By Jack Rux
Craig Ashmore thinks his Newark Memorial High boys basketball team may have won 10 straight Mission Valley Athletic League titles. The coach also thinks James Logan High might have been the last team other than his Cougars to win the league crown, but he is not quite sure.
It's actually nine straight titles for Newark Memorial, and it was Logan High in 2002 that captured the crown, the only time in the past 13 years Newark Memorial has not reigned in MVAL boys basketball.
Besides forgetting about failures, Ashmore also said “not remembering successes” is just as important to a team remaining strong.
“We always take it year to year,” the Newark Memorial coach said. The goal is always “to compete with the other teams in the league.”
Newark’s rivals around the MVAL, the North Coast Section, Northern California and the state sometimes wish they could forget about the Cougars’ history of success.
With four starters and seven players returning from last year’s 22-7 team that reached the NCS Division I semifinals, Newark may again a formidable foe in the playoffs.
But that’s well down the road. Newark is 4-2 after losing 60-40 to defending Division II state champion Archbishop Mitty of San Jose on Friday night and then edging Jesse Bethel of Vallejo 64-61 the next night.
The Cougars had a third-place place finish in the Gridley Invitational Tournament the previous weekend. The Cougars lost to 7-1 Jesuit of Carmichael 50-49 in the semifinals before topping St. Francis 54-47 for third place.
Leading the Newark team so far has been senior guard Casey Norris, a 6-foot-2 all-league performer who has been the Cougars’ leading scorer early on.
“He’s just doing great a great job,” Ashmore said. “He just got all-tournament at Gridley.”
The coach added, “We’ve had three sophomores who are playing really well.”
One, 6-6 forward Damien Banford, was also all-tournament at Gridley. The other two sophs are starting point guard Joey Frenchwood and 6-foot-8 Matthew Thomas, who comes off the bench.
Paramvir Singh, a 6-foot-3 senior forward, also starts as does senior Kenneth Jones, a second-year starter who is the third guard.
Singh was player of the game in the season-opening Tip Off Classic, a 74-58 win over Deer Valley in which Singh scored 15 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.
Ashmore is in his 21st season as Newark’s coach and the Cougars are known for flustering foes with a full-court press. The coach goes nine-to-10 players deep in his rotation.
“This time of the year, especially with the style we play, you have to play a lot of people,” the Cougars coach said.
Senior Yusuf Farouqi is a good spot-up shooter and was the leading scorer in one of Newark’s early games with 15 points, hitting five 3-pointers.
“He defends, and he’s a tough kid,” Ashmore said. “He took three charges in the game against Jesuit.”
Taking charges holds a valued place in the veteran coach’s heart. In Ashmore's “plus-points” system of evaluating players, taking a charge earns a player three points, diving for a ball two points.
Otherwise a player receives one point for each shot made (including free throws), rebound, assist and steal with a point taken away for each missed shot, turnover or foul. A player’s game with more than four plus points is considered exceptional.
The one starter from the 2010-11 team who graduated, forward Kendall Andrews, averaged 10.2 plus-points a game, more than twice as many as any teammate. He was the Cougars' leading scorer (17.4 ppg) and rebounder (9.0 rpg), so he will be missed.
Two juniors, 5-11 Sultan Siddiq and 6-2 DeVaun Turner, also come off the bench to help the Cougars come at opponents in waves.
A former point guard, Ashmore came out of San Jose’s Independence High in the 1980s and went to Cal State Hayward where he was a part of an Elite Eight NCAA Division II team that went 32-2. He began coaching while still in school and got his opportunity as a head coach at Newark within a couple of years of graduating.
The 2009-10 and 1999-2000 teams are especially memorable to Ashmore, both winning Northern California championships to reach the state championship game.
Khion Sankey was the leader of the 32-1 2009-10 team. Marquin Chandler, who is still playing professionally overseas after playing at George Washington University and San Jose State, was a leading player on the 1999-2000 team.
That team was in Division II. Newark has been in Division I since, but the 2,200-student school returns to Division II this year.