James McKeever has taken a Zen-like approach this girls basketball season.
With no assistants to turn to, the Pleasant Grove High School coach must be a calming influence not only on his players but on himself.
McKeever lost both of his two assistants in the offseason. Kevin Scott was named the head coach at Cosumnes Oaks, and Quanisha Turner, a member of the Army National Guard, was called for active duty.
“I’ve got to really relax because if I start freaking out, I don’t have anyone to balance me back out. I have to stay calm this year,” said McKeever, whose team is ranked No. 7. “It’s rare. But it’s just the situation that we fell into. We’ve got to go with the flow.”
McKeever’s serenity was tested last Saturday in the final seconds of the title game in the Sasha Brown Memorial Tournamentagainst No. 5 Del Oro. Pleasant Grove senior Aaliyah Pena and a Del Oro player wrestled for a loose ball, and a technical foul was called on Pena.
With Pleasant Grove down 50-49 and 14.8 seconds remaining, McKeever kept his cool and his crouched position on the sideline. Pena, a calm personality herself, walked over to McKeever and said, “Sorry, coach.”
Pleasant Grove lost 51-49, but McKeever realized that despite losing his top two scorers from last season, the Eagles will compete for the Delta River League title.
Pena, who recently signed a letter of intent to play at UC Riverside, is averaging 10.3 points. Junior Kim Schmelz (11.5) and sophomore captain Brittany Nguyen (11.7) have also contributed for the Eagles, who took third place in the Emerald Division of the West Coast Jamboree on Dec. 30 in Dublin.
“I have the pieces,” McKeever said. “As coaches, we always say that we are behind, but I do realize I do have the pieces, and I’m seeing what combinations work.”
League plays starts – The nonleague schedule is all but over for area teams, and with the new playoff system that puts more emphasis on league standings, games that truly matter begin this week.
Top-ranked Sacramento (3-6) plays its first home game since Dec. 14 today. In a Metropolitan Conference opener, the Dragons host No. 15 Florin (5-5), which has lost only to out-of-area teams.
Third-ranked McClatchy begins Metro play today at Valley before hosting No. 6 Kennedy (6-5) on Thursday.
McClatchy (9-1) cruised to a 69-48 victory over Clayton Valley of Concord to win the Sapphire Division championship of the West Coast Jamboree. The Lions outscored their three opponents in the tournament by an average of 31 points.
No. 11 Rocklin (10-6) opens Sierra Foothill League play with a 5:30 p.m. home game Friday against Del Oro. It’s followed by a 7 p.m. boys game between the schools. The Thunder girls fell to Pleasant Grove and No. 17 Christian Brotherslast weekend in its tournament but got a season-high 23 points from Kelsey Summers in the third-place game against CBS on Saturday.
Junior forward Hannah Jordan of Del Oro (11-3) was the tournament MVP after averaging 20 points, including a 28-point effort on 12-of-15 shooting against CBS in the semifinals.
Contact Trevor Horn firstname.lastname@example.org.