On Sept. 4, on the San Quentin Lower Yard, Asian Pacific Islanders held a holiday basketball tournament, this time for Labor Day. Three teams pitted their best players against each other, North Block, West Block and H-Unit, in five 36-minute games under sweltering heat and, at one point, rain. H-Unit, the returning champions from the Fourth of July competition, two-peated, winning 31-11.
“They may have won twice, but we three-peated,” said North Block’s Vi Chau.
North Block, who lost by two points to H-Unit in the previous Independence Day Championship game, returned to the finals but not with all their players. Ravin Jenkins moved from North Block to H-Unit, tipping the balance of power.
“The trade with Sleep (Jenkins) was big,” said Julio Saca of H-Unit. “We have the best all-around team in three years so I felt confident.”
Also, in the past competitions North Block won, no one had an answer for Damon “LA” Cooke’s size and skills, along with the height and hustle of Juan Meza and Upumoni Ama.
Then newcomer 6-foot-4 and 299 pounds Neil Prudente, who played for Panama City College in Florida, arrived at H-Unit just before Independence Day and H-Unit won the prized trophy called, “Becky with the Good Hair.” During a three week lockdown, Becky was lost during a search so H-Unit is creating a new trophy — “Becky with the Dreds.”
“North Block may have won twice, but we three-peated”
Meanwhile, West Block struggled from the gate and ended losing all its games in the Labor Day series.
“We were dysfunctional,” said West Block leading scorer Rafael Cuevas. “Our better players had to attend self-help groups.”
At halftime in the Labor Day Championship game, H-Unit took the lead 19-10. Gary from North Block said the deficit was because there was “no chemistry.”
Meza advised his team to “slow it down” as frustrations from players missing baskets began to build. However, the pep talk did little as H-Unit continued their streak of blocks and steals, while North Block kept missing buckets.
Jenkins felt a different vibe playing with H-Unit. Throughout the series, he had been bullied, blocked and had the ball stolen from him, but in the final game, he took it personally. “I had to start aggressive. I didn’t want to lose in another team tournament.”
Prudente, who was a beast in the last tournament, had an average showing this time. “I had to spread the ball around; it’s all about team effort,” Woods said.
Still Prudente’s presence kept Cooke from going crazy.
“This was my first time playing,” said Sagar Patel, another new arrival to San Quentin. “This is the most fun I’ve ever had. It helps us with unity, respect, sportsmanship and helps bring people together. I didn’t feel like I was in prison for a minute.”
–Contributed to this story: Rahsann Thomas