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Basketball: James Logan coach’s long wait to state final is over

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UNION CITY — The picture sits behind a glass trophy case in the gym’s lobby. Thirty-two years ago this month, the boys basketball players in this faded photo led James Logan to the only state championship game in the program’s history.

Melvin Easley says he could have been with those guys. He watched the team before that season and figured he’d join it after moving from his father’s home in Illinois to live with his mother in Union City.

But it didn’t work out as Easley planned. He’d have to wait more than 30 years for a chance to win a state championship with Logan.

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A picture of James Logan’s 1984-85 boys basketball team that reached a state final is on display in the lobby of the school’s gym. Darren Sabedra/staff

The opportunity arrives Friday night as Logan, now coached by Easley, plays Southern California champion Roosevelt-Eastvale for the Division I state crown at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

“Full circle,” Easley said Monday while his players went through shooting drills.

The son of former NFL player and Oregon State All-American Mel Easley, the younger Easley ended up living with his paternal grandmother across the Bay rather than with his mom. Instead of playing basketball for Will Biggs at Logan, he ran track at Menlo-Atherton.

“I wanted to play here because I watched them practice,” said Easley, who moved as his dad was becoming the police chief of an Illinois township now known as University Park. “They were good.”

Easley, a gifted athlete who wrestled in college, has gone on to coach basketball at every youth level — elementary school, middle school, CYO, AAU.

Now in his third season as Logan’s head coach, he and his staff — Taras Busch and Busch’s sons, Chris and Matt — have molded a team that follows a creed they’ve stressed from Day 1. The Colts compete and never give in.

“You have to compete in this game, and we did it all year,” Easley said.

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Saturday, Logan rallied from a 13-point deficit in the third quarter to beat Palo Alto 65-61 in overtime for the Northern California Division I championship, matching the accomplishment of the program’s 1984-85 team.

A win Friday would give Logan (28-5) its first state title.

When the game ended Saturday, Easley made sure to deflect the credit often bestowed on head coaches.

“My coaching staff is resilient, just like my players,” Easley said. “They don’t give up. When I don’t have an idea, they always have an idea. I said this before. I have one of the best coaching staffs in Northern California. I say that because we are a team. We coach as a team. We play as a team. I want to say thank you coaches because what I don’t see they definitely see.”

James Logan coach Melvin Easley pleads with the refereee as his team plays Palo Alto in the second quarter during the Northern California Division I boys basketball championship game at Santa Clara University's Leavey Event Center Saturday, March 18, 2017, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group)
James Logan coach Melvin Easley pleads with the referee as his team plays Palo Alto in the second quarter during the Northern California Division I boys basketball championship game at Santa Clara University’s Leavey Center on Saturday. (Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group) 

The Colts have steadily progressed under Easley and his assistants, rising from 14 wins in their first season to 19 last year to 28 now.

Four players this season average double figures in scoring, led by senior guard Ryan Parilla (14.3). Noah Conner, another guard, averages 13.5 points and nearly four assists per game. Edra Luster, a 6-foot-9 center, pulls down an average of eight rebounds to go with 10 points per contest.

The players credit long and tiring workouts — running hills and beaches, lifting weights — through summer and fall for allowing them to persevere.

“All summer, all fall, we were grinding,” power forward James Colyer said. “No other school in Northern California was working as hard as us. I believe that. That’s why we’re in this position right now.”

On the eve of the Palo Alto game, Colyer reminded his teammates about everything they’d been through.

“This game has already been played with all the hard work that we’ve put in,” he said.

Logan faced a rigorous non-league schedule, losing to the likes of De La Salle, St. Patrick-St. Vincent and Mission-San Francisco and beating Oakland Tech. The Colts’ only loss in league play was to Moreau Catholic.

Moreau, Mission-San Francisco and St. Patrick-St. Vincent are playing for state championships this weekend. De La Salle won the North Coast Section Division I title and reached the semifinals of the NorCal Open Division playoffs.

“We had the hardest preseason schedule,” Easley said.

Logan fell short of winning a section championship, losing a close semifinal game at Dublin that still eats at Easley.

But the Colts bounced back with regional playoff wins over Modesto Christian, San Leandro, Heritage and Palo Alto to reach the brink of school history — a run that has surprised the player who led Logan with 21 points in the NorCal title game.

“To be honest, I’ve never seen myself in this position,” Parilla said. “It’s a blessing that we were able to fight and work to get to this stage. I am speechless.”

For more on high school sports, go here.

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