The message Monte Vista High boys basketball coach Nick Jones relayed to his players in practice Wednesday was simple: All three teams they will play to finish the regular season believe they can beat you.
"They're not intimidated by Monte Vista," Jones said.
Perhaps not, but the Mustangs -- in one of the most special seasons so far in the program's history -- should by now have everyone's respect.
Monte Vista improved to 22-1 overall and 10-1 in the East Bay Athletic League with a 49-46 victory over host De La Salle on Tuesday, giving the Mustangs control of their own destiny to capture their first league championship since 2008. With wins over Amador Valley on Friday, Granada on Tuesday and rival San Ramon Valley on Feb. 21, Monte Vista likely will be the No. 1 seed for the North Coast Section Division I playoffs.
Jones thought this could be a special season for Monte Vista back in the summer, when the Mustangs beat other quality teams at the Cal camp in Berkeley and the players sacrificed a lot of time on their summer vacations to hone their craft.
The work has helped the Mustangs become one of the more mentally tough teams in Northern California. In Tuesday's game when De La Salle started the second half on a 6-0 run to take a 34-33 lead, Monte Vista didn't flinch, responding with a 13-4 run of its own. The Mustangs never trailed again.
Seniors Trevor John, Brendan Pedley, Grant Jackson, Rishi Satoor and Spencer Rust have provided necessary leadership, but juniors such as Joseph Mileski, Stefan Mitu and Wilson LaShells also have played quality minutes in pressure situations.
"When De La Salle went on that 6-0 run to start the second half, we weathered it and did a really good job of absorbing the body blow and not getting knocked out," Jones said. "We were just mentally tough."
TEACHABLE MOMENTS: There are young high school varsity teams around the East Bay this season. Then there is the Berkeley girls team.
"We have seven freshmen on the varsity and two sophomores. We are learning how to go from playing middle school/AAU ball to elite high school basketball," Berkeley coach Cheryl Draper said. "It is a totally different game for them."
Draper is breaking down the game for the players with "lots of repetition," and the results have been encouraging for the Yellowjackets, who were 16-6 overall and 5-1 in the West Alameda County Conference-Foothill Division entering this week. Berkeley is quietly positioning itself for possibly another long postseason run.
"If our defense stays solid and we can start finishing some of those shots, we want to make a long run," she said. "Our goal is to get to the finals of the North Coast, and whatever happens after that is cream on the top for this group."
Desire Finnie, a senior who is headed to Pacific, leads the team in scoring. Jaiamoni Welch-Coleman, a junior, paces the team in minutes and assists, and senior Sierra Franklin is "right now the biggest leader of the team," Draper said.
But Berkeley also starts two freshmen in guard Shani Jones and forward Xinavane Forman, and two key players off the bench are freshman Maya Jacobs and sophomore Taki Brandon.
Draper said that key learning games for her team were the first two rounds of the West Coast Jamboree's Platinum Division in December. After an 86-49 loss to St. Mary's-Stockton on Dec. 27, the Yellowjackets lost by only five points the next day to Malcolm X. Shabazz-Newark (N.J.), which was then ranked among the top five teams in the nation by MaxPreps.
Hoops Documentary: Film screenings of "I Just Wanna Ball," a documentary directed by Robert "Fleetwood" Bowden about four members of the 2012-13 McClymonds girls basketball team, will take place Saturday and Sunday at the La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley.
Saturday's viewing starts at 4 p.m. and Sunday's at 7 p.m. Admission is $10. For more information on the documentary, visit http://ijustwannaball.com.
Staff writer Phil Jensen contributed to this notebook. Follow Curtis Pashelka on Twitter at twitter.com/CurtisPashelka.