Justin Graham reigned in the Trans-Valley League as a player over a decade ago.
He’s back at the top, but now as a coach.
The 2006 Ripon High graduate is the link between two three-peat championship runs for his alma mater. He served as an assistant to longtime head coach Rod Wright the past two years, and this winter Graham spearheaded the Indians to their 10th overall league title. He was named the TVL’s Coach of the Year.
Graham is also two-time All-TVL MVP, a distinction he shares with Vincent Olmo. The 6-foot-9 senior center gets the league’s top award for a second straight season, while Ripon Christian’s Cade Alger was voted Most Outstanding Player. Ripon girls standout Reina Sausedo also received the Most Outstanding honor.
“It’s pretty cool how things have come full circle,” Graham said. “Getting the award as a player was fun but it’s very different as a coach. It might even be more rewarding.”
Ripon (11-1 TVL, 19-13 overall) clinched the outright championship in its final regular-season contest, beating rival Ripon Christian, 69-60. It was part of a torrid 10-game winning streak that was sparked after losing its first showdown with the second-place Knights (10-2, 20-11).
Graham attributed Ripon’s late-season surge to Olmo, a once “timid” gentle giant who has transformed into a “monster.”
“I’ve been back at Ripon coaching for three years and he’s the only guy I’ve had as a player for all three years,” Graham said. “We talk to the kids about getting better every day and he has done that. As a sophomore he was a real timid big kid who didn’t want to shoot much.
“He made a big jump his junior year and asserted himself a little bit, showing what someone his size can do. This year he was just a monster out there.”
Olmo notched 19 double-doubles in 30 games, averaging 16.6 points, 12 rebounds and 2.7 blocks.
“He was the obvious choice for MVP,” Graham said. “He was a presence on both ends of the court.”
Three of his Indians teammates were named to the All-TVL first team: versatile senior Baz Cheema (9.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists), junior guard Troy Brogan (10 points, 6.0 rebounds) and junior guard Nico Ilardi (7.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists).
Alger immediately took over as Ripon Christian’s top gun after a late start to the season; the multi-talented 6-8 athlete was starting quarterback for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI runner-up Knights football team. On the hardwood, he recorded 18.0 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks per game.
Ripon Christian sophomore guard Will Gilbert (11.4 point, 3.2 rebounds) is a first-team selection. Knights teammates Jacob Van Groningen and Brock Nunes got honorable mention along with Ripon’s Adam Wood.
Five players from the Ripon (10-2, 20-8) and Ripon Christian girls teams made all-league with the ultra-productive Sausedo leading the charge. The 2018 MVP was the unanimous pick for Most Outstanding Player. MVP goes to the league champion, an honor that went to Livingston’s Annie Winton (27.1 points).
Sausedo finished second to Winton in scoring average (19.3 points) but was the league leader in steals, assists and blocks. She was also fourth in rebounds at 8.2 per outing, impressive for a 5-5 guard.
Overall, the junior averaged 18.7 points, 7.4 rebounds. 3.1 assists, 4.8 steals and 1.6 blocks. Her scoring was down from 21.5 points per game as a sophomore, but she was asked to contribute more in other ways.
“I told her that if she wasn’t scoring you have to do something else to help the team win and she’s been doing that the last few years,” Ripon coach Rick Inderbitzin said. “She’s well deserving of Most Outstanding.”
Earning spots on the All-TVL team are Ripon’s two seniors, center Mia Van Lewen (6.5 points, 5.2 rebounds) and Rachel Sausedo (4.1 points, 2.9 assists, 2.1 steals), Reina’s older sister whom Inderbitzin called “the glue of our team.”
Junior point guard Morgan Van Elderen (14.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.1 steals) and senior Rilee Clark (9.6 points, 74 3-pointers) represent Ripon Christian (8-4, 18-10) on the all-league team.
Knights senior Taylor Anema and Ripon sophomore Sydney Thomason made honorable mention.