just playing ball with regular cats, just in another environment.”
The Bitterman veterans extended their lead in the second quarter by draining more threes by Ted Saltveit and Aidan Coffino. Damian Cosby cleaned up the boards by grabbing rebounds and putting them back up for the scores. The Bitterman ended the half, 46-30.
At halftime the teams formed a circle at center court for inspirational speeches and prayers. The incarcerated men and the guests expressed the joy of starting the season and what it means to interact as a community.
To start the third, it was straight down to business for the Kings; 6-foot-2 point guard Oris “Pep” Williams took over. He made a three and was fouled while hitting a mid-range jumper. He knocked down the free-throw, bringing the Kings within 10 points. Bitterman’s Saltveit responded by making a three-pointer to stop the run, but the rest of his team went cold.
“We had to grind this game out,” said Ishmael Freelon, Kings’ assistant coach. “They started to miss their shots, but we are going to be good.” He added, “We got some work to do.”
“It’s just playing ball with regular cats, just in another environment.”
In the fourth quarter, the Kings’ D. “Zayd” Nicholson grabbed three rebounds for put-back scores to cut the lead by two, 72-70.
With a minute left the Bitterman tried to run out the clock, forcing the Kings to foul. The Bitterman failed to convert the free-throws, leaving the Kings with six seconds left. The Bitterman’s overly aggressive defense fouled Williams shooting a three. Williams missed the first free-throw but sank the last two to send the game into overtime.
“Our new guys brought energy — I was impressed with that,” said Orlando “Duck” Harris, Kings’ head coach. “Defensively we have to get better. But overall I was satisfied with everyone’s effort.”