The Kings are out of town but the old house will still rock.
As it has for decades, Sleep Train Arena will be the valley’s mecca for high school basketball as the Sac-Joaquin Section caps its championship weekend on the NBA hardwood.
And this is a unique experience in unique territory. This is the only section in the country that has championship basketball in an NBA venue, with the upper divisions a mainstay in the big building since the Kings moved here in 1985. But this arrangement may soon change. The high school title games, including the CIF Northern California and state finals, will return to Sleep Train next season, and then it collectively enters the great unknown.
The Kings’ new downtown arena will open in the fall of 2016 and will become a magnet for a variety of sports and entertainment events. This likely means the addition of more concerts and the return of NCAA Tournament early-round games, which would conflict with some of the high school championships.
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For now, the games go on at Sleep Train Arena. Here’s a closer look at today’s story lines:
Public vs. private
Sacramento City Unified School District originals McClatchy and Sacramento take on private-school super powers from the south. The Sacramento boys, top ranked by The Bee, play Modesto Christian, which seeks a 17th section banner since 1997 – its 16 are a record – in the Division II championship. College recruits dot both rosters, including center Solomon Young and guard Christian Terrell of Sacramento. These teams play fast and above the rim.
“We’re good, and they’re good, and I know one thing,” Sacramento coach Derek Swafford said. “We won’t back down.”
Following that 4:30 p.m. game, McClatchy, The Bee’s top-ranked girls team all season, braces for St. Mary’s of Stockton, nationally ranked fourth and bearing down on a 16th banner – its 15 titles are a record – and seventh consecutive. The Rams have a deep bench, press baseline to baseline and shoot well. McClatchy fears no one, certainly, not with Bee Player of the Year candidate Gigi Garcia roaming the middle.
“They’re great,” McClatchy guard Alex Washington said of the Rams. “But they’re human, mortals.”
In the 3 p.m. Division IV boys game, Liberty Ranch of Galt will not only be playing for a championship against Capital Christian. The Hawks will play in the memory of a beloved teammate.
Liberty Ranch will play in honor of Ryan Stover, who died on the eve of the season from a heart attack. He remains on the roster, and his jersey is draped over a seat during games. Coach Josh Williams said it’s important for the team and community to embrace Stover’s memory, reminding young men that life is much more than wins and losses.
Fun vs. fun
Since 2007, Sheldon or Folsom has hoisted section championship hardware. Tonight, the programs meet for a title for the first time in the 8:30 p.m. Division I finale.
Sheldon won the D-I title in 2007 and later became the section’s first large school to four-peat (2010-13). Folsom won D-I titles in 2008 and 2009 and last season in D-II.
Both teams rely on the core elements that work at all levels of play.
“Depth, defense, share the ball, play the right way,” Folsom coach Mike Wall said.
Reigning Bee Player of the Year Jordan Ford, Folsom’s unflappable junior guard, will match wits and ballhandling skills against Sheldon’s three point-guard lineup of Isaiah Brooks, Elishja Duplechan and Devin Greene. This show won’t be dull, players and coaches insist.
“I like the way Sheldon plays,” Wall said. “They push the ball, defend. It will definitely be an up-and-down game, fast. It’ll be a great treat for fans to cap the weekend.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.
At Sleep Train Arena
Division IV girls: Bradshaw Christian vs. Brookside Christian, 11:30 a.m.
Division II girls: Modesto Christian vs. Kimball-Tracy,
Division IV boys: Capital Christian vs. Liberty Ranch, 3 p.m.
Division II boys: Sacramento vs. Modesto Christian, 4:30 p.m.
Division I girls: McClatchy vs. St. Mary’s-Stockton, 6:30 p.m.
Division I boys: Folsom vs. Sheldon, 8:30 p.m.