A promise was kept on a historic night at Columbia College.
Amid the postseason joy of the Las Positas men’s basketball team’s 62-53 win at Columbia College, freshman big man Jordahn Johnson sought the embrace of his coach. Right there in the visiting locker room of Oak Pavillion, he went up to head coach James Giacomazzi and said three words.
“He came and gave me a hug,” Giacomazzi recalled. “He said, ‘I told you.’”
This promise dates back to the off-season of 2021. Giacomazzi was recruiting the 6-foot-8 forward out of Weston Ranch High in Mountain House. He was the 54th ranked player in California and was still undecided about his future. But he was certain of one thing: if he chose to play for Las Positas, the Hawks would be going to the state tournament.
Johnson delivered by scoring 26 points and hauling in 18 total rebounds on the road Saturday, March 5. He went 13-for-16 from the field, using his physical presence to outmaneuver the frontline of Columbia, led by the Claim Jumper’s 6-8 center Noel Alexander.
As a result of Johnson’s sixth game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, the Hawks (27-3) have advanced to the California Community College Athletic Association state championship bracket. This is the first time in the history of the program the Hawks (27-3) have made it to the Elite Eight, which features the final four teams from NorCal and the final four from SoCal.
Las Positas, the No. 4 seed in NorCal, has never been this far before. The next opponent is West Los Angeles, the No. 1 seed in SoCal, on Friday, March 11 at West Hills College in Lemoore. West LA, also 27-3 overall, is riding a 19-game winning streak. And the only team to beat the Hawks since their season-opener is San Francisco City, which is the top seed in NorCal.
“He’s an absolute animal,” Giacomazzi said of Johnson. He is as strong as an ox. “I just love his confidence.”
Sophomore guard Dathan Satchell had 14 points. Sophomore point guard Lee Jones Jr. was the only other Hawk to score in double figures. He missed all four of his shots from the field and committed half of Las Positas’ 10 turnovers. But Jones went 10-for-10 on free throws to go with his four assists, four rebounds and two steals.
Giacomazzi leaned heavily on his starting unit against Columbia. The four reserves who saw action combined for just two points on five shots.
In Tuesday’s win over Porterville in the second round, the Hawks made 12 three-pointers, nine in the first half. But this game, they only took nine attempts from deep. It was indicative of their mindset. They were intent on pounding the Claim Jumpers inside.
Columbia was up for the challenge in the first half as the teams traded mini spurts. The home team led 36-33 at the break. But Las Positas came out after halftime with a run that turned the tide of the game. It was punctuated by timely 3-pointers from Satchell, drastically shifting the momentum.
But the Hawks didn’t need to much offense because their defense locked down in the second half. Columbia managed just 17 points in the last 20 minutes. Giacommazzi’s defensive scheme was to play straight up in the first half and then turn up the pressure in the second. It worked like a charm. The Hawks held off on the pressure in the first half and turned up the dial in the second.
“Being able to sustain that type of energy for 40 minutes was difficult,” Giacommazzi said. “But I knew for 20 that we’d be in good shape.”
It worked. Fittingly, too, as the defense has been a strength all year with two Hawks selected to the Coast Conference All-Defense team. One was forward Malik Jackson. Of course the other was Johnson. He had a promise to keep.
Staff writer Taylour Sparkman contributed to this article.