Coaches call them effort players. Tireless pests hustling overtime to guard the paint or to fetch a rebound. Difference makers for championship contenders.
Rocklin coach Casey Cutts said a small-college recruiter stopped by his Placer County high school to watch practice earlier this month. Drew Ardissone, the Thunder's 6-foot-1 senior forward, caught the recruiter's eye.
"He said Drew was a nuisance player, a compliment because he did the dirty work that not all players like to do," Cutts said. "It takes a certain type of kid to be like that not afraid to do the blue-collar thing. Multiple kids who buy into that usually have team success."
Ardissone didn't score against Roseville on Tuesday night, but like other grunt players across the region, his value cannot be measured just by scoring average. He drew three charges, including one late, to help key No. 7 Rocklin's 95-83 overtime victory.
In south Sacramento, the No. 11 Florin girls are propelled by Daijah Joe-Smith, a 5-8 senior forward who wears opposing teams out. She averages 17.6 points, often on putbacks and loose balls, 13.4 rebounds and 4.3 steals. She exits games appearing as if she just completed a triathlon.
"Relentless and nonstop," Florin coach Larry Price said of Joe-Smith. "She's going to get on the floor. She's compiling numbers by scraping, being an Energizer bunny, and she's like a mosquito you swat, and she comes right back at you."
Even star-studded teams benefit from blue-collar players. While top-ranked Sheldon features stars Dakarai Allen, Darin Johnson, D'Erryl Williams and Ryan Manning it is the determination of an unsung 6-1 forward that captures the team's spirit. Senior Antonio Lewis leads the team in rebounding with 10 a game, and has twice cleared 20 this season, though he is sometimes the smallest man on the floor. Lewis sports a high-rise hairstyle and is called "Buck Williams" by his coaches for his resemblance and results to the NBA rebounding star from the 1980s and '90s.
"That's my job compete and grab boards, and I love it," Lewis said. "It's fun to score, too, but I know my main role. Every team needs a guy like that."
Some teams have a lineup of effort players to combat size.
In Greenhaven on Tuesday night, Kennedy senior To'a Kolokihakaufisi, all 6 feet of him, drew charges, hustled for rebounds and slithered past taller, stronger bodies in scoring 13 points in a 69-66 triumph over No. 10 Burbank. Last week, the Cougars upset then-No. 2 Sacramento 66-59 and its lineup of regal talents. No. 19 Kennedy sits atop the Metropolitan Conference standings at 7-0, fueled by fellow sub-6-footers in Cole Taira, Matt Nakatomi, Brandon Burns and Colin Uda.
"That's what separates us from other teams desire," Kolokihakaufisi said. "We're not a big team. We're not intimidating. We don't have any buffed guys. But we know how to compete."
Said Burbank coach Lindsey Ferrell, "That's a hard team to play; they never quit."
"We have to play hard like this look at us," Kennedy coach Robert Fong said. "No one is knocking on our door to offer scholarships. What sets us apart is effort, we have a high basketball IQ and we're very unselfish. You can win that way."
In El Dorado Hills, the No. 2 Oak Ridge girls don't dazzle recruiters with a lineup of prospects, but coach Steve White said the Trojans have cohesion and drive, headed by leaders Jenn Hoffman, Ali Bettencourt and Haley Anderson.
"Our practices are intense," White said. "That's where it starts. Everyone goes hard to earn minutes, to make a difference. You add up all the effort and you get results."