Father-Daughter Dance: Eric Bamberger and his daughter Ali have a rule when it comes to breaking down her basketball games.
“If I was able to see the game, I get five minutes right after it,” said Eric, a former All-State post player for Ygnacio Valley-Concord in the late 80s. He’s now in his third decade of coaching in the East Bay, the last five of which have come as the boys coach at Clayton Valley-Concord. “After that, I’m done. I have to be done.”
Ali, 16, is the star junior post for Carondelet-Concord.
And on this night, March 2 at Saint Mary’s College, daughter gave dad a reason to gush. She scored 28 points, grabbed eight rebounds and added four blocks and four assists in a 71-58 win over Heritage that clinched the Cougars’ 13th North Coast Section crown in 16 years.
And yet it’s entirely possible that by the time both got home, Ali was likely eager to give her dad all the time he wanted — to talk boys basketball. Because on a unique night in which dad and daughter both competed for NCS Division I section titles, in back-to-back games at the same venue, it was only Ali who came home with a medal after Clayton Valley fell to Heritage 71-66.
Ali Bamberger eyes a free throw during the NCS Division I final on March 2.
And despite the night ending in mixed results, the Bamberger Family had no intention of taking the night for granted. It was a culmination of what’s been a special year for both dad and daughter — a year in which the two may have shared more through basketball, despite seeing less of each other’s games than previous seasons.
“We talk basketball a lot,” Eric said. “There are nights where we’ll just go back and forth, venting or sharing or whatever. We’ll talk about my team and we’ll talk about her team. It’s kind of cool.”
And both have been able to take an immense amount of pride in one another.
“Everyone who has a dad that’s a coach always really likes to say ‘Oh my dad is an incredible coach,’” Ali said after her team’s championship victory. “I feel like up until this year, no one has really seen how great of a coach my dad really is.
“He’s developed this whole program, and they started from nothing and look where they are. And he’s developed me into the player that I am, and I’m so happy for him because it couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Despite the loss in the final, the older Bamberger has led Clayton Valley to a landmark season that’s included a Diablo Athletic League-Foothill title and a 26-3 overall record heading into the CIF Div. I Northern Regional playoffs where they earned a No. 4 seed and host Menlo School-Atherton at 7 p.m. on March 7. It was the program’s first trip to an NCS final in 14 seasons.
Meanwhile, Carondelet (22-8) has been a consensus Top 8 team in NorCal throughout the season. The Cougars drew the No. 6 seed in the Open Division regional and travel to No. 3 Pinewood-Los Altos Hills for a 7 p.m. tipoff on March 9. Ali has been their go-to star.
Eric stands with Ali prior to coaching Clayton Valley in the NCS Division I boys final on March 2.
“I think she’s matured a lot more and learned to play more of a lead role,” Eric said of Ali. “She’s learning all these things that have kind of lifted her game and lifted who she is as a person — which is what basketball is hopefully all about. She was able to play in the post her first two years real easily. Now she’s moved her game a little more outside and she’s not afraid to dribble.”
She’s also her mom’s first choice on game nights.
“I’ll come to Eric’s games whenever she isn’t playing,” Kate Bamberger said with a grin. “But our son (Mason, 13) represents Eric and chooses to go to dad’s game over sister’s games. So we’re evenly divided and supported in the family.”
During the NCS final, one of Ali’s few games in the last month or so Eric has been able to watch, he only managed to stay in his seat for the first five or so minutes of the game. Not coincidentally, things weren’t going well for the Cougars during a first quarter in which they had nearly as many turnovers (7) as points (8).
But Carondelet settled down and Ali poured in 13 points in the second quarter to help lead a comeback from a 10-point deficit. The Cougars would lead 28-27 at halftime, 48-41 after the third quarter, and never trailed in the fourth.
“We kind of knew that Heritage was going to be a tough game,” Ali said. “This game required more intensity and more focus. I think this year coming in, we knew they were going to be tough, and they were. They showed us what they could do. But, I think it was just a matter of who wanted it more in the end”
Bamberger finished the NCS final with 28 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four blocks.
She said this as the Clayton Valley boys warmed up for their final in the background. As she watched, she admitted her nerves were growing for her dad and his team.
“Dad said to me before my game, ‘I have more butterflies before you play then when before we play,’” she said. “And I told him it’s the same for me. I have more butterflies before his games than my own.”
Watching the boys final probably didn’t help Ali or the rest of the family’s nerves. Clayton Valley and Heritage played neck-and-neck throughout. Heritage had one point leads after the first quarter and at halftime. It was tied 52-52 after three quarters, and the fourth quarter featured three lead changes and three ties before the Ugly Eagles went scoreless in the final two minutes.
“We just didn’t make shots down the stretch,” Eric said afterward. “Shots that we usually make. … I’ll let them have tonight and tomorrow and then we’ll get back to work (for the NorCal playoffs). This team has been resilient all year. … Nothing has fazed them so far. I’m expecting this won’t faze them either.”
As for Eric, a hug from Ali probably went a long way in soothing the defeat.
Father-Daughter Dance Story By Chace Bryson | Photos By Phillip Walton