BY TREVOR HORN
THE NATOMAS BUZZ | @natomasbuzz
It was 19 years ago when Brian Hamilton won a section title as senior point guard for McClatchy High School.
Hamilton felt the same butterflies in his stomach as the second-year coach for Natomas High School when he walked back onto the court inside Sleep Train Arena on Saturday, March 8.
“It brought back a lot of memories,” Hamilton said. “I got chills as soon as I walked on the court with the bright lights. It was a great experience.”
All the nervousness fell aside as the Natomas High boys basketball team beat Encina High School 81-58 for the 2013-14 Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship.
Senior Jalen Manning led Natomas High with 19 points and was the catalyst for the Nighthawks 18-6 lead after the first quarter.
Playing just three miles from campus, the Nighthawks (20-8) brought a loud student section including band to the Sleep Train stands, and played like it was The Cage instead of the home court of the NBA Sacramento Kings.
It is the third section championship for Natomas High and the first since winning consecutive DIII titles in 1999-2000.
Hamilton also becomes the fourth coach in section history to win a section title as a coach and a player, but is the first as a non-alumni as a coach.
“(Athletic director Anthony) Agrella gave me the opportunity last year to come coach the team,” Hamilton said. “I just had nothing but high hopes for myself and the kids. Last year was tough. But the kids stuck with it and bought in.”
Tough might be an understatement. Natomas High won just five games in 2012-13. All coming in league play.
Senior Phillip Morgan, the Tri County Conference MVP, felt the relief to make such an impressive one-year turnaround.
Morgan sat on the stage in front of local media and Natomas Unified School District administrators and spoke about playing this final high school season with his younger brother, Jamey on the court together as champions.
“Just to be on the floor at (Sleep Train Arena) with my brother means so much to me,” Morgan said. “Even though we fight a lot.”
Manning led the Nighthawks with 19 points as six different players scored at least nine points. Most teams find it difficult to find a shooting touch playing in a large arena for the first time in a pressure-cooker situation for a section title. But the Nighthawks shot 51.7 percent (30-58) from the field, including 7-10 shooting from Manning.
“It felt great,” Manning said. “I’m just happy to help my team.”
Philip Morgan had 15 points and nine rebounds and freshman Mekhi Williams continued his torrid postseason with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Jermarrio Lollis scored 10 points and Artrell Smith and Jamey Morgan both chipped in with nine points.
“I thought the kids played well,” Hamilton said. “I thought they played hard. We had a lot of fun.”
The season does not end here for Natomas High, which has now won 11 consecutive games and 15 of the last 16. Natomas High will most likely get a three to four seed in the Northern California Regional Division IV bracket. A top-four seed will ensure the Nighthawks at least one home in the first round on March 12.
“When you get here you talk about doing something special,” Hamilton said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do. Do something special.”
PHOTOS BY JEREMIAH McWRIGHT