Never mind that the team the Cougars are facing a team that beat them by 20 in December.
Never mind that Archbishop Mitty of San Jose is ranked No. 16 in the nation by Max SuperPreps and No. 2 in California, and is the defending Division II state champion.
Never mind that the Monarchs are led by 6-foot-8 junior Aaron Gordon, the top-ranked high school junior in the nation.
The Cougars head into their showdown with Mitty intent on seizing the day on Saturday in the California International Federation Northern California Division II boys basketball final at Sacramento’s Power Balance Pavilion.
Newark (28-4) and Mitty (30-3) are scheduled to tip off about 4 p.m. in one of six finals scheduled Saturday in the home of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.
“Without a doubt, it’s a great challenge against a great team,” said Newark Memorial head coach Craig Ashmore. “But I like our players. I like our opportunity, and we’re highly motivated. We’re excited to play up there at Arco Arena/Power Balance Pavilion.”
The Cougars are one step from becoming the program’s third team since 2000 to advance to the state championship game.
The last hurdle to the state’s pinnacle game appears to be their largest by far. But Ashmore stopped short of calling it Mission Impossible.
Ashmore, however, did acknowledge much about Mitty and their star:
“They’ve got a lot of players around him. They got a future NBA player, and he’s 6-8, and he works hard. His brother Drew just put up 18 points and 13 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament (in New Mexico’s win Thursday over Long Beach State), and his dad (Ed) was a Division I player in college (San Diego State).
“With just him (Gordon), they are a very good team. But with the players they have around him, they’re a great team. They do everything extremely well, and they have a great coach (Tim Kennedy).”
But Ashmore added, “The great thing about basketball we don’t have to beat them 28 times. We just have to beat them once.”
Senior guard and MVAL MVP Casey Norris is Newark’s leader, but from game to game others have played key roles, including guard Joey Frenchwood, 6-foot-6 sophomore Damien Banford, Kenneth Jones, Sultan Siddiq and others.
Ditto for Mitty, only its leader is the elite prospect Gordon. Point guard Jack Biebel has come up big for the Monarchs, as has Neal Vranicar, a 6-foot-5 senior forward who can shoot the three as well as take it inside. Mitty, like Newark, applies defensive pressure all over the court.