Today is big. Historic, trendsetting big.
It is the most significant day in regional high school boys basketball history, with two teams in position to take down tradition. Top-ranked by The Bee all season, Sheldon (26-5) heads to Saint Mary's College in Moraga to take on the state's No. 1 team in Salesian of Richmond (30-3), led by McDonald's All-America guard Jabari Bird.
A victory by Sheldon in this CIF Northern California Regional Open Division semifinal would inch it up the list of all-time area great teams and into the same conversation with Bill Cartwright's 1975 Elk Grove team and the 1993 Jesuit team powered by Isaac Fontaine.
Another Bay Area powerhouse, De La Salle of Concord, comes to Elk Grove today to play Pleasant Grove in a 7 p.m. NorCal Division I semifinal.
Pleasant Grove lost three close games to Sheldon this season, seething over each setback and emerging improved.
Coach John DePonte and company brace for a defensive guru in De La Salle coach Frank Allocco. The Spartans expertly defend the baseline, siphon off the lane and milk the shot clock in reducing games to a crawl.
Can Pleasant Grove scorers Matt Hayes, Malik Thames and Cole Nordquist dent that defense?
Jesuit broke through last season, stunning De La Salle 44-41 in a NorCal playoff game in Concord.
One anxious spectator in Elk Grove will be Hank Meyer. The Pleasant Grove principal coached Jesuit, led by Fontaine, to the 1993 state D-I final.
Meyer will keep one eye on the student sections and the other on the game unfolding in front of him. And he'll peek at his cellphone for Sheldon updates.
"It's a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous challenge for Sheldon and Pleasant Grove," Meyer said Monday. "I think it's exciting for this area."
Sheldon is buzzing at the prospect of settling a score with Salesian, which in February gave the Huskies their last loss 69-60.
What especially inspires Sheldon is the chance to be the first Open division NorCal and State champion as the CIF initiated an elite field this season, and standing as perhaps the greatest team in area history.
"Right now, you'd have to put Sheldon in the all-time top three, and if they win out, they'd have to be the No. 1," Kennedy coach Robert Fong said. "They're such a skilled team, very unselfish."
Fong has a unique vantage point in breaking down all-time teams. He was a guard for Kennedy when the Cougars beat Cartwright and Elk Grove 37-36 in 1975, and he was an assistant coach for Spider Thomas' famed Kennedy teams of the 1980s and '90s. In 1975, Elk Grove was the first area team to experience a national schedule, with the 6-foot-11 Cartwright the marquee name.
The Cartwright-led Thundering Herd, as well as other notable regional teams, were paramount in the creation of the state tournament in 1981.
Meyer's 1993 Jesuit team also was fueled by a Cal-Hi State Player of the Year in Fontaine. The Marauders endured a national schedule, falling early to national No. 1 St. Anthony's of New Jersey, coached by Bobby Hurley's father, Bob. Jesuit soared to No. 3 in the USA Today national rankings when it faced USA No. 2 Crenshaw of Los Angeles in the D-I state final at the Oakland Coliseum Arena. Crenshaw prevailed 73-66.
"To know that we can be the best team ever from Sacramento, that lights an extra fire under us," Sheldon senior wing Dakarai Allen said. "We're playing for a lot."