They’re coming in bigger, more skilled and game-ready.
An assembly line that produces high school basketball players continues to replenish regional teams, and though four-year varsity standouts have been common among girls for decades, it’s become a recent trend for the boys.
Freshmen who grew up playing the game year-round are infusing talent into established programs. Folsom knows. The Bulldogs started baby-face freshman guard Jordan Ford two years ago in an effort to improve upon back-to-back 12-win seasons. Ford led a 12-win team, then keyed a 32-3 charge last season that resulted in a Northern California Division II championship and Bee Player of the Year honors.
The junior leads the way again this season for The Bee’s top-ranked team. He’s a pass-first player, but he can score when needed, such as dropping 33 second-half points to rally the Bulldogs from a 33-12 hole to beat Mitty of San Jose 62-59 in the MaxPreps Holiday Classic. Ford is generating scads of college recruiting interest, with Cal the latest to offer.
Now there’s another Jordan Rules, of sort, playing out in Placer County. Jordan Brown of Woodcreek is a 6-foot-9 freshman forward who leads the No. 3 Timberwolves in scoring (24 points) and rebounding (12) with arms seemingly long enough to dust the top of the backboard. He is joined in the lineup by four-year starting point guard Noah Blackwell, headed to Long Beach State.
“We started with Noah and now we have Jordan, and it makes coaching fun and easy,” Woodcreek coach Paul Hayes said. “What you have to do is not overcoach. These kids can play. They have great instincts.”
Other former freshman starters who are now seasoned juniors include center Solomon Young of second-ranked Sacramento. Young’s teammates joke that he’s never had a baby face and he was born with a scowl. He is joined by junior guard Christian Terrell, whose learning curve on varsity was also accelerated as a freshman. Both have received a lot of Pacific-12 Conference recruiting interest.
No. 4 Kennedy is led by third-year varsity guard Cole Taira, and third-year guard Matt Lyon (23 points per game) heads Rio Americano, having won MVP honors at the Kendall Arnett Tournament.
Other trends to look for as league openers continue this week:
More freshman impact – They’re everywhere. The leading scorer for No. 11 Christian Brothers is 6-7 wing Elias King, son of 1987 Bee All-Metro forward Kris King, who admits: “I didn’t have anywhere near his skills at this age. He’s way better!” Natomas guard Julice Hamilton is the son of coach Brian Hamilton, a Bee All-Metro guard in 1993 with McClatchy. No. 7 Grant is 9-1 due in large part to 5-9 guard Treshon Jones-Smoots.
Limping Lions – Are the McClatchy girls alive and well? Yes, even if limping a bit. Top-ranked by The Bee, the Lions (6-5) have endured a taxing early schedule, by design, and have dealt with injuries. With versatile forward Gigi Garcia, a third-year starting junior, McClatchy expects to compete for a NorCal Division I championship.
Sister act – No. 5 Antelope is led by sisters Nadia and Nia Johnson, daughters of former Kennedy star Leland Johnson, who helped Kennedy to 31-1 in 1991 as an All-Metro guard. Nadia, a sophomore, leads the Titans in scoring at 17.5 points, and Nia, a freshman, is second at 15.2. And yes, pops admits his girls can take him baseline easily.
Eagles still soaring – What can Pleasant Grove’s girls do for an encore? Repeat. That’s the goal for the No. 3 Eagles, who didn’t win their league or the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title last season but regrouped to become the first Elk Grove Unified School District girls team to win a NorCal championship. Guard Kim Schmelz leads the team in scoring with 17.5 points.
Respect and rivals – Jesuit’s Isaiah Bailey and Pleasant Grove’s Marquese Chriss, returning Bee All-Metro players, are the focal points for the Delta League rivals. The seniors are capable of carrying the load for their teams solo at times, but championships aren’t won this way, their coaches remind. Bailey, a crafty guard, leads No. 12 Jesuit in scoring. Chriss, a 6-8 center headed to Washington, leads the ninth-ranked Eagles in scoring and rebounding.
Four unsung boys? –Jordan Roberson is the area’s leading scorer at Cordova, where the 6-4 guard and four-year varsity player averages 32.8 points for the No. 17 Lancers. DeAndre Stallings, a 6-6 senior wing, averages 25.8 points for No. 10 Liberty Ranch, off to a school-record 13-1 start. San Juan’s 6-3 center, Davion Johnson, leads the area in rebounding with 16.4 a game. Marysville 6-10 center Erik Scheive averages 17.4 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.7 blocked shots for the 15-0 Indians.
Can Sheldon recover? – Sheldon won a record four consecutive section Division I boys championships before missing the postseason last year amid CIF sanctions. The Huskies were hit with a reduction of tournaments this season, the reason they’ve played only seven games. Sheldon looks to return to the postseason behind three-year varsity guard Devin Greene.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.