Dublin vs DVH 02-15-19 067.JPG

Former Dublin player Jaden Saunders (No. 5) is seen here in a game against Dougherty Valley High in 2019. (Photo - Doug Jorgensen)

The Las Positas College men’s basketball team has a hearty helping of former Dublin and Granada high school players.

The Hawks roster boasts ex-Matadors Jayden Johnston and Yatyn Anderson and ex-Gaels Malik Jackson and Jaden Saunders. All four have common goals of achieving success on the court and advancing to four-year programs. Las Positas coach James Giacomazzi is delighted to have them all on board, knowing the level of student-athlete and caliber of play in the East Bay Athletic League.

He thinks they’ll fit well with the up-tempo system, which has produced 100 total wins over the past five seasons.

“They are really good players and nice pieces to our puzzle," Giacomazzi said.

Las Positas players were energized on Feb. 4, the long-awaited first day of team conditioning in preparation, hopefully, for a modified season during COVID-19 times.

Clearly, the Dublin-Granada boys’ basketball rivalry was turned up a notch in the 2019 to 2020 season. The teams split close games, with the highly regarded Gaels prevailing 53-48 in the second round of league play after being stunned by the Matadors 55-53 in the first round.

Johnston, who played a key role in the EBAL upset of the Gaels, feels right at home with players from both schools. The blend is just right.

“We both had really good talent,” Johnston said of the two programs. “We all know each other and stuff. I went to elementary and middle school in Dublin, but I went to Granada for high school. Basically, I grew up with all the Dublin kids, so every time we played them, the games were like personal but fun too. Those are your friends, but you want to beat them, obviously.”

Anderson, another high school standout, is highly familiar with the Las Positas program after redshirting last year.

Jackson describes bringing the Gaels and Matadors together this season as “kind of cool, especially because we kind of had a little rivalry last year.”

The vibe at Las Positas has suited Jackson well.

“It’s great so far. The coaches are good. (Giacomazzi) wants the best for the players and he’s been working really hard trying to get us back in the gym,” Jackson said. “We’re starting conditioning, so that’s great. Everything’s been good so far. We’re just trying to keep everything moving forward and hopefully get a season.”

Saunders ran the point for Dublin last year as the straw that stirs the drink.

“It’s always been fun playing with Jaden,” Jackson said. “He’s a very unselfish player; he wants the best for his teammates. He’s a great leader too, so it been kind of good playing with Jaden.”

The Gaels enjoyed a memorable 2019 to 2020 season that ended with a heartbreaking 59-58 loss to top seed Sheldon in the semifinals of the California Interscholastic Federation Northern California Open Division championship. Jackson and Saunders both had strong performances, combining for 21 points.

The Las Positas program has deep ties with Dublin High. The Hawks were formerly headed by the beloved Tony Costello, the late older brother of current Dublin coach Tom Costello. The Hawks’ court was dedicated to Tony Costello in 2014.

Jackson worked his way up the roster at Dublin.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “(Costello) coached me to get better. He motivated me to get better.”

Las Positas players have had to prepare for 2021 in atypical ways. It’s like their whole basketball world has been shaken up from shutdowns due to the pandemic.

“It’s definitely taken a toll,” said Johnston, a second-team All-EBAL guard, “Especially the times when we couldn’t find any gym action. I’d have to go to the park every day. It was cold, and your hands are freezing and stuff, but it was like kind of a shock, because you’re used to doing the same thing every day in high school.

Johnston was a part of a unified group of hard-working players at Granada under head coach Quaran Johnson. Giacomazzi has told Johnston the Hawks will be doing a high-tempo system and pressing the full game, which the players like.

“That’s what I’m really good at, so hopefully, I can come in and make an impact on that,” Johnston said.