"Calvin Douglas is one of the five best point guards in Northern California," he proclaimed loudly enough for Douglas to hear it. "I truly believe it."
The 6-foot 3-inch Antioch senior scored only 17 points, six less than his season average, but made the tough plays down the stretch to help the Panthers improve to 9-5 overall, 3-1 in BVAL play.
Douglas, a role player on last year's team, made a tough rebound bucket, a determined driving layup and two free throws in the final minutes, all in the fourth quarter, to help the Panthers fight off the pesky Pirates, who forced 29 turnovers with tenacious full-court pressure.
"The dude is a tough player and competitor," Pittsburg's leading scorer Charles Barnes said of Douglas. "He knows how to get to the rim and finish."
Douglas always knew he could finish; he just needed to be given the green light by Woolery, who knows a thing about the collegiate level. The former player and assistant coach at Santa Clara University took over for Drew Torres, who left last spring to be closer to his family and home at Freedom High. Torres had turned around the Panthers and is considered one of the best young coaches in the East Bay.
"We were devastated when Drew left," Douglas said. "We had big plans. But we were lucky to get a coach in return like (Woolery). He immediately gave me a green light to score. He showed great confidence in me."
Douglas earned it by working diligently on his game during the summer, especially his ball skills, to become the team's point guard. Long, agile, strong and fluid, Douglas jumped out of the gates by scoring at least 20 in Antioch's first 11 games.
He recorded a high game of 34 in a tough 75-73 loss to St. Elizabeth (Oakland), 29 against Jordan (San Francisco) and three games of 28. He's also averaging 6.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.4 steals per game.
Opponents have taken advantage of an ankle injury to 6-8 post player Tim Williams
(who has signed a letter of intent to St. Mary's) and sent waves of defenders at Douglas, whose numbers have dwindled somewhat in league play. "It's been tough, but it's only going to make me a better player," Douglas said.
According to Woolery, Douglas is "extremely easy to coach, and very competitive. He wants to get better and make his team better and doesn't care if he gets the points as long as we get the victory."
The Panthers prevailed over Pittsburg despite committing 29 turnovers and missing 18 free throws (23 of 41). They made up for it with a lot of grit. Williams led the way with 19 points and Emmanuel Bradford added 11.
Charles Barnes, a rugged 6-2, 205- pound senior, led Pittsburg with 12 points and 14 rebounds. Steven Sullivan, a 5-9 junior sharpshooter, contributed 11 points, and D'Marcus Frost, a long 6-6 senior post player, added 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Antioch took its first lead, 28-25, on a three-point play by Douglas with 7:06 left in the third quarter. After Williams hit two free throws, Pittsburg's Joe Simpson converted a free throw, a fast-break layup, and Frost powered in a deuce to tie the game at 30.
But Antioch responded with an 8-0 run, keyed by put-backs by Ver'Ron Busby and Douglas, and a nifty reverse layup by Bradford. The Panthers would never trail again, though Pittsburg made several runs.
"(Pittsburg) comes at you hard and they don't let up," Douglas said. "We made a lot of turnovers and mistakes but made some good adjustments at halftime. This was a big win and gave us a lot of confidence after losing to De La Salle."
Antioch dropped a decisive 68-43 game to De La Salle (Concord), the state's No. 9 team, last week. The Panthers were really never in that one.
"We learned a lot from that loss," Douglas said. "Just like we'll learn from this game. We'll do a lot better against both teams next time."
Perhaps spent by the Pittsburg win, Antioch ran out of steam during a 50-40 loss the following night at Deer Valley, which outscored the Panthers 19-7 in the fourth quarter. The Wolverines (7-6, 1-2 BVAL) got a game-high 20 points from 5-11 guard Tyree Murray and 15 by 6-2 senior guard D'Angelo Williams.
Tim Williams and Douglas combined for 22 points for Antioch (9-6, 3-2), which hosts Ygnacio Valley tonight and travels to Heritage on Tuesday. Deer Valley hosts Heritage tonight and travels to Clayton Valley on Tuesday. All games tip off at 7 p.m.