Sheldon High School has had some of the region’s best boys basketball teams over the past decade, and this year’s team might be one of its best.
Coach Joey Rollings likes his team’s snarl, and how the players are in sync on and off the court. Opposing coaches watch the Huskies with pained expressions and cringe when they play them.
“I’m really spoiled with this group,” Rollings said. “They play so hard. They play the right way. I wish we had more size overall, but we fight like pit bulls. We don’t care who scores. Everyone shares it, and everyone gets on the floor. Coaches love that.”
The Huskies, 9-4 before Wednesday’s game against Grant, have lost just once against Sac-Joaquin Section teams, 79-78 to No. 2 Folsom on Dec. 2. Sheldon features a three point-guard lineup with Isaiah Brooks, Elishja Duplechan and Devin Greene. All three can handle the ball, pass it, attack the basket, make the three, play defense and put games away at the free-throw line.
“You can win a lot of games, dominate games, with guards, and Sheldon has that,” Franklin coach Ken Manfredi said.
The Huskies also have Matt Manning, a 6-foot-6 senior wing who can score inside and out, run the break and rebound. And they have two forwards, Drew Cobb and Blake Mason, who don’t need to score; they scrap for rebounds, dive for loose balls and protect the rim. “I’m a stopper who can hit a jumper,” Cobb said proudly. “We all have roles.”
Opposing coaches are impressed with Sheldon’s talent.
“It’s pick your poison with them,” Jesuit coach Jon Rotz said after his team lost to Sheldon 74-64 in a battle for first place in the Delta League on Friday. “They can put a lot of skilled players out there. They make shots, they hustle. They play well together, unselfish. Excellent team.”
Sheldon thrives because each player embraces his role. Many teams hustle and are unselfish, but Sheldon lives it, almost to a fault. It’s not uncommon for Rollings and his coaching staff to bark, “Shoot it!”
“I love how we play,” Rollings said. “We can play like the (Golden State) Warriors – move the ball around, get up and down the floor, make the extra pass. If we keep it up, keep improving, we can be really good, great.”
Under Rollings, the Huskies have won four section Division I championships since 2010, and they nearly won another last season, losing in the final seconds to Folsom.
It’s a strong year for basketball in the section, and Sheldon is among the best in D-I, along with Folsom and Modesto Christian, which narrowly lost to Folsom 53-51 in a season opener. Sacramento High, The Bee’s top-ranked team, plays in D-II.
“It’s hard to guard us,” said Duplechan, the only starter who’s not a senior. “We have too many weapons. We worked on that a lot over the summer – ball movement, moving without the ball, competing. That’s the way to play the game. We really want to win that section title. We’re all hungry.”
On a team with so many stars, the Huskies are united about their leading man, Manning. He’s also a standout baseball player who has had about 20 major-league baseball representatives stop by his house in recent months to discuss his 95-mph fastball. He is committed to playing basketball on scholarship at Loyola Marymount, but the Major League Baseball draft in June could alter those plans.
Manning comes from a basketball family, and he grew up in gyms. Older brother Ryan, a former star at Sheldon, plays for Air Force. Father Rich Manning was The Bee’s Player of the Year for Center High in 1988, played in the NBA and is a longtime assistant coach at Sheldon. Grandfather Ron McKenna coached championship teams at several schools, including Sac High in 1983 with Kevin Johnson, now Sacramento’s mayor.
“Yeah, it’s fun to watch Matt,” McKenna said. “It’s fun to watch this team. They do it the right way.”
Said Rollings of Manning: “He’s an athletic 6-6 wing who can shoot over you, go by you, anything. He’s really hard to deal with.”
Duplechan said he has a strong rapport with fellow guards Brooks and Greene. There’s no jealousy or issues over who directs the team; they all do. And they hang out on campus, too.
“We go at each other pretty hard in practice, and it pushes all of us,” Duplechan said. “We’re like a family, really close. That’s why we play so well together. We trust each other. We’re all in it for the same thing.”
The effort from Cobb and Mason helps bind the group.
“They’re our bruisers,” Duplechan said.
Added Rollings: “They come up big and have great defensive moments. Blake plays tough inside. Drew can guard the point guard or the post. You need guys like that to win.”