Everything but hockey.
The vast Sacramento region has for decades churned out draftees in assembly line fashion for the NFL, NBA and MLB chains, and it has trended up sharply of late. This has never been much of a hockey town, sort of a freeze out, but the other main-profile sports?
We have players. It’s become something of Talent Town USA here, to borrow a bit from Eugene’s mantra of Track Town USA in Oregon.
Since the spring of 2015, the area has served as a launching pad for six first-round picks, two each in the NFL, baseball and NBA. More appear to dot the horizon.
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The most striking theme is the NBA.
Bill Cartwright of Elk Grove was the area’s first NBA first rounder, in 1979. Then Kevin Johnson of Sacramento High in 1987, and Ryan Anderson of Oak Ridge in 2008. Three top-rounders spanning nearly 30 years, and then two in the last two seasons. Marquese Chriss of Pleasant Grove went last season out of Washington, the Suns forward on Monday earning second-team NBA All-Rookie honors, and forward D.J. Wilson of Capital Christian last week was tabbed by Milwaukee out of Michigan.
Cam Oliver expected a draft call but it never came. The Nevada star by way of Grant attended the draft party in New Jersey, certain he would go at least in the second round. Silence. He signed as an undrafted free agent with Houston.
And nothing fuels a prospect more than doubt.
Arik Armstead and Shaq Thompson continue to feed off of it. They were first-round NFL selections in 2015, Armstead of Pleasant Grove and Oregon going to the 49ers to shore up the defensive line (with the motto of, “I strive for greatness”) and Thompson of Grant and Washington to the Panthers to play linebacker. It was the first time since the Reagan Administration that the region produced two first-round NFL selections (Ken O’Brien of Jesuit and UC Davis and Tony Eason of Delta, American River College and Illinois were part of the famed 1983 quarterback draft class).
At separate youth football camps in recent days in their home town, Armstead and Thompson implored kids to chase dreams, to ignore any vibes that they are not good enough in anything they do.
Baseball, the most difficult sport to break through at the highest level, can especially bear the scrutiny.
Pitcher Matt Manning of Sheldon and slugger Dylan Carlson of Elk Grove were first-round MLB picks last season out of high school, signing for a combined $4.8 million. It was the best regional haul since 1972 when three went in the first round: Joel Bishop of McClatchy and Mike Ondina and Jerry Manuel of Cordova.
The pressure is on every high-round guys. First round selections are guaranteed nothing but all manner of expectation.
Now it’s Wilson’s turn. He didn’t go to New Jersey for the NBA Draft festivities, electing to stay home, per his humble nature. But the Bucks will have to chase him out of the weight room in Milwaukee from here.
Wilson’s longtime friend Devon Jones said the lanky lad never lacks in desire.
“Every step of the way, D.J. was doubted,” said Jones, who coached Wilson from 5th grade through Capital Christian High. “Grade school, AAU, junior varsity, varsity, Michigan. The chat forums, social media, everything: not physical enough, not strong enough, not good enough. All (first-rounders) feel it. D.J.’s fed off of it his entire life. He listens to the critics, and it pushes him, drives him.”
In the coming years, there are more brewing first-round potentials. Jake Browning of Washington and Folsom is a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, the quarterback setting Pacific-12 Conference passing marks last fall. Left tackle earth mover Jonah Williams of Alabama and Folsom is the prototype NFL lineman. In baseball, the nation’s top collegiate short stop competes for Oregon State: Nick Madrigal of Elk Grove, the Pac-12 Player of the Year.
And the region’s most intensely recruited basketball prospect since Cartwright is Jordan Brown, a 6-11 marvel from Woodcreek High in Roseville.
But still no one on the hockey radar.