They were a rag-tag bunch of football players wearing basketball shorts and sneakers.
An AAU team short on experience but looong on losses.
In fact, history shows that the Ripon Warriors’ 14-and-under boys basketball team was 12-20 during its inaugural summer season.
Look at them now.
The Warriors literally finished Year 2 atop a mountain, hoisting the champion’s trophy at the Jam On It tournament in Reno over Memorial Day weekend.
Ripon went 4-0 to emerge from a 20-team bracket. More than 1,100 teams participated in the season-ending tournament, including two other Ripon Warrior teams.
The seventh- and ninth-grade teams finished with matching 1-4 records, victimized by a lack of height and experience.
The Warriors’ eighth-grade team had no such problems, steamrolling their way to yet another tournament title.
“Every game we pretty much dominated. In fact, the closest a team got was the nine points in the championship game, and that was because we were subbing in kids that didn’t get a whole lot of time,” said Joshua Sarratt, who co-coaches the eighth-graders along with Ryan Hansen. “It was a dominating performance by the team.”
With an unconventional four-guard system, the Ripon Warriors played a lot like the NBA version of themselves – small, quick and in your face.
Sarratt believes nearly half of the Warriors’ points this season came off of turnovers. Most times, Sarratt said, the competition didn’t know how to react.
That was true of the teams in Reno. Ripon never trailed during its four-game run and won its first three by 12 or more points.
The Warriors nearly lapped Wildcat Basketball in their opener, 60-33, and then outpaced two Sacramento-area teams to clinch a berth in the championship game.
Ripon topped YBA Extreme 39-27 in its second game and then pinned a 45-29 decision on NBA Lloyd.
In the final, Ripon cruised to a 49-40 victory over Jam Squad of Stockton.
Aaron Paschini, Matthew Mohler and Cole Stevens were the engineers of Ripon’s swarming defense and up-tempo attack, and each was lauded for their play by Sarratt and Hansen.
Sarratt believes all three have the ability to play up as freshmen in Rod Wright’s Ripon High program next winter.
“It’s constant moving,” Sarratt said of the Warriors’ style of play. “Eighth-grade teams with little experience with it don’t know how to react. They took that football mentality with the Ripon Chiefs and applied it on the basketball court.”
The tournament championship was the team’s fourth of the season. Ripon had previously won two NBBA tournaments in Hayward and the Blackout Tournament in Stockton.
The Warriors finished with a 31-12 record, a stark transformation from a 12-win team in 2012.
“Coming from a small town like Ripon, the boys showed they belonged no matter where they were,” Sarratt said. “The boys played as a team and bought into our system.
“It’s such a tight-know group of boys from playing football and basketball.”
The success, he added, is a testament to the boys’ desire to get better. Not his. Practices were often compounded with at-home work – dribbling, shooting, conditioning.
“We practiced them a lot, but they put in that extra work at home,” Sarratt said. “They wanted to get better. It’s all on the boys – the transformation from last year to this. The extra work really shows.”
Members of the team are: Rhet Herrin, Luke Navarro, Nic Paschini, PJ Sandhu, Alex Padilla, Zach Bailey, Brendan Fugit, Zach Hansen, Andrew Wood, Aaron Pachini, Stevens and Mohler.