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Can’t knock their hustle

Weston Ranch boys winning with energy at defensive end

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Can’t knock their hustle

Weston Ranch loves to score off its defense, and there may be no guard in the Valley Oak League better in transition than Eric Duncan (1).

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED January 10, 2013 12:03 a.m.

WESTON RANCH—Daiveon Leverett is the Valley Oak League’s premier big man, a 6-foot, 8-inch forward with the ability to change a game with his length and athleticism.

When he’s playing.

Leverett found himself on the bench to start Tuesday’s 62-24 victory at Oakdale. The senior was penalized for being late to a practice, and per first-year head coach Chris Teevan’s rules he sat the first three minutes.

Lesson learned, coach.

“It made me hungrier,” he said on Wednesday.

And the big fella ate.

Leverett launched himself into the game, playing with a gear the Weston Ranch coaching staff has seen only in spurts this season. He flew to missed shots, gobbling up rebounds and controlling the paint. With his long wingspan and instincts, he forced Oakdale shooters out of their rhythm.

“When he plays defense we’re a different team. He came off the bench and changed the flow of the game,” Weston Ranch assistant coach Gabe Da Rosa said. “When he’s going after blocked shots and forcing teams to shoot quicker than they’re normally used to, we’re a totally different team. We’re really good.”

Leverett’s energy was contagious, and continued a disturbing trend for the rest of the Valley Oak League.

Weston Ranch (9-5), an offensive force buoyed by shooting guard Dylan Alexander (19.5 points per game), is winning games with its defense.

The Cougars are 3-0 in conference play, with runaway victories at Sonora’s Bud Castle Gymnasium and Oakdale.

In its last two games, Weston Ranch limited Manteca and Oakdale to just 13 second-half points. The Mustangs were held scoreless in the second quarter.

“They kind of gave up,” Leverett said of the Mustangs. “Their body language got bad. … I feel like this is something we can keep going.

“Our main goal is to go undefeated, play as a team and make it to (Sleep Train Arena, the site of the Sac-Joaquin Section finals).  Defense is a big part of that.”

No VOL team has scored more than 41 points against the Cougars, all of which could spell doom for Lathrop (1-2 VOL, 4-9) tonight. Weston Ranch ranks first in the VOL in points allowed at 34, nearly eight fewer than Sierra.

“We’ve had good ball pressure on the perimeter. That was something we struggled with in the preseason — perimeter defense,” Da Rosa said. “We got crushed by El Camino Real (in the semifinal of the Modesto Christian tournament) because we couldn’t guard the ball.

“We had a really tough preseason; played some top teams. We did it on purpose.”

The Cougars took their lumps against top-tier programs over the holiday break.

There were back-to-back losses to El Camino Real and Alemany at the Modesto Christian Holidays Hoops Tournament in later December. There was the one-point setback to Inderkum at the Rocklin Holiday Tournament and a pair of defeats at the McDonald’s Classic in Stockton.

On the eve of Weston Ranch’s conference opener at Sonora, Teevan and Da Rosa assessed their position. They were 6-5, but rounding into shape.

“We’re a better team now than we were three weeks ago,” Da Rosa said. “The first couple of games we struggled defensively and gave up too many easy points. We’ve gotten better, because we’ve worked hard in practice.”

Energy has been the key, which explains Albert Lyon’s amazing transformation. Cut by former coach Ryan Bono last year, Lyons now starts for the Cougars.

He and Eric Duncan (16.9 ppg) are the outside compliment to Leverett (15.4 ppg) on the defensive end, guarding the 3-point line and jumping into passing lanes.

Lyon’s role was part of the coaching staff’s assessment following the non-conference portion of their schedule. If they wanted to be active and quick and relentless on the defensive end, the Cougars needed an identity.

They took on the face of Lyon.

“What a story,” Da Rosa said with a chuckle. “Here’s a guy that got cut last year and now he’s starting on the varsity team.”

Added Leverett: “Albert’s one of my favorite players. He brings that energy. He guards the whole court and wears you down.”


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