Road to the State Championship: Irish guards allow SHC to reach higher level

When Sacred Heart's rotation of guards (from left) DeOndre Otis, Herman Pratt, Tyler Petroni and Khalil James. (Photos by Eric Luis and Doug Ko, illustration by Josh Jalil)

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a weeklong series of stories on the Sacred Heart Cathedral boys basketball team leading up to Saturday’s state championship game.

By Jeremy Balan

Sacred Heart Cathedral head boys basketball coach Darrell Barbour has said it so many times this season — when the guards are on, the Irish play at another level.

Everyone expects big games out of standout senior forwards Taylor Johns and Joshua Fox, but the Irish are at their best when their main rotation of four guards — juniors Khalil James and Herman Pratt, senior Tyler Petroni, and sophomore DeOndre Otis — are firing at all cylinders.

All four players are multidimensional, but they gravitate to specific roles and thrive in them.

The shooter: Tyler Petroni

Like so many outside shooters, Petroni is streaky.

Through much of the season, the 6-foot-1 shooting guard has been off, but his best games have been in the postseason, most notably against Center in the Division III Northern California regional quarterfinals, where he led the Irish with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the floor.

On that night and against Miramonte in the prior round, when he hit 4-of-6 shots from 3-point range, early success got Petroni on a roll.

“For him it opens up a whole can of worms,” Barbour said about Petroni hitting early shots. “He’s good enough to take the ball to the basket and people just assume that he can only catch and shoot, but he’s more than that.”

His value and impact is not only about putting the ball through the net, but about the way opposing teams play defense on the Irish. When the outside shots are falling, Johns and Fox can capitalize inside, without the burden of a collapsing defense.

“A lot of times when we pass it into the post, teams try to cheat,” Petroni said. “All of us make sure we can hit that shot to keep them honest.”

The big-game ball-handler: Khalil James

James played on the varsity squad as a sophomore, but when last season’s starting point guard Zach Tapel was knocked out of commission with a football injury, the wiry junior was thrust into the starting lineup.

“I was looking forward to playing a lot this season and playing together with Zach,” James said. “After I heard he got hurt, I knew I had to step it up.”

He added strength in the offseason and with early experience, has directed the Irish offense skillfully in some of the most important games of the season. At 5-foot-8, he’s far from intimidating, but plays fearlessly, sometimes driving into the lane against players nearly a foot taller.

His nickname, “Big-game James” has suited him well this season, but in the biggest game of the season to date against Bishop O’Dowd in the NorCal championship game on Saturday, he was hampered with foul trouble throughout.

The fine line for James is playing aggressively, but not out of control, to avoid a repeat performance against Alemany, watching from the bench.

“I didn’t like sitting on the bench, watching my teammates play their hearts out,” James said. “It was difficult, because I wanted to be out there with them.”

The energizer: Herman Pratt

Barbour has tried his best to get Pratt to play at varying speeds, but that’s part of the beauty of his game.

He never takes his foot of the gas pedal.

Pratts statistics don’t jump out in every game, but his impact defensively is immeasurable. In so many games this season, he has guarded the best player on the floor, regardless of position or size. In practice, he doesn’t shy away from guarding Fox or Johns, both several inches taller than him, with plenty of physicality.

Again on Saturday he will be asked to guard Alemany’s best player, 6-foot-4 Nevada-bound small forward Marqueze Coleman, who is averaging 21.5 points per game this season.

“With Herman, it’s not an issue of how tall the other guy is,” Barbour said. “He’s tough enough to guard guys in the post. Right now, the plan is to have him on No. 1 (Coleman). I don’t know guys’ name, we just know them by numbers.”

He wears his defensive responsibilities as a badge of honor, but he will also make an impact on the offensive end, be it a key rebound or a series of cold-blooded 3s.

“I’m mostly a defensive player, but coach Barbour wants me to take some of that aggressiveness to the offensive side too,” Pratt said.

The young backup: DeOndre Otis

Otis wanted to play varsity this season as a sophomore. He could have been “The Man” on junior varsity, but took the challenge to play with the big boys.

Still, at times he looks very much like a sophomore, playing an accelerated game when the Irish want him to make calm and sound decisions.

He has played solid minutes all season, but was pushed to play more that normal in the NorCal title game due to James’ foul trouble. He responded with one of the biggest shots of his career, a 3-pointer just before the third-quarter buzzer extend the Irish lead to 46-40.

“That was a momentum shift and it helped his psyche,” Barbour said. “He has pressed at times this season. He’s not afraid to take those shots, but what’s important for him is getting into the flow of the game. It’s not easy coming off the bench.”

Otis, like Pratt and James, also represent the future – a future he hopes will include a return to the state’s greatest stage.

“It was big to be in the game, because some really good players don’t get to do something like that as a 10th-grader,” Otis said. “I did it and now I have two years to do it again.”

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  1. Basketball Fan says:

    The different personalities and strengths of these young men are reflected in the article with the common thread of working for the team’s success woven throughout it. They are fun to watch as their energy and focus are brought to each and every game. It has been a pleasure to see how they have grown as players and have taken the challenge to step it up for the team and run with it. I am looking forward to seeing what each of these young men bring to next year’s team.
    Thanks jbalan for a great article about players who come out and do the work that is asked of them, and get it done!

  2. Keep it real says:

    Jb you have been on point all week!!! Good Job to all of these young man!!! They have played the game the right way and do what’s ask from their Coach!!!! I call them the coach able 4!!!! And all Good students!!!! Good luck to all of them Saturday!!! If they play good I think we have a very good shot to win this!!!! Let’s go SHC gut check time!!!! I love when they say that!!!

  3. Nate says:

    Great story on 4 great young men!! The best thing that i notice is that the guys are humbled and happy to be a part of a team. They are clearly not the stars, but they ALL play pivitol roles in the teams success. I have seen Khalil grow into a big game player. DO, been knowing him since a “pup”!! I knew good things would come from him!! Herman, one word for this guy “HUSTLE”!! What coach would’nt want this young man? I have to say it, ” And he doesnt make 1st or 2nd team all league”!! Yea, I’m still on that!! Tyler, does what coaches tell shooters to do. SHOOT!!! More importantly, these guys are winners in the classroom!!! Good Luck guys this weekend!!

  4. merkinworld says:

    JB thanks for this week’s coverage of the sh basketball team. All great articles. Good luck to SH on Saturday. I’ll be there. I must say the Bishop Alemany boys basketball website is unbelievable. It is a separate link away from the rest of the school’s site. It includes a contact for college recruiting. But the games are played on the floor. Win or lose great season for SH.

  5. AAAplayer says:

    I unfortunately did not get a chance to see SH play, and wont see the championship game. What AAA guards are some of these four most similar to.
    good luck Irish!

    • JJ says:

      Khalil James plays like Mizelle Parker. D.O. Plays like Justin Smith. Petroni is like Burnoski, and Pratt plays like Ares Brown.

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