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Hooper’s work on boards helps Desert Pines boys upend Eldorado

Desert Pines isn’t the biggest boys basketball team. But senior forward Thomas Hooper makes sure the Jaguars are competitive on the glass.

The 6-foot-4-inch Hooper grabbed 16 rebounds Thursday to help Desert Pines to an 83-70 home win over Eldorado.

“We knew they had a big team, and we just had to box out,” said Hooper, who also had a game-high 22 points. “I know how to get boards, and that’s what my team wanted me to do, crash the boards.”

Desert Pines (11-3, 6-2 Northeast League) took control late in the first quarter and led from there, pushing the lead to 39-28 at the half.

Eldorado (13-9, 4-5) made a run in the third quarter, cutting its deficit to five on a three-point play by Markeith Floyd with 4:56 to go in the quarter.

But Hooper quickly stopped the bleeding, getting a rebound basket on the other end, and the Jaguars quickly pushed the lead back to double figures.

“He’s our athlete,” Desert Pines coach Michael Uzan said. “He can do so much for us. He can get out on the wing, he can get on the glass. He can do a lot for us.”

Najee McIver got Desert Pines going in the first quarter, scoring all 13 of his points and giving the Jaguars the lead on a drive that made it 19-17 to close the quarter.

“He does that for us,” Uzan said. “He’s got a motor, and the kid can play. He’s very competitive, and he just brings out the best in a lot of us.”

Donavin Wright (13 points), Julian Jacobs (11), Olajawon Diggs (10) and Trevion Turner (10) also scored in double figures for Desert Pines. Jacobs added seven rebounds and four assists.

D.J. Billingsley had 17 points and 13 rebounds to lead Eldorado.

The game came toward the end of an emotional week at Desert Pines as the school mourned the death of girls basketball player Betty Pinkney, who was shot and killed at a house party on Jan. 15. It was the first home game for the Jaguars since her death.

The girls basketball team beat Eldorado 86-46 and then sang the national anthem before the boys game, which was followed by a moment of silence and a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

“It’s hard anytime you lose a life like that the way she lost hers, and she was such a great kid,” Uzan said. “She had a beautiful smile, was always in the gym and just a pleasure to be around. To lose somebody like that is very difficult, especially for these young guys. And especially for that girls team. I’m really happy that they won tonight.”

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