Gavin Wilburn continued to rise even at a low point in his young basketball career.
His sophomore season at Weston Ranch was cut short by academic ineligibility, removing the most important piece of a young-but-talented roster.
It didn’t completely derail the Cougars’ season, however — they finished as runners-up in the Valley Oak League, reached the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinals and put a scare into top-seeded Santa Cruz in the first round of the CIF State Northern California Regional Championships.
Watching it all unfold was torturous for Wilburn, but he remained busy.
“I was still preparing in practice, trying to help the team get better,” he said. “But watching and not being able to play was motivation for me to come out strong for the next season.”
He and the Cougars did come back stronger for 2018-19, even with their top scorer, Makhi Turner, transferring out of state. Coach Chris Teevan lauds Wilburn for his emotional maturation and growth as a leader.
The multi-faceted Wilburn was the anchor to Weston Ranch’s best campaign in school history, which says a lot considering its past success, and he’s the Manteca Bulletin All-Area MVP.
“We wanted to show that no matter who we’re playing and where we’re playing, we’re coming,” Wilburn.
Weston Ranch has certainly arrived as an elite team in the state, and with most of its core players returning next year the Cougars won’t take anyone by surprise after claiming their second Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title and getting invited to the CIF Open Division playoffs.
Teevan believes he has a team of stars, but stars that don’t try to outshine the others. Wilburn has managed to make a name for himself on this squad of interchangeable parts, earning All-Valley Oak League MVP honors as well as selections on various All-NorCal and All-State teams.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder can play and guard at any position — Teevan likens Wilburn to Golden State Warrior Draymond Green for his all-around talent and ability to affect a game without taking shots. He averaged 11.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks in the regular season.
“Growing up, I was just taught to play defense, get the rebound and push the ball up,” Wilburn said. “I can start the offense and take the shot if I need to. It doesn’t affect me if I don’t take a shot, as long as we win.”
The Cougars did plenty of winning in their 31-2 campaign. They strung together a 30-game winning streak that included road wins over NorCal powers such as San Leandro and Grant and tournament titles in the McDonald’s Classic and Modesto Christian’s Holiday Hoop Classic. The MC tourney, hailed as one of the toughest in Northern California, ended with Weston Ranch’s 60-47 victory against Campolindo,
which eventually claimed the CIF State Division II championship. Wilburn was named MVP.
“We knew we could play with anybody,” Wilburn said. “Winning the MC tournament was like saying, ‘This is us. This is Weston Ranch. Don’t sleep on us no more.’”
The Cougars did have a few hiccups en route to the VOL and section titles. They followed up their attention-grabbing conquest of the Holiday Hoop Classic with a less-than-stellar 51-37 league-opening win at Kimball. They were then tested by reigning VOL champion Central Catholic at home 61-56, nearly upset by Manteca, 78-76.
“Our confidence was high when we were on the win streak,” Wilburn said. “In league, we weren’t always playing as hard as we did against some of the big-name teams. We got off track as our school was getting recognized. Coach Teevan humbled us and made us run in practice. He reminded us we still have a lot to accomplish and we had to keep our heads together.”
Weston Ranch blew out the competition in the SJS playoffs, winning by an average margin of 22 points against Center three league rivals Sierra, Manteca, Central Catholic. The Cougars mauled Central 67-42 in the title game, and Wilburn contributed 14 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
The next day, they got what they had publicly lobbied for all season — a spot in the state’s premier Open Division bracket.
“That’s where all the big names are,” Wilburn said.
Their season ended in Concord at a school nationally recognized for its football program. Third-seeded De La Salle used a 24-4 run to jump out to a big first-half lead, but fended off a furious comeback charge from the Cougars to prevail, 46-42.
“We wanted to play teams like Sheldon, MC and Salesian,” Wilburn said. “It didn’t go that way for us, but we’ll be there next year.”