After mostly sleepwalking through the first 16 minutes of Friday's game against No. 7 Franklin in the Delta Challenge, No. 4 Sheldon unleashed some awe-inspiring second-half basketball to show that they just might be this area's most physically gifted team, if not the most entertaining.
The Huskies (13-2) blocked shots, forced turnovers and shot well when it counted to rally for a 69-59 win over their cross-league rivals.
Sheldon has two of the nation's top junior prospects in Darius Nelson and Ramon Eaton. Both showed their special gifts on their home court, the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Nelson in spurts offensively and the 6-8, 180-pound Eaton at both ends.
Despite playing with an injured Achilles' in his left foot that had sidelined him earlier in the week, Nelson scored 19 points and Eaton added 12 points and had at least a half-dozen blocks and several steals.
But they have some nice pieces around them in seniors Raymond Dickerson, Burnis Chambers and Eric Williams, junior Mansel Simmons and freshman D'Erryl Williams. He filled in nicely for a sidelined Nelson in a 67-50 win over Elk Grove in the Delta Challenge's first round Wednesday, scoring a game-high 20 points.
But Sheldon still has a way to go in the eyes of first-year coach Joey Rollings.
"It was a good win for us," Rollings said. "Do I think we played our greatest? No. But that's how basketball goes sometimes."
They played poorly in the first half. The smaller Wildcats (11-2) were all over the offensive boards in getting put backs and drawing fouls. The only thing preventing them from having more than a 34-30 halftime lead was senior guard Michael Rosaroso's struggles with his shot.
Although the Wildcats' star eventually finished with 19 points, he missed seven first-half attempts, including several that rimmed out.
"I told the guys at halftime, we had to get after it defensively," Rollings said. "I said, 'We're bigger, stronger and can jump higher.' Finally Ramon started blocking shots. We started to get loose balls, and that helped us to become a little smoother offensively.
"It all starts with defense. We're so long. We've got six guys who are 6-5 or taller. They're not just big. They're athletic. They can handle the ball, and they can play different positions."
Nelson and Eaton said the Huskies didn't want to let down the fans after playing so poorly at the start.
"They were beating us to the ball, and we were doing things like grabbing rebounds with one hand, then losing them," Eaton said. "I felt I had to step up on defense and help create pressure. But that's what's good about this team, if one guy steps up, everyone steps up. We started playing as one on defense."
Added Nelson, "After the coaches got done with the Xs and Os and we're leaving (the locker room), we as players said to each other, 'It's time to pick this up.' We wanted to pick things up for our fans and friends and because we were playing in our house."
Nelson remains day to day. He may or may not play this evening against Clovis East in the Father Kelly Tribute at Jesuit High School.
Before he arrived at Sheldon Friday night, Nelson was getting physical therapy on the left heel, which has bothered him most of the season. He tweaked it again on the last day of the Oaks Christian Tournament in Southern California, which forced him to have to watch him teammates practice and play this week.
"I'm not really explosive with the left foot right now," Nelson said. "I can't change directions well, and I can't get up the floor like I'd like. I'm about 75 percent."
Nelson moved tentatively in the early going and struggled with his shot. Although he had 19 points, he was just 5 of 15 from the field and 8 of 14 from the foul line.
But his layup with one second to play in the third quarter gave the Huskies their first lead of the game, 46-45, a lead they never relinquished as Nelson and Eaton combined for 15 fourth-quarter points.
"The guys look up to me and Ramon because we've been playing three years (on varsity) and we've played high-level (AAU) basketball outside of Sheldon High," Nelson said.. "We're just trying to bring our basketball IQs to the team."
Sheldon was the only Delta River League team to win both games in the Delta Challenge, which pits the DRL against the Delta Valley Conference over two days.
The DVC went 8-4, countering the DRL's 10-2 performance in last season's inaugural.
In other Friday games, the Delta River's Pleasant Grove beat Elk Grove 50-43 and Jesuit topped Kennedy 68-57. The DVC's Davis, which upset top-ranked Jesuit 59-56 on Wednesday, beat Folsom 55-42 and Laguna Creek downed Florin 62-57.
Eaton said playing and beating Franklin was one of the highlights of a productive preseason.
"It's a rival," he said. "Everybody wants to play hard. It's just the battle of the best."