There was a moment during practice Monday afternoon when coach Joey Rollings smiled, then nodded and exhaled.
The effort, skill and athleticism of his Sheldon High School basketball team is profound. Shooters, runners, cutters, defenders. And jumpers.
Behold the jumpers.
Nothing energizes a practice quite like someone snapping the rim, and it’s a regular occurrence here in something of a “Dunk you very much” display of one-upsmanship. But Rollings sometimes has to reel in his leaping lot of high fliers.
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“Hey, hey! Save your legs a little,” Rollings said as players took turns with a variety of dunks as an otherwise intense scrimmage finished. “The thing about this team is we can do a little bit of everything. This could be our best shooting team yet, and we have guys who can get to the basket. But sometimes, they want to finish every play with a dunk, which is part of the game, I know. But it could be the death of us.”
What would be the death of a player’s game minutes is if he somehow forgets or ignores Rollings’ mandate to share the ball and defend with fury. Otherwise, violators will sit on the bench to watch how it’s done.
Rollings can back up his mantra with pedigree. His teams have won four Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championships and two NorCal titles, and the Huskies are riding a 50-game Delta League winning streak. Sheldon bounds into this season of great promise as The Bee’s overwhelming preseason No. 1 team. It is ranked No. 1 in Northern California by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 5 in the state by the same decades-long publication.
The Huskies return key players from a team that stormed into the CIF State Open Division championship final in March at Golden 1 Center, finally losing steam in the fourth quarter in falling to a Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth group that was led by the sons of former NBA players Kenyon Martin and Scottie Pippen.
Even with the graduation of Bee Player of the Year Dale Currie, this Sheldon edition figures to be even better, thanks to the return of key players such guards Xavier and Xavion Brown, Marquis Hargrove, Justin Nguyen and Josh and Kaito Williams.
Josh Morgan will man the middle. He is a 6-foot-11 senior center who played sparingly at nearby Pleasant Grove last season. And there’s a newcomer to the Northern California scene now on board who has made a great team even better.
Marcus Bagley is a 6-8 guard/forward, a junior of myriad skills and energy. And he’s a ferocious dunker. A national recruit with interest from throughout the Pac-12, he’s the brother of Kings first-round pick Marvin Bagley III.
“We can be really good this year, if we put it all together,” Rollings said. “Marcus is a great player. He’s such a good team player. He can play any position - point guard to the post. He’s a great passer, sees the floor really well, can run, shoot, anything. We can use him as a point guard to isolate and we can have him inside because he’s so strong.”
Nguyen, a senior 4.0 student, is the floor leader. He beams at the prospect of so many gifted teammates at his disposal.
“Our expectations are to get back to the state finals,” Nguyen said. “Anything less would be a disappointment.”
Bagley didn’t know a single Sheldon player before arriving on campus the first week of school. He’s now a big man on campus. He’s engaging with a broad smile, talks to everyone, works hard in class and in practice. He has blended in seamlessly with his new teammates.
“I like these guys a lot,” Bagley said. “They helped me get accustomed to things here. And I know we all have to play defense. It’s something that’s always been stressed in my family, too, by my dad.”
Bagley did not play high school hoops last season when his family moved to North Carolina to be with Marvin III while he excelled at Duke. Bagley wanted to rest his knees, and he attacks each practice like a young man with a lot of catching up to do, and with a lot to prove.
Morgan also provides inside muscle. He’s a shot blocker who can run the floor. He, too, also enjoys finishing at the rim.
Morgan has committed to Long Beach State, not because of what he accomplished last season, averaging 1 point in 7 minutes of action. There is always a place for long and athletic bigs.
“His upside is amazing, and he has good work ethic,” Rollings said of Morgan. “He’s all over the place.”
The Huskies are so deep that Kaito Williams could be a Bee Player of the Year candidate at any other school, Rollings said. He still is at Sheldon, the coach added.
Another player with a national recruit profile is junior Xavion Brown, a leaper who relentlessly attacks the rim and plays good defense. He doesn’t even start, but he will likely receive starter minutes.
Sheldon is a big draw in the Gridley Invitational that starts Thursday. The Huskies will be a big draw everywhere, including the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas that starts Dec. 19 and the Torrey Pines Classic in San Diego that starts Dec. 26.
Sheldon’s first home game is Jan. 2, a Delta League opener against Franklin.
Follow The Bee’s Joe Davidson: firstname.lastname@example.org, @SacBee_JoeD, sacbee.com/high-school.