By Jeremy Balan
Joshua Fox didn’t play very much as a junior varsity call-up on the Sacred Heart Cathedral varsity boys basketball team that won the Division III state championship in 2009.
He didn’t have to. It was just a step in “The Plan.”
Before Taylor Johns transferred in from Eastside Prep, Sacred Heart head coach Darrell Barbour tagged four freshman as the future of the program that season and put all of them on the junior varsity team.
It was predicted by many that the 2009 team would win the state title, but Barbour was already grooming Fox, Zach Tapel, Gione Edwards and Jeivon Parker for another championship in 2012.
“The Plan” didn’t work out perfectly for Tapel (who was injured playing football in his senior season), Edwards (who transferred to Mission) or Parker (who eventually stopped playing basketball to focus on football), but Fox’s path was unabated.
Barbour called up Edwards, Fox and Tapel after the junior varsity season was complete to join Josh’s brother Conrad, a junior, on the varsity team for its postseason run.
Josh, much shorter and skinnier than he stands now at 6-foot-5, viewed the varsity players as larger than life, specifically monstrous center Kevin Greene and standout forward Jerry Brown. Even now, although he was a member of the team when they took down Ocean View in the state championship game, he refers to the team as “they,” as if he is still an outsider.
“They were just huge,” Josh said. “The speed was different, they were more physical and their talent was just off the chart. I still look up to them. They were my superstars.”
Brown, a 6-foot-7 wing player, is now playing at Fresno State where he averaged 8.8 points per game this season, while Greene is on a football scholarship at USC, where he is listed as a 6-foot-4, 260-pound defensive end.
Greene likely wasn’t as bulky as a senior at Sacred Heart, but Josh quickly got a taste of how powerful he was. In his first practice with the team, Josh was paired with Greene in a drill where he had to take a charge.
“He was so huge and when he ran me over, I just saw stars,” Josh said.
What Josh didn’t know then, and still doesn’t know now (until this article is published), is that Conrad and the other non-freshman teammates orchestrated the lopsided matchup. Josh was around 150 pounds when he faced off against Greene, but did not back down.
“He was a stick back then and when Kevin hit him, he just flew,” Conrad said laughing. “He just stood there and took it.”
Josh, who had played up on Conrad’s teams since second grade because he was just bigger than everyone else at his age level, relished the opportunity to play with his brother again, but knew he would get plenty of abuse. Conrad was proud of his little brother, but did his best not to show it.
Now, he doesn’t shy away from praising his brother and tries to make every one of Josh’s games, just in case he goes off to play college ball out of state.
“Deep down I always want him to do well,” Conrad said. “I was excited for him, but I didn’t want to show him. I used to pick on him in practice. Now, I’m really happy for him. He’s worked really hard for it. I love watching him play and it makes me really proud.”
The brotherly ribbing hasn’t stopped and Conrad still makes sure Josh notices that his name was mistakenly left off the state championship plaque, but now Josh sends back barbs of his own.
Conrad separated his shoulder in the second round of the state tournament against Enterprise, when he went up for a block and got his arm stuck in the rim. Josh likes to joke that deserves the championship ring more than his older brother, because Conrad wasn’t in uniform for the last two legs of the tournament.
As much as they joke, Conrad was more than concerned when Josh went down in the first quarter of the West Catholic Athletic League championship game against Mitty and didn’t return until three games later, in the Central Coast Section title game. The injury appeared to be an ankle sprain, but on-site trainers did not rule out a potential break. Josh still says his ankle isn’t at 100 percent, but in the flow of a game, he doesn’t notice it.
“It scared me, because at first it looked like a sprained ankle, but when he first went back in he couldn’t even walk on it,” Conrad said. “If he could play, he would play. He wouldn’t show that it hurt him on the floor like that. I didn’t want that to happen in his senior year. At least when I got hurt, I was a junior.”
As good as this season’s team is, it cannot match the talent and athleticism of the 2009 squad. Conrad, the sixth man as a junior on the team, played at Sonoma State before transferring to Chabot College and all five starters have played college sports.
“We could go 10-deep with no problem,” Conrad said.
Point guard Daryl Cooper played on the City College basketball team that won a Community College state championship in 2011, shooting guard Karl Reyes is playing basketball at Dominican University and small forward Nate Gartrell played junior college baseball in Arizona before returning to play basketball at Skyline College this season.
“They had more depth and more talent, but this team has chemistry,” Barbour said. “Not that the team before had bad chemistry, they were just so good. With the injuries that we’ve had, the chemistry has allowed for us to be better than our overall talent. That’s the way the game is supposed to be played.”
The chemistry has a lot to do with Josh, who can play nearly every position on the floor, exhibits a deadly mid-range game and has shown a knack for hitting 3s when defenders play off of him.
Early in his career, however, and even last season, Barbour felt he needed to be more selfish.
“Josh was unselfish to a fault,” Barbour said. “I took him out a lot last year to tell him he needed to shoot more and be more aggressive. Sometimes a bad shot for him is better than a good shot for someone else. We’re better when he shoots. Good players need to understand that and he had a hard time adjusting to that.”
The urging from Barbour allowed Josh to develop into the team’s leading scorer, with the confidence to take clutch shots like he did on a buzzer-beating 3 against Mitty to send their final regular-season meeting into overtime.
“Right now, I’m just confident in myself and I think I can make everything,” Josh said.
Barbour also praises his footwork, which the coach says is better than many college players in the area, and Division I recruiters are starting to take notice.
UC Riverside has offered a scholarship to Josh and Johns as a combo and the college’s coaches came to watch the pair practice this week. Louisiana-Monroe is also interested in a package deal, while Columbia and Cornell have inquired about Josh, a 3.7 GPA student.
But it wasn’t always that way. Like Johns, Josh was under-recruited for most of his time in high school, a process Barbour takes issue with as a former college assistant coach and recruiter at Weber State and Eastern Washington.
“These experts in college, what are they watching?” Barbour said. “They’ll look around and may be interested, but not to the point where they offer [a scholarship]. Then as soon as they get offered by someone else — and don’t let it be in their conference — then they really go crazy. It’s not rocket science. These guys make it harder than it really is.”
One college program will get a very good basketball player (or two) next season, but like so many athletes before him and like so many will do after, the doubters continue to drive Josh.
“People said I couldn’t shoot, so this summer I stayed in the gym and kept shooting,” Josh said. “Supposedly, we’re not supposed to win [against Alemany], but we weren’t supposed to win the Bishop O’Dowd game either. I use it all as motivation.”