Joe Davidson

Hometown Report: Saco’s message for basketball finals is one of sportsmanship

Published: Friday, Mar. 7, 2014 - 6:39 pm
Last Modified: Friday, Mar. 7, 2014 - 7:55 pm

The low points of decorum and decency played out in three forms: a player, a fan and a coach.

Each incident came during high school basketball playoff games in the Sac-Joaquin Section’s showcase championship event at Sleep Train Arena, with no regard for sportsmanship.

In 1998, a player leveled an opponent with a vicious elbow to the temple and was ejected. The instigator’s father hustled to the scorer’s table, arms flailing, and threatened an immediate court injunction if his son wasn’t reinstated for the remainder of the tournament. Then the father saw the monitor replay. He walked away, quietly.

In 2001, a late foul that turned a game in the final seconds prompted chaos. The father of the boy who committed the flagrant foul was so outraged with the call that he bolted out of his second-row seat, past security and raced across the floor in full view of some 11,000 fans and followed the referee into the back hallway.

In 2010, a boys coach sprinted across the floor after a referee who waved off his team’s potential game winner at the buzzer. Replays backed the call.

So in recent years, before each of the 10 championship games, section Commissioner Pete Saco has met with the team captains, school administrators and referees in a back room at the arena. The sessions are two-fold: He offers congratulations for reaching the finals, then issues a stern warning about conduct.

Saco’s message continues to resonate. The section playoffs at Sleep Train largely have been held without incident the last six seasons, other than the coach’s reaction in 2010. This is Saco’s final championship weekend as commissioner before he retires in August, and he’ll continue to preach sportsmanship.

“We see what happens at games of all levels across the country on TV or read about it in the paper, and I don’t want it to happen at Sleep Train,” Saco said Friday. “We’re going to do this the right way. It’s very important to me that I take 10 minutes and talk to them about this, a slap to say, ‘OK, this is the big dance, your time to shine, but handle it the right way. Have fun, compete, but let’s not make national news for all the wrong reasons.’ 

Saco understands the rigors, pressure and expectations on teams during championship seasons. He played high school sports in the Bay Area and he coached basketball in this section.

“We talk to the coaches and players about bench decorum,” Saco said. “I know coaches won’t agree with some calls and players get excited. I get that. But there should be no taunting or outbursts. Everyone’s on notice. This is still a classroom. It’s a little different than English or trigonometry, but it’s still about education. This is a place to shine, to act appropriate and not act like fools.”

Et cetera

• Saco on the ongoing relationship with the management at Sleep Train, a venue that has hosted section basketball events since 1986: “Incredible relationship. The Maloofs have left, but we’re still there, and a lot of that is due to the management still in place. We’re thrilled to be there.”

•  Allie Green missed a year at Sacramento High with a knee injury but has recovered, and the Pepperdine guard was named to the West Coast Conference All-Freshman Team this week. She played in 24 games, starting 17, and averaged 11.3 points and 4.3 rebounds.

•  Tanner Trosin and Willie Tucker are leaving Cal Poly for what the former Bee All-Metro football stars hope will be a better fit. Trosin, a record-setting quarterback at Folsom, will enroll at American River College. He said he didn’t like the prospects of being third string this fall behind Dano Graves of Folsom and Chris Brown, who rotated starting duties last season. Tucker, Cal Poly’s top receiving threat, said he may be headed to Oregon State. He battled injuries at Cal Poly.

•  Bruce Pielstick stepped down as Woodland Christian’s football coach to become offensive coordinator at MidAmerica Nazarene, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics school in Kansas. Pielstick was Sacramento State’s offensive coordinator in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the Hornets set national offensive records. Pielstick transformed a Woodland Christian program that had gone 4-36 into a playoff team during his three seasons. His wife, Lisa, the Woodland Christian principal, died of bladder cancer in January. She told me amid tears last fall, “I go to football games to watch Bruce, to see the kids, and to be around life.”

• San Diego State coach Steve Fisher on leading scorer Xavier Thames of Pleasant Grove: “Xavier is a winner. He is a fierce competitor. Choir-boy look, but he can beat you.”


Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD and listen to his “Extra Point” every Wednesday on ESPN Radio 1320.



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