Finally, after a grim summer and an uncertain winter, there was some spring in the step of Brentwood's Femi Olujobi.
"This is what I came back for," the 6-8 senior said.
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Olujobi, who missed half the season recovering from a broken tibia suffered in June, had 19 points and 13 rebounds to lead No. 1 Brentwood to a tense 68-59 victory over No. 2 Deer Park Tuesday night in the Suffolk Class AA championship game played before 1,800 fans at Farmingdale State.
"I knew I could come back," Olujobi said. "I had plenty of people in my corner pushing me to work hard."
It had been a tortuous path for Olujobi, who spent the summer in rehab instead of playing AAU ball, but had impressed college recruiters so much before his injury that he earned a scholarship to Division I Oakland (Mich.). Then he took it slow when basketball practice began in the fall and even upon his return, played, by his own admission, tentatively. "I didn't really go all-out in some of those games," he said. "It was more mental than physical."
Tuesday night, it was all physical. Olujobi led a quartet of double-digit scorers for the Indians (19-2), who advance to the Suffolk County overall championship game against Wednesday night's Southampton-Glenn winner on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Whitman. Brentwood also advances to the Long Island Class AA championship game against the Nassau winner March 8 at Hofstra for the right to go to Glens Falls.
Deer Park (17-4) rode the hot hand of Wagner-bound guard Aaren Edmead in a riveting fourth quarter that began all-even at 46 and stood at 60-59 Brentwood with 2:18 left after Edmead (23 points) scored on a breakaway. He had scored all 13 of the Falcons' points in the final period to that point. Tellingly, those were Deer Park's final points of the game. Karon Blackwell had the hot hand early for the Falcons, scoring 16 of the team's 17 points in the first quarter and finishing with 28.
Brentwood closed out the game on an 8-0 run, all on free throws, for a deceiving final margin. "It was a tough game. It was so loud I couldn't even hear on the court," said sophomore guard Mike Almonacy, who scored 17 points. He broke a 51-all tie with a long three-pointer, hit two free throws with 24 seconds left and made a key steal on Edmead moments later.
"We had to get stops and we had to get shots," said Almonacy, who sometimes was matched up with Edmead. "I didn't want it to be a one-on-one battle. I wanted it to be about our team."
It was, as Jamel Allen added 12 points and Ali Mabelton 10 for balanced Brentwood.
"I wanted to really test my knee," Olujobi said of his most aggressive game this season. "I had to get out on Edmead in the fourth quarter. Fortunately, he missed a few shots."
Almonacy said he hadn't forgotten the last two years, when Deer Park eliminated Brentwood in the playoffs. "That was our motivation," he said.
Olujobi had his own form of self-motivation -- a healthy one at that.