42-0: Roseville's Cooley Middle School basketball team completes a two-year unbeaten run

By: Bill Poindexter/Roseville Press Tribune Sports Editor
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Darvin Beaman is a P.E. teacher and has been a boys basketball coach in some capacity since arriving at Cooley Middle School in Roseville in 2001. He has coached good teams and average teams.

And then it happened.

“It’s just one of those things where they all came together. They’re all here at one time,” a relaxed Beaman said as the sound of bouncing basketballs echoed off the walls of the school gym. “It doesn’t happen very often.”

Bouncing those balls and shooting baskets, everything from simple layups to half-court launches, some snapping the net and others crashing off the rim, were the Cooley Cobras. By watching them play around – chatting, yelling, laughing, teasing, casting three-pointers and generally just being kids – the average person pulled off Prairie Woods Way and led into the gym would never have guessed this fun young bunch was a few days removed from finishing an undefeated run over two seasons:

42 wins, 0 losses.

‘We just kept winning’
Cooley had a 19-0 record at the seventh-grade level and was 23-0 this season. That included ruling the Foothill Intermediate Schools Athletic League and winning several tournaments.

Blowouts by 20 points and more were the rule, and there were some close shaves for these kids who are not yet old enough to – like 42-37 and 36-29 victories over Granite Oaks of Rocklin in the league finale and the Sutter Christmas Classic semifinals, and a 60-52 nod over Sutter in the championship of its tournament on its gym floor.

“Without a doubt our toughest competition. A few close games, but it could have gone the other way really easy,” Beaman said. “We just kept on winning.”
Cooley played just four home games. Still, the buzz about the unbeaten Cobras began to crescendo as the end of the season neared.

“The last couple of games, we had a lot of people come because it was like, ‘Can they do it?’ ” assistant coach Roland Soriano said. “The kids knew it.”

Cooley’s fab five
Beaman admits he was dealt a perfect hand. The core group consisted of 11 players, and the team changed just a little this season, including one player who didn’t make the team last season but gave it another try. All of the players received minutes in most of the games, Beaman said.

Within that core was a tall, talented and intelligent starting five, as described by Beaman:

* Point guard Noah Blackwell (5-foot-11): “That’s his natural position. Any other team, Noah’s one of the biggest guys on the team, ‘so you gotta play inside.’ But he didn’t have to, so he can play in position.”

Beaman said Blackwell has an excellent outside shot, can penetrate and plays “tremendous” defense. He had 32 points and 10 assists in a game against Granite Oaks.

“That game was without a doubt the best game out of his two years in terms of doing what we needed him to do to survive,” Beaman said, laughing.

* Shooting guard D.J. Ryan (5-5): “If it wasn’t for Noah, he’d probably be the point guard, but he made a really perfect off guard because he was our three-point shooter. He was the outside force.”

Ryan helped save the streak after Blackwell scored 13 points in the first quarter of the Sutter Christmas Classic championship.

“They were trying to press us, and we were so good at breaking the press Noah just went off and started scoring off their press,” Beaman said.

The host team switched to a box-and-one defense on Blackwell and took a one-point lead in the fourth quarter.

The Cobras adjusted. Ryan made seven three-pointers and scored 24 points. Cooley made its free throws at the end and won by eight.

* Small forward Bryce Crouch (5-10): “My 3 is a guy that can hit the mid-range shot, can drive, fight for rebounds, true jump shot, tough guy that will run through a wall for the team.”

* Power forward Max Modeste (6 feet): “My 4 is a little taller, another tough kid, rebounder.”

* Center Nick Aibuedefe (6-4): “Our starting 5 is someone who can run the floor, score inside, move the ball around. He’s a tall, perfect center for middle school. He can dribble the court if he needed to.”

Beaman added, “It’s a perfect scenario of the positions you need to have a fun team.”

Team has a bond
Beaman noted that the players “really get along well together.” They eat lunch together, hang out on the weekends and are strong academically.

“They never have arguments, which makes it kind of a unique perspective,” he said. “They compete with each other, and they’re really intense, but they don’t get to the point where they’re arguing and yelling and criticizing each other.”

Beaman and Soriano also applauded the support of the players’ parents – no given in this day and age. Cooley had a booster club, sold candy and held potlucks.

Cobras being kids
Gather the kids at practice, and it immediately turns into a cut-up session.

Navin Kuppamala is spelling his last name – “K-u-p-p” – and his teammates laugh.

“Being undefeated, we’re on top of the world,” he says smoothly and with conviction, and his teammates laugh.

“Having a top player like LeBron James over here,” Kuppamala says, nodding toward Blackwell, “it’s great to play with him.”

His teammates laugh again.

The Cobras have a team comedian, a team priest and a team eater. Deep-voiced Carson Miller is the priest.

“I like to give the team a little prayer before every game. We’re united as a team,” he says. “We are brothers.”

His teammates laugh again.

It’s learned that Fouad El-Chemali’s record is two lunches, though he can eat three “and maybe Nick,” Crouch says, though it’s unclear whether he means teammates Nick Espino or the big center Aibuedefe.

“They made me stop,” El-Chemali says.

“He ran out of money,” Crouch says.

And they laugh again.

With their 42-0 record forever a part of Cooley history, the Cobras will move on next fall – many to Roseville High School, some to Woodcreek and maybe Oakmont.

Beaman noted a touch of sadness at that reality.

”Possibly, this team no longer will play together,” he said. “So, they’ve kind of seen their days together.”

Unbeatable days.