People on the sidelines often criticize San Quentin Warriors head coach Rafael Cuevas, but his team played like a well-oiled machine in a 98-84 victory over the visiting Imago Dei basketball squad.
“When Bear told me I was going to get this job, I really didn’t know what that meant,” Cuevas, who played point guard under former Warriors coach Daniel “Bear” Wright, said. “This whole prison wants me to win every game.”
The victory improved the Warriors’ record to 8 wins and 8 losses in a season with more roster changes than a county jail.
Cuevas believes that what happens on Saturdays between visiting community members and incarcerated folks on the court is bigger than basketball. He includes as many players as possible in the opportunity to meet outside people, develop social skills and the bonds that happen through the Prison Sports Ministry program.
For the Aug. 26 game against Imago Dei, two new players suited up: Maurice Shillings and Chris “TC” Parker, which made 15 Warriors that played against six Imago Dei players. Some on the yard believe Cuevas should focus on winning by playing the best 12.
“You have 3,000 people whose basketball theories don’t necessarily align with mine,” Cuevas said.
The Warriors struggled with Imago this year, going 1-3 against them. In a previous game, Imago Brett “BC” Collins went unstopped, scoring 34 points with 13 rebounds.
Collins, who at 6 foot 4 inches and 240 pounds is built like a statue of a Greek god and jumps like “Birdman” Anderson, played for St. Mary’s in his college days. For this game, the Warriors double and triple teamed every time he received the ball in the paint. They held him to 10 points, nine rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
“We kept on boxing him out, keeping him off the boards,” Harry “ATL” Smith, the Warriors’ premier center who used to play for San Francisco State, said. “I respect his game—he’s a beast. We practiced for him all week.”
In the first quarter, Warriors forward Anthony “Half-man, Half-Amazing” Ammons, a lefty known for getting to the rack and rebounding, shocked Imago Dei when he nailed two jumpers.
“When did you develop a jump shot?” Imago sponsor Tony Thomas asked Ammons.
Ammons played weeks of one-on-one games where he focused on his jump shot instead of his strengths.
“I was feeling good today,” Ammons said. “My team trusted me with the ball and coach said ‘Shoot the jumper.’”
Imago Dei’s Teohn Conner responded to the Warriors’ intensity. Conner, who played for several ABA Bay Area basketball teams and trains kids to play b-ball for a living, has dropped over 30 points in all three games he played at San Quentin, including this game. He scored 31 with eight rebounds, two assists and three steals.
The first quarter ended with the score tied at 27 but after the second quarter, the Warriors were up 59-45.
“We put our differences aside for a common goal,” Ammons said. “We played a complete game together.”
At halftime, Thomas gave a short talk about how well Danny Cox, a former San Quentin resident and Warrior, is doing in society.
“Danny is living an awesome life on the outside because he put his faith in the Lord,” Thomas said. “There’s a peace that comes with trusting the Lord no matter what.”
Warriors’ veteran shooting guard Allan McIntosh shared his story. He was sentenced to life under the three-strikes law for possession of a firearm and has been incarcerated 21 years.
“I walked off these 21 years because of God,” McIntosh said. “I don’t stress anymore. My time will come when God’s ready for me.”
In the third quarter, the Warriors continued to dominate. Smith increased the lead to 67-52 when he stole the ball and went coast-to-coast for the uncontested dunk. The third quarter ended with the Warriors up 79-62.
In the fourth quarter, Imago made a push. Conner sat on the bench resting a sore ankle, while his team got to within 9 after Jon Williams, who played for New Mexico in his college days, made a behind-the-back pass in the paint to teammate Tre Maudlin. Maudlin completed the play with a layup that made the score 88-79 with 3:39 left in regulation.
Conner went back in the game and made an And-one play. With 2 minutes and 50 seconds on the clock, Imago was down six points, at 88-82.
With 1:37 on the clock, Imago fouled Montrell “Mad Defense” Vines to stop the clock with the score at 90-84. Vines missed both free-throws, but Ammons snatched the rebound.
Warriors shooting guard Jessie “JD” Frazee ended Imago’s chances of a comeback by scoring 8 points in the final 1:30. He made four clutch free throws, hit a short-range jumper and made a layup.
“We had a chance,” Maudlin said. “The Warriors hit a lot of tough shots.”
Maudlin finished with 27 points, including five three-pointers, living up to his name Tre.
Frazee dropped 10 points, making the fifth Warriors to score in the double digits. Smith led the Warriors with 18, followed by Ammons with 16, Delvon Adams with 14 and McIntosh with 12 points.
“I know I have to show up—if I don’t show up, we don’t win,” Smith said. “Going forward, this is a big momentum game. San Quentin will beat Golden State [WARRIORS] by five.”
He was only three points off. San Quentin won 93-85 Sept. 5.
PPI’s “Correctional Control: Incarceration and Supervision by State” is the first report to aggregate data on all types of correctional control nationwide.