Salesian beats Mater Dei to complete Northern California sweep in top two divisions of Cali Live 2024 (video)

Yale-bound Alvin Loving explodes for 25 as Pride hold off the Monarchs and state's winningest coach Gary McKnight
Salesian captured the Cali Live 24 boys basketball Pool 3-4 championship Sunday with an impressive 73-64 win over 11-time state champion Mater Dei
Salesian captured the Cali Live 24 boys basketball Pool 3-4 championship Sunday with an impressive 73-64 win over 11-time state champion Mater Dei / Photo: Todd Shurtleff

ROSEVILLE, CALIFORNIA — Salesian boys basketball coach Bill Mellis was marveling at Mater Dei’s Gary McKnight, the state’s winningest high school coach. 

“How many wins does he have?” Mellis asked. 

According to Cal-Hi Sports, the number is 1,272, almost 200 more than No. 2 Mike LeDuc of Damien at 1,074. Mellis, who just finished his 25th season with his third Northern California title, has about half of McKnight at 641. 

“Wow,” Mellis said. “That’s just crazy. Nobody is catching him.” 

Yeah coach, but for at least one game on the last day of June, the Pride and Mellis got the better of McKnight and the Monarchs. 

Loving, an incoming senior, committed to Yale two weeks ago to play college basketball.
Salesian's Alvin Loving (66) did most of his damage scoring,, not passing, but he did a bit of everything in Sunday's 73-64 win over Mater Dei. / Photo: Todd Shurtleff

It was for only the Pool 3-4 championship of the Cali Live 24 event at the massive and pristine Roebbelen Center, but Salesian gutted out a highly entertaining 73-64 victory behind 25 points from rugged 6-foot-4 Yale-bound Alvin Loving, who bombed in four 3-pointers, to go along with seven rebounds and four steals. 

Elias Obernyah added 15 points to help offset some terrific play by Luke Barnett (23 points) and inside work of Blake Davidson (15 points, eight rebounds) and Brannon Martinsen (14 points). 

The game drew loads of attention even with 11 other games being played simultaneously around the warehouse, including dozens of the 167 college coaches who were able to make contact with players during the last live week of the NCAA season. 

The Monarchs and Pride didn’t disappoint, with physical play, crisp passing, impeccable fundamentals and footwork and big boy battles on the boards. 

“This is what you want from a summer league game, or any game honestly,” Mellis said. “Win or lose, these types of games make you better. Our team has come together faster than we expected. We’re just trying to get better and keep building on it.” 

The Pride just finished up with a brilliant 31-2 season that finished up with a 50-45 loss to Harvard-Westlake in the CIF State Open Division championship. 

McKnight has more than 1,200 wins and 11 state titles in his career.
California's winningest coach, Mater Dei's Gary McKnight signals for a timeout with Salesian's Bill Mellis in the background during the Pride's 73-64 victory Sunday at Cali Live 24. / Photo: Todd Shurtleff

They lost six seniors off that squad, including Hawaii bound point guard and All-State performer Aaron Hunkin-Claytor. Not one of them, senior or underclassmen, averaged in double-digit scoring as the Pride were recognized as one of the most unselfish and smart teams in NorCal history. 

Boasting a 3.56 team grade point average, they won the North Coast Section scholastic award for boys basketball teams for the first time. 

Loving, a future Ivy Leaguer, epitomizes the team’s smarts and skills. The four-year starter started a bit cold making just 3 of his first 10 shots. But he heated up in the second half and finished 10 of 17 from the floor. 

“Shooter’s mentality,” Mellis said. “Alvin owns it, but I think all of our guys do.” 

The bigger mentality is simply playing large. Without a player taller than 6-foot-5, Mater Dei definitely owned the size advantage with 6-9 Davidson and 6-8 Martinsen, the state’s No. 9 senior recruit according to 247Sports. 

Martinesen finished with 14 points on Sunday
Mater Dei's Brannon Martinsen has eight college offers including Cal, Iowa and Creighton. / Photo: Todd Shurtleff

“We’re not real tall so we gotta crash harder and jump higher,” said Loving, who had never played against Mater Dei or McKnight, who  has led the Monarchs to 11 state titles along with 16 regional, 24 sectional and 39 league crowns in the last 41 years. “They were really good and big, but we hustled so their size didn’t mean as much.”  

This was the second straight year Salesian won the Cali Live event, last year beating Harvard-Westlake in the finals. Of course, H-W got sweet revenge in the state finals. 

“We lost a lot of players (from last year), but I think this will give us confidence to at least win NorCals again,” Loving said. 

Salesian opened with wins over Santa Margarita-Rancho Santa Margarita (67-43), Windward-Los Angeles (63-20) and St. Joseph-Santa Maria (67-61) before Sunday’s game. 

Like the regular season, the wealth was spread around beautifully with the likes of 6-5 Carlton Perrilliat, Ronnie Selleaze, Braylon Franklin, Asante Johnson, Elijah Stanley and 6-5 Leon Powe Jr., the son of former Oakland Tech, Cal and NBA standout by the same name.  

The roster is long and deep. 

They’ll likely need all of them to fend off Riordan, which they beat twice last season including the NorCal Open final. Riordan won the top division Sunday in Pool 1-2 over another Southern California power, Damien. 

“It was a good day for the NorCal teams, but everyone is just trying to get a little better,” Mellis said. “Playing the caliber of teams we did, I feel we definitely did that.”

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Mitch Stephens