Late tonight, the 1987 Manteca High boys basketball team will finally have some company.
Rivals Sierra and Weston Ranch are squaring off in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III finals starting at 9 p.m. at Sleep Train Arena. The winner becomes just the second boys team from a Manteca Unified school to seize a section banner.
“For a long time we were the only team from any of the (MUSD) high schools to win a section title in boys basketball and that was something we take a lot of pride in,” said Mike Henry, head coach of Manteca’s 1987 team. “I wish both Sierra and Weston Ranch well, and whoever wins we will welcome them as fellow section champions.”
Tonight marks the first time since 1987 that two Valley Oak League teams will tangle for a section title. Henry’s Buffaloes avenged their only two league losses by knocking off Livingston 43-38 in the Division II final.
“A lot of people were expecting Livingston to have our number,” Henry said. “Midway through the second half we took over and the game was never in jeopardy, even though we ended up with a five-point lead at the end.”
They went on to qualify for the Northern California tournament, where it fell to eventual champion DeAnza of El Sobrante 56-55 in the opening round at Modesto Junior College. It was a brutal first-round draw for Manteca. DeAnza was forced to start on the road after it was upset in the title round of the North Coast Section playoffs, but it was still considered to a heavy favorite in the NorCal tourney.
“De Anza was very good,” Henry said. “Their leading scorer broke his collarbone in their next game and they still won NorCal. We played a very good game to stay within one point of them.”
Manteca finished 24-7 overall and went 14-2 in a competitive VOL that included intra-city rival East Union as one of its chief challengers.
“There weren’t as many teams eligible to compete at sections as there is now,” Henry said. “East Union had a very good team but didn’t make sections because they were third in our league. We beat them in overtime at East Union and beat them by one at our place. They were just as good as us, or at least very close.”
It took a special group of athletes to accomplish what it did that season. Robert Vandepol went on to play football at Utah State, and Kevin Wentworth became an All-American golfer at Oklahoma State. Henry, though, insisted that this was a team with no stars.
Marshall Cannon was its leading scorer at 13.8 points per game. “They added a 3-point line the year after,” Henry said. “Marshall might have scored more points had they done it a year earlier.”
Chad Johnson, Vandepol and Wentworth averaged around 12 points, and John Gibson scored 9.9
“Very unselfish team,” Henry said. “They did not care who scored. There was no jealousy or anything. We had a very balanced scoring team and didn’t have a real star, but they played extremely well together.”
Coach Henry got to reunite with some of his players from the 1987 team on Jan. 23. David Burila and Wentworth organized an event to at Chez Shari to honor their coach.
“They did it as a tribute to me, which was really nice,” Henry said. “They just wanted to say thanks and razz me a little bit. But we had a really good rapport. It was a great group to coach because they were into the team, not into the individual stuff.”