Michele Massari (left) will welcome the Johnson Warriors and their courageous coach Jeanie Huizar (below, right) with open arms Tuesday night in Oak Park.
Massari is the Sacramento High School girls basketball coach, top-ranked in the region and heavy favorites to cruise to another Metro Conference championship. Huizar coaches Johnson, a school every bit as proud as Sacramento but also a place without a basketball tradition, or a feeder program, or any girls who have played on off-season travel teams, the foundation for elite programs across the country.
Massari is many things - feisty, driven, loud, proud - and she also understands class and empathy. Her deeply talented Dragons face a Warriors team heavy on desire but thin on numbers, height, quickness - and even thinner on basketball experience. Some players are still learning the game - how to play it, how to dribble, drive, shoot, defend. Huizar often coaches solo and practices solo. The elite programs, by contrast, have an army of coaches working with skilled players.
Florin crushed Johnson 105-2 on Thursday, the Warriors' 46th consecutive Metro loss. The Warriors are 1-62 in the last four seasons under three coaches. Huizar is in her second season, determined to teach the game, to show that school and sports can indeed go hand-in-hand.
The big loss Thursday to Florin came two nights after Florin trailed 29-0 to Sac High out of the gates in a battle of Bee Top 4 teams. Sac High won that contest 66-31. So Sacramento could conceivably beat Johnson....even worse than Florin?
No chance. Tuesday's Sac-Johnson affair won't be nearly as bad as the Florin-Johnson outcome, Massari said.
Massari said her team will not score 100 points. After a certain point, the Dragons will not full-court press, will not trap to the point of absolute destruction, will not race to the basket on steals. This isn't to suggest the Dragons won't compete - they always compete - but rather they will attack in different ways.
"We'll definitely run the shot clock down, take outside shots, and we won't score on fastbreak layups," Massari said. "We'll get a maximum offensive effort by passing the ball. We'll play hard but it will be modified and it won't be insulting to Johnson."
Huizar said she has been moved by the support and compassion of Massari, who called her after the Florin loss to offer encouragement. Huizar said she wants teams to compete against her club and that if foes suddenly put their hands down, then it's really an insult.
What's more, the coaches talked about impacting young lives beyond wins and losses. Both coaches have taken their teams to Sacramento State women's games, to expose them to the college view, and they chatted at length.
"I had a great talk with her," Massari said. "Told her that she affecting lives with her effort and attitude more than she can imagine, the lessons she teaches go beyond anything on the floor.
"I know I've been blessed with great coaches here and great talent, but what she's doing is just as important."
Huizar, a championship coach at the lower levels at McClatchy, said Johnson "feels like home" and that her players "feel like family."
"Coach Massari said if I ever wanted to join her staff, I could," Huizar said. "That's so nice. But I can't leave these girls. We're going to learn and get better."
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