Brandon Walker ’07 vividly recalls attending an O’Dowd men’s basketball playoff game held at Laney College in February 2003. Walker arrived early so he could sit as close the court as possible to get a good look at Dragon superstar Johnnie Bryant ’03 in action. Sitting in a packed gym, with fans cheering wildly, Walker, in 8th grade at the time, dreamed of the day when he would wear the black and gold and represent O’Dowd like Bryant.
What struck Walker on a much more profound level, though, was the alumni devotion to and support of the Dragon hoops program.
After the game, as Walker hung out by head varsity coach Lou Richie, he noticed dozens of people coming up to greet Richie and the players. “I knew these people weren’t parents or other coaches, so I asked Lou who they were,” Walker recalled.
Richie told Walker they were alums, and quickly rattled off their graduation years and athletic and professional accomplishments. “At that moment, I realized O’Dowd basketball was a family and I wanted to earn my way into that family,” he said.
Walker was one of several former players who reflected on the school’s hoops legacy at the O’Dowd Basketball Celebration 2017, held on campus on September 2.
Close to 300 people attended the event celebrating the 66-year history of basketball at O’Dowd including Director of Player Personnel for the Dallas Mavericks Tony Ronzone ’83, Director of Global Basketball Sports Marketing for Adidas Chris Rivers ’86, Head Athletic Trainer for the Los Angeles Clippers Jasen Powell ’90, former Dallas Cowboy Eric Bjornson ’90, Associate Head Coach for the University of Montana Men’s Basketball Team Chris Cobb ’05, and Bryant, who is currently an assistant Coach for the Utah Jazz. Newly drafted Memphis Grizzly Ivan Rabb ’15 and former NBA player/current Los Angeles Lakers Associate Head Coach Brian Shaw ’83 also attended.
Attendees, including current and former players from the 1950s to the present, family and friends, had the opportunity to walk through the decades in the “Dragon Museum,” filled with vintage team photos, uniforms and historical memorabilia, and watch “Decades of Dragons,” a short video chronicling basketball at O’Dowd from 1951 to the present. Former O’Dowd basketball coach Mike Phelps was also on hand and honored for his contributions to the basketball program.
“Coming together to celebrate our basketball history allowed us to pause and remember. Understanding the linkage between the past and present is not just useful, it is a profound reminder that today’s players and coaches stand on the shoulders of those who came before them and will provide the foundation for the accomplishments of those who will follow,” Richie said.
Former O’Dowd player, coach and teacher Kevin Donahue ’63 talked about how O’Dowd has been a consistent Bay Area basketball powerhouse dating from school’s inception in 1951. “O’Dowd went undefeated in league play in 1956. What made that so memorable was that O’Dowd was a start-up school at that time, going against schools like St. Mary’s, St. Elizabeth and St. Joe’s which had been established for years,” he said.
Donahue said O’Dowd’s continued success is due to a combination of great coaching, great athletes and a strong tradition.
Women’s hoops star Jamilla Churchill ’95, who went on to play basketball at UC Berkeley, talked about how her Dragon Pride evolved into a personal sense of pride – pride in herself as a woman, pride in her work ethic, and pride in her character. “Of course my parents set the foundation for the concept of pride, but O’Dowd did a great job of fostering it,” she said. “And that sense of pride continues today. I see the same seeds planted in me as a 13-year-old in current O’Dowd students.”
Added Walker, “For me, being part of the Dragon family meant accountability, motivation and inspiration. I knew at any given moment I had people like Chris Cobb, Tim Kees (Class of 2005) and Jamil Muchell (Class of 2003) looking at me with high expectations to represent, as well as younger people looking up to me. That always motivated me and drove me to take the extra step, go the extra mile and work as hard as I possibly could.”
O’Dowd Basketball Celebration Committee chairpersons included Lou Richie ’89, Hillary Kigar, Cathy McFann, Mike Bowler and Zachary Hile. Committee members included Grantland Bailey ’75, Mike Bannister, Tracey Broadhead Frith ’85, Lisa Brue ’85, Jamilla Churchill ’95, Kevin Donahue ’63, Shannon Donahue ’95, Tony Freccero ’96, Sara Lillevand ’86, Geoffrey Pete ’69, Laurie Bjornson Slez ’88 and Mike Waldrip ’81.
A delicious catered lunch was provided by Tami Rabb of DeVaughn’s Cajun Kitchen.
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