The non-conference/non-league slate of games have been played. Holiday tournaments spread local basketball teams across the state. Now, the march towards the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs begins with league and conference games tipping off this week. 

The top four teams in the Delta League and the top three squads in the Metro Conference qualify for the post-season. Playoffs for the boys will begin the evening of Feb. 15, so basically, they have the next six weeks to show what they’ve got, or they’ll be checking in their uniforms before Presidents’ Day. 

The Citizen reached out to all the Elk Grove-area boys basketball coaches over the holidays for assessments of their team as it enters 2022. (won-loss records, as of 1/1/22, in paratheses) 

Elk Grove Thundering Herd (10-3)

Head Coach Dustin Monday

“I think non-league has been really successful for us.  We were able to win our home tournament (Bill Cartwright Classic) which we haven't done in six years, I think. We have had the chance to play some big-time programs which has allowed us to learn and get better. We have gotten better each week and that ultimately is what is most important heading into league.”

“I don’t think it’s a surprise that our multi-year varsity starters are carrying the load.  Ameere (Britton), Money (DaJon Lott, Jr), Jordan (Hess), and Karlos (Zepeda) day in day out are playing at a really high level.  What's so great about this team though is even though we all know those four guys, everyone else has really committed to their role and we are getting big moments from different guys on different nights.”

“After those aforementioned four guys, the rest of the roster is pretty inexperienced at the varsity level.  But those younger guys have really held their own for us and have flashed moments of excellence throughout.  Grant Golonka has been our regular fifth starter, and despite being on the team as a junior last year, did not get much playing time.  He has been real good for us providing shooting and rebounding.” 

“We know that the Delta League is a dogfight every night.  So, we are emphasizing to play with the highest level of intensity and focus at all times.  Hopefully we can stay healthy so that we can be at full strength.”

Franklin Wildcats (6-8)

Head Coach Ken Manfredi

“Our non-league games have been a good experience for our team.  We have improved throughout our first 14 games and look forward to the start of Delta League play.”

“As a whole, I am proud of the defensive effort our group has given this preseason.  On several occasions we have held our opponents well below their scoring average and have done a good job making it difficult for our opponents’ top players.  This has been the result of studying our opponents’ tendencies, being disciplined and working together as a unit defensively.”  

“No surprises, but like most teams at this point in the season, we have dealt with adversity, and I am proud of how my group has stuck together, remained committed to each other, and continues to work hard.” 

“We continue to keep things simple and are focused on playing tough, smart, and unselfish. Our goal remains unchanged as we strive to play our best basketball of the season in the second half of league play.”

Pleasant Grove Eagles (12-4)

Head Coach Chris MacPhail

“It's been great. We've participated in four tournaments, including hosting our own, the inaugural 4Cs Christmas Classic. The boys have brought home some hardware in each tournament, including a 2nd place finish in a wild overtime game, a championship, and another championship appearance in our home tournament. We've played a lot of good teams with quite a few of our opponents having been 10-plus game winners already, so we're real fortunate being at 12-4.”

“It's really been a team thing all around, with guys stepping up and filling roles when and where needed. Everyone has been contributing in one way or another, on and off the court, so I really don't believe more or less credit is due to any one individual.”

“(We’ve had) no individual pleasant surprises per se, but it has been nice seeing the kids meet the high expectations and standards set for them, so having them do that so quickly has been even better than I could have expected.”

“We just keep communicating as a team that we need to improve each game. No matter the circumstance, no matter the outcome, we want to learn and look for ways to get better because we all know the games are going to get tougher when we get into the Delta League.”

Elsewhere in the Delta League:

Sheldon (6-7) resumed its holiday tradition of playing in tournaments outside Northern California. They went to Las Vegas for the Jerry Tarkanian Tournament and won a pair of games. After Christmas, the Huskies played in Los Angeles at the Damien High School Tournament. There they were 1-3 concluding the tournament with a 61-59 win over St. John Bosco.

Coach Joey Rollings, along with long-time assistant coaches Rich Manning and Mike Bradley, figure to get their players right in the Delta League fight with the experience gained playing this tough competition.

At Cosumnes Oaks (4-8), coach Sheridan Crite had his boys play in the always-tough Modesto Christian Tournament over the holidays. The Wolfpack had wins over Bullard and Vanden to open the tournament but then dropped a 12-point game to Modesto Christian and the third place game to Pleasant Valley. 

It’s worth mentioning Jesuit (6-7) is going to be a squad to watch, as well. An interesting name on coach Tim Kelly’s roster is very familiar to local fans. Andrej Stojakovic is the son of former Sacramento Kings’ great, Peja Stojakovic. Like his father, he’s 6-7 and a great shooter.

Metro Conference:

Laguna Creek Cardinals (8-4)

Head Coach Mike Gill

“We are a relatively young team with seven sophomores. Our non-league schedule has provided us with varsity experience that will prepare us for the Metro.”

“Who is playing well is key. We have a number of players who are capable of really playing well. The goal is to get them all to play well at the same time. I believe when that happens, we will be a hard team to beat. Gavin Albason, Dante Walls, Kenneth "KJ" Ramey, and Adaarion "AD" Strauthers have proven to have the ability to really impact a game on both ends of the floor.”

“We know we have a talented group. We are a fun team to watch. We work hard on both sides of the court. The best complement I received this year from an opposing coach is how well we defend. That is always my goal as a head coach. It is good to know our players are bought in.”

“We have been preparing for the Metro for some time now. Our players have been putting in the work on and off the court this entire school year. We hope that we can stay healthy and stay together in order to play our best basketball over the next six weeks.” 

Monterey Trail Mustangs (2-7)

Head Coach Robert Fields

 “Non-league has been challenging to say the least, recently dealing with a COVID outbreak, injuries and other issues. We've been fully healthy about four of our first nine games. Guys are doing their best to be consistent, but multiple lineups have hurt that a bit.”

“Varick Lewis, Kam Manning, Kentrell Kelly have been our standouts so far. Two freshmen have been thrust into starting roles and have done solid under the circumstances. Adrian Deveneicia and Craigus Thompson have really played themselves into spots in rotation with guys being in and out of lineup.”

“(We must) get healthy, watch and learn what we have done well in spurts and what we haven't. Build on the positives and don't get to down about the negatives. Goal is a top three finish in league resulting in quality seeding for playoffs and hopefully peeking in mid- to late-February into March.”

Elsewhere in the Metro …

The teams to look out for are Grant (9-2) and Burbank (9-2). The Titans, under veteran coach Lindsey Ferrell, won its first nine contests before losing its first game of the season Dec. 28 in a tournament at Oakland Tech. McClatchy (8-3) has also started the season strong.

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John Hull came out of retirement in 2021 to return as the Citizen's Sports Editor. He started writing sports for the Citizen in Dec., 2007. Hull retired from teaching Mass Media/Journalism at Cosumnes River College and Luther Burbank H.S. in 2019.